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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Tree Tuesday: The tree that named an island

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Beaked hazelnut sm

Forgive me for this run on nut trees. Walnut, butternut, Turkish hazlenut and now a beaked hazelnut. From the past three Tree Tuesdays /Le mardi des arbres, you’ve now seen them all, each more impressive than the next in its oddly shaped, bright green husk.

What you see here is our very own, native, hazelnut (Noisettier à long bec, Corylus cornuta). A bush no more than three metres tall, the beaked hazelnut, named for obvious reasons, is a member of our local sugar maple forest and grows from coast to coast.  This one I photographed in the woods behind a Quebec government tourist station just this side of Quebec City. It was growing in the underbush of red maples; the two like wetter conditions and don’t mind a bit of shade.

You might be surprised to know that this tree is the reason behind the name of  Île aux Coudres, a large, inhabited island in the Charlevoix sector of the St. Lawrence River. Jacques Cartier was so impressed by the couldres growing on the island when he set afoot in 1535, that he names it Île aux Couldres.

Couldres was the French word at the time for noisettier or, in English, hazelnut, or, in English or French, filbert (because the harvest in late summer falls close to St. Philbert day, August 22). It later becaue coudrier and, to this day, noisetiers, in Quebec, are often called coudriers. Ile aux Coudres was also known as Ile aux Coudriers. Governor Murray, not being a brilliant translator, named the island Elbow Island, for reasons obvious to the English ear; coude meaning elbow.

Cartier found the nutmeats of the coudrier of the island better than the French aveline or noisette, “may un peu plus dures,”he wrote. A recent conversation I had with a native of the island, confirmed the goodness of these nuts. As a child, he and virtually everyone on the island would collect the nuts, letting their husks dry out before removing the nut which looks like smaller version of the European hazelnut we know. Nuts, for First Nations peoples and the colonists were important sources of protein that could be stored for long periods of time and easily carried, both as food and to seed new trees.

There is another meaning to the word coudrier and that is weather vein. Throughout the Lower St-Lawrence, you will seen nailed on the outside of houses, a naked, stripped stick. In good weather, the stick is perpendicular to the wall. If rain is coming it curves downward. Sure enough, this stick is a twig of beaked hazelnut, noisettier or coudrier, as you wish. And it works, at least on the islands of the St. Lawrence, where weather can change quickly and is often independent of weather on the mainland. I know, for the three days I spent of Ile Verte, 30 minutes east of Rivière-du-Loup, is curved downwards. For those same three days, it rained or threatened rain.



  1. ahh iles aux coudres, my best vacation ever was staying in St-Joseph-de-la-rive and taking the free ferry to Ile aux coudres every day.

  2. Bob,

    I’ve taken that ferry too — though only allé-retour once. You probably know the series of films on Ile aux Coudres made by Pierre Perreault in the ’60s (I believe — Check the NFB catalogue). A great glimpse on life as it was pour les Coudrois!

  3. I’ve only done that trip once and loved it – the ferry ride and the island. It’s a lovely part of the world. If you haven’t already seen them, check out the films made by Pierre Perreault in the ’60s (I think), on life on the island. Check with the NFB. They’re superb.

  4. Bronwyn: FYI I bought your book / tour-guide on the McGill trees: excellent!

    I don’t think you’ve done anything on the amazing grove of giant trees of Lafontaine park yet? They surely have a history. I haven’t seen such a collection of giants anywhere else in mtl.


  5. Thanks for this great story – I was just there last weekend and was curious about the name (Couldres vs. Noisettes). What a gorgeous place.

  6. Merci Bronwyn .

    Une nourriture d’importance pour les amérindiens …pour qui cette île fut un lieu de campement …

    ”Pour la suite du monde ”…le film préféré de mon père qui jamais n’écoute de film !!!

  7. Tout jeune la première fois que j’ai trouvé ces noix je croyais rêver! J’avais les yeux grands comme des trente sous!Ma mère aussi: elle vient de la région d’Avelino en Campanie et elle était ravie d’en trouver de ce côté de l’Atlantique.

  8. Bob,

    Glad you enjoyed A Leafy Legacy. Regarding the Parc La Fontaine titans, I’ve yet to feature them alone although I talked about eastern cottonwood poplars earlier this summer. See Le mardi des arbres: Trois blancs de memoire.

    To everyone, please let me know if you find any beaked hazelnut trees (noisetier à long bec) on the island. There ought to be some on Mt. Royal, probably in the wetter areas, but have yet to see any.

  9. Dear Bronwyn,

    I do not subscribe to The Gazette, so I have missed your Island of Trees series.

    We are giving a workshop titled ‘The Trees in Your Life’ at the Padua Centre on February 6, 2010, so not far off.

    Is there any way I could access your articles about our island trees that I could mount on a poster for all those who come to the workshop to see? I would be happy to come to The Gazette office or receive them online — the ones since Nov. 8. I have the January 17 article. I also have the last post on the Tuesday Tree series, on Nov. 8

    I will also hie me to the McGill bookstore and buy a copy of your book A Leafy Legacy: The Trees of McGill. I did not go to McGill myself but my husband did and was on the Board of Governors for several years. I would love to send you our flyer for the workshop if you can let me know how!

    Congratulations on this labour of love I have been missing out on!

    Gratefully, Clare Hallward

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