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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

If a graffiti tree falls on Queen West will anyone notice?

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One of my favourite things about the strip of Queen West between University and Spadina, not too far from Spacing’s office, is the graffiti tree at Queen and Peter near the vendor stands. Over the years, it has become a local landmark as street artists have repainted it numerous times. Others have attached such things as picture frames, action figures, and manifestos.

Sadly, today we witnessed that the tree had been seriously damaged. City staff are still considering what to do with it. Forestry will first have to determine the damage and assess the next step (likely to be taken away and chipped). It looks like a vehicle has knocked it over but we have yet to confirm this with police or city hall staff.

This is the second Toronto graffiti tree in a year to have met its maker: the famed technicolour tree and howling wolf were removed from Trinity Bellwoods Park in July 2007 when the base of the tree showed signs it might fall over due to rot.

The question I put to Spacing readers: Should there be some kind of installation in its place to continue the tradition of graffiti reinterpretation? Or, just plant another tree?

See more photos after the jump or on Spacing’s Flickr account.

small photos by David Pritchard, all other photos by Yvonne Bambrick



  1. If you plant another tree, folks need to let it grow without any posters, signs, nails, paint, etc.

    City trees have a tough time of it.

    Note, if you will, in these pictures the cramped space allotted to the tree(surrounded by stonework).

    Probably the prime reason it became a stump in the first place.

    City trees get very little water, lots of pollution and also get peed on by passing dogs. Yuck!

  2. Toronto needs more trees on its commercial arteries. Install some sculpture elsewhere – tree pits are few enough as it is and far too valuable for greenery to give up for art.

  3. I would rather see a big healthy natural tree than crap like this anyhow. good riddance.

  4. I think its great when something organic happens to a piece of the city like this graffiti tree. It was dead before it was graffiti’d and it fits nicely into the vibe of the neighbourhood and commercial strip.

    It would be ideal to do both things suggested in the post: install something artistic that can be altered while planting a new tree nearby. There is enough space for both.

  5. The idea of the city getting into the business of building surfaces for graffiti (which is different than managing the graffiti on things like phone and cable boxes) is a little odd. And if they did, I’m sure staff would quickly produce a report that shows the Queen West strip is “overserved” by graffiti and “underserved” by trees.

    Put in (and protect) a new tree, and let a new graffiti landmark come about organically, just like this one did.

  6. Better a graffiti tree than those kitschy sickly varnished tree sculptures that are popping up in places like Mississauga…

  7. I’m waiting for tombstones in the Toronto cemeteries to get graffitied next.

  8. Move on, get the city to plant another tree in better growing conditions, and let spontaneity take over on Queen Street or elsewhere as far as found-art is concerned.

  9. Thanks for that link Scott. You see it in its full glory before it was chopped apart at the 0:20 second point.

  10. I think the tree should be preserved somewhere, not sure where or how though.

    But I think I’m with those who say plant a real tree now (er, a new, living tree). These things are special because they come naturally (sort of) but have an end at some point. The value comes because its existence is finite.

  11. No replacement tree. Just replace the paving stones.

  12. Hmm…to those who said the paintjob and art killed the tree I am pretty sure that the paint came after it croaked.

  13. I imagine this trunk didn’t need much help falling over. Its vast network of living roots was its anchorage and since they have all rotted away there was nothing left to hold it up.

    I am amazed the trunk stood for as long as it did. I wrote a short article on it for the very first issue of Spacing (back when it had the 2 squirrel/android sculptures attached to it) and it had been dead for a couple years at that point.

  14. Someone has now, touchingly, painted a dotted line around the fallen trunk, the ghost outline of a now-dead Queen Street icon.

  15. Kween West Kultur will never be the same.
    It’s interesting to see what the City can move on when there’s some concern about injury though – referring to the Trinity Bellwoods now-removed art-stump. Cars do a lot more injury to people than falling trees, but we can’t seem to cut them back.

  16. most of you are missing the point altogether, this was not a tree, nor a piece of public art. it was a notion of spontaneous creativity that spoke for the whole city. If it’s gone, it’s gone. We may paint another stump.

  17. Here is an idea, make a mold of the stump. Cast it in whatever you will, be it fiberglass, some resitant plastic etc…

    Plant it back where the living one stood.

    This way the “tree” can still be a canvas and become a piece of everchanging art. Or can be replaced as nice ones are moved to a memorial museum of the “stump that stood standing on the street”

    easy said and easy done, come on folks get at it 😉


  18. Evac is planned for this afternoon. We will take it home and give it a bath and a safe place to hang. It could be set back into place but it would have to be done professionally as it is a bit rotten and a crush hazard.

  19. I like the fiberglassing idea… I think it getting hit is a bit of blessing as it is so rotten in parts the layers of paint are the only thing holding it together.

  20. Let us just say that the tree has decided that enough is enough!!!!