Manitoba’s historic tree planting car takes on new roots
A nearly 100-year-old train car with deep roots in the prairies has taken a historic journey.
It is known as the tree planting car and served as a traveling classroom for around 50 years to encourage people to plant trees.
“As he traveled across the prairies, the main goal was to educate young people about the importance of trees and to reach adult, farming communities,” said Dianne Beaven, whose father, Alan Beaven, worked on the tree-planting car for 20 years and was its longest-serving speaker.
It has been stationed at the Sandilands Forest Discovery Center in southeastern Manitoba for nearly 50 years, but on Tuesday it was transferred to the Manitoba Agriculture Museum to continue its mission.
“We jumped at the chance, built a 100-foot rail track to install it, and the process began,” said Grant Cassils, vice-chairman of the Manitoba Agriculture Museum board. “The whole unit weighs 166,000 pounds, 84 feet long, 16 ½ feet high, so it’s a massive, very heavy structure.”
Built in the 1920s in Winnipeg, the Steel Tree Planting Wagon left its mark on the Prairie provinces.
Equipped with a theater and living quarters, it was pulled along the railroad to cities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to promote the importance of trees and forests.
In 50 years of travel, the car is estimated to have traveled more than 420,000 kilometres, welcomed 1.5 million visitors and encouraged the planting of half a billion trees on approximately 100,000 farms.
The car was in the care of the Manitoba Forestry Association (MFA), but that organization, a victim of budget cuts, is closing its doors.
“We are delighted that the Manitoba Agriculture Museum has agreed to take on this,” said Trevor Stanley, MFA Vice President. “We donate it to their association. There’s a lot more people coming through this facility in Austin, so it’s going to get a new life, which I think is wonderful.
Before the car could be moved, it had to be lifted using two cranes and loaded onto a special flatbed semi-trailer.
It was a complicated and expensive process that could cost up to around $250,000, a cost the MFA covers to help save the tree planting car.
“We just didn’t want to lose that story,” Stanley said. “We thought it was a good use of money before closing.”
Gordon Goldsborough, senior researcher for the Manitoba Historical Society, said the agriculture museum is a natural fit.
“The reality was that if you were building a house, for example, or a farm, you needed to protect yourself from the notorious prairie winds, what better way to do that than with a tree shelterbelt,” Goldsborough said. . “The whole story of tree planting on the Prairies is an integral part of the story of agricultural development on the Prairies.
With tree planting back in the spotlight, Beaven, who retired as executive director of the MFA her father helped establish, hopes the wagon’s legacy will live on in its new location.
“Knowing he’s on the freeway en route to Austin is a win-win,” Beaven said. “I am absolutely thrilled.”
The Austin museum plans to redevelop it into an exhibit highlighting the history of tree planting on the prairies.
Cassils said it will require restoration, but will be on display from next summer.
The tree planting car arrived in Austin on Tuesday afternoon after a journey of about 10 hours.