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End of an era: Beloved 'Fred's Tree' removed from opera house property

'Fred was known to many across the world. It's obviously a hard decision, but unfortunately, it's necessary,' says Orillia mayor of tree that was dying

The giant evergreen tree that has stood majestically in front of the Orillia Opera House for decades was cut down this morning.

The blue spruce was planted in front of the Opera House at the suggestion of Fred Noakes back in the 1970s. He had urged the city to plant the tree rather than cut one down in the forest each Christmas to be decorated downtown. For years, the lighting of the tree was the focal point for the kick-off of Christmas festivities in downtown Orillia.

Orillia Mayor Don McIsaac says "Fred's Tree," as it became known, was taken down on Tuesday morning for "health and safety" reasons.

"Fred reached the point where our arborist told us that he wouldn't survive," he said. "We decided to have an abundance of caution before Fred fell down and possibly injured someone."

Though it was on its last legs and shedding branches, McIsaac says it was a difficult decision to cut ties with the iconic tree.  

"Fred was known to many across the world," he said. "It's obviously a hard decision, but unfortunately, it's necessary."

McIsaac says "Fred's Tree" represented over 50 years of Christmas memories for generations of local families.

"There are a lot of people who took pictures with Fred as a backdrop," he said. "Fred is in thousands of photos."

It was also the centre of a social media storm of sorts late last year. On Nov. 20, 2023 "Fred's Tree" was featured on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon for the infamous tree lighting fiasco that went viral.

"What a fitting end for Fred," McIsaac said. "Fred served his purpose, and as he went into his final stages of life he had one last push to put Orillia on the map."

It is expected that a new tree will soon take the place of "Fred's Tree" in front of the Orillia Opera House.

"We're working with people in the works department to figure out what to do," he said. "We'll have to prepare the site, locate a tree, and bring it in."

McIsaac says he hopes the new tree will be re-planted by the fall.

Melissa Gowanlock, the city's manager of communications, says city council will be asked to make a decision this summer.

"The City of Orillia supports events organized and hosted by the Downtown Orillia BIA and will be working with them to look at various options for how to move forward," said Gowanlock. "It is anticipated a report will be presented to council in June."


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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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