An iconic Canadian symbol – an autumnal maple tree with 500 leaves blazing a fiery red that appear to be fluttering in the wind – proudly stands sentinel in downtown Coldwater, welcoming visitors to the village west of Orillia.
Severn Township’s Village and Hamlets Committee commissioned Marchmont artist Rebecca Allen to craft the sculpture to help beautify Coldwater’s downtown.
The committee’s goal is to make Severn villages and hamlets more attractive, said township councillor Jane Dunlop.
“If you lose (downtowns), they’ll never come back,” Dunlop said. “If you can help businesses to thrive, it makes a better main street.”
Dunlop said the almost ten-foot tall steel maple tree has been dubbed the ‘history maple tree.’
“The entire thing is made of mild steel,” explained Allen. “It’s all welded. It has about 500 leaves on it that are also metal. And 23 of those leaves have the names of the prime ministers since Confederation laser cut into them.”
Allen said when the commission was awarded to her early last year, she was given an idea of what to build. Dunlop wanted a red maple tree, about ten feet tall, and the names of the prime ministers somehow incorporated, said Allen.
From that starting point, the former Streets Alive participant and winner set out to sculpt one of Canada’s most endearing symbols.
“It was very challenging, actually, because I haven’t actually built a tree before,” said Allen. “You look at trees all the time, but I hadn’t built (one) before.”
Many walks in nature and several sketches later, she had determined how she was going to structure the piece.
“Making the actual branches was very hard because I don’t have a forge set up, which can be used to shape metal,” said Allen. “I ended up using various sizes of pipes, interlocking them into each other.”
Each leaf, she said, was rolled a little bit differently to give the illusion of movement, as if a breeze is blowing through them.
To help the sculpture stand the test of time, the leaves have been powder-coated. It’s a painting technique that adheres the paint, enabling it to last much longer outdoors, she explained.
Allen connected with local manufacturers and companies to help her with the process; she said she learned a lot about sculpting while working on the project for two and a half months.
“I learned quite a bit about the different stages of building a complex sculpture like this,” said Allen, who went to Georgian College for fine arts and welding. “There are so many steps, and you couldn’t do the next thing until you’d done the first one.”
The project’s scale also proved challenging. “I’m fairly petite, so I had to work with a ladder to assemble some things.”
Allen said she is proud of her work.
“For me, it’s an accomplishment because it’s one of the largest pieces I’ve ever created,” she said. “It’s significant because it’s a piece that’s been ordered by the municipality. It’s special that someone picked me as the artist to create it. There’s some privilege there.”
Allen hopes people will be inspired by the art and that it will provide joy to those who see it.
“As Canadians, we are celebrating our heritage even with its conflicts and issues,” she said. “It’s still a positive to celebrate our history and art, too. And it’ll be around for a very long time, so it will have some lasting value.”
The tree has already been installed in the village green on Coldwater’s main drag and she has received positive feedback.
An official unveiling of the sculpture takes place on Saturday at 11 a.m., followed with refreshments at the Coldwater library.