Cochrane gets an official tree and declares Arbor Day

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Mr Belsey’s Grade 6 class from RancheView School visited the Grandfather Tree, which became their inspiration to lobby for the white spruce to be named Cochrane’s official tree. (Photo by Bill Belsey)

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What do Manitoba, South Dakota, and Cochrane all have in common?

No, it’s not the set-up for a joke – the answer is that all three share the white spruce as their official tree.

Also from this point forward, the first Saturday in June will be designated as Cochrane Arbor Day, much to the delight of a Grade 6 class who lobbied Cochrane Town council hard for the decision. The students made an impassioned presentation to them on March 21, ending with a rousing all-class plea: “We are the future. We can be leaders in the fight to save our world. We want to be part of creating a healthier world. Please hear us!”

The message must have sunk in.

At their meeting May 24, council declared the first Saturday of June as Arbor Day, beginning on June 4 this year.

In the same motion, as also requested by Bill Belsey’s class from RancheView School, council declared the white spruce as the official tree of Cochrane.

“I’m really proud of what they’ve done and they’re pretty proud too,” Belsey said. “It’s not often students in Grade 6 get a chance to get a local government to accept their proposals, and actually have an Arbor Day in Cochrane and officially designate the white spruce, and to pave the way for students to plant trees in their school yard, so, they’re pretty proud,” he said.

Council went ahead with declaring the white spruce the official tree, going against the recommendation from administration, who had previously suggested the Town initiate a public engagement process aimed at ensuring Cochrane residents had the opportunity to weigh in on the choice of tree.

“Through this engagement we will be able to build upon the already passionate interest of our residents in our green spaces, highlighting the importance of urban forest principles, thereby arriving at a future official tree designation that is reflective of all input received,” stated a staff report at the May 24 meeting.

“Administration will work on development and implementation of an engagement strategy, with the goal of having engagement feedback received and subsequent recommendations brought back to council before the end of Q4, 2022.”

Mayor Jeff Genung favoured moving ahead.

“I would be more inclined to just declare the white spruce the official tree of Cochrane tonight and move forward with something that we’ve heard from the Grade 6 class – it is a significant tree in our community,” he said.

“I’ve not heard from one other individual in Cochrane for as long as I’ve been here, who wants to declare a tree of any kind in Cochrane.”

In the end, council agreed with the mayor and the Grade 6 class to go ahead with the designation.

“This is a really good example of how democracy works, for the youth of our community and for anybody in our community,” said Coun. Alex Reed.

Belsey’s class went on a hike to visit the Grandfather Tree in Cochrane Ranche Park, which is a white spruce, and the inspiration for their choice.

The white spruce assumed the role of Manitoba’s provincial tree in 1991 for its extensive geographic range and contribution to the local landscape.

White spruce trees are also plentiful across the Canadian landscape as specimen trees, hedges or windbreaks on residential properties, and along streets and seashores, due to their salt tolerance. 

The LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) website describes the white spruce as “a legacy tree that holds exceptional cultural, historical, and intrinsic value, contributing to a natural landscape in many ways over time. The white spruce (Picea glauca), a geographically abundant tree species found east to west across the country, as far north as the arctic tree line, and as far south as the northern states, is a Canadian legacy.”

Spray Lake Sawmills is donating 300 white spruce trees to the school project.

Grade 6 students share thoughts on Ukraine

Author of the article: Patrick Gibson
Publishing date: Apr 06, 2022  

Zoe Danielczak and the rest of Mr. Belsey’s Grade 6 class at RancheView School speak to Natalia and her son Serge in central Ukraine via Zoom.
Zoe Danielczak and the rest of Mr. Belsey’s Grade 6 class at RancheView School speak to Natalia and her son Serge in central Ukraine via Zoom. PHOTO BY BILL BELSEY

A local Grade 6 class had a particularly unique window into the war in Ukraine, communicating via video link with a Ukrainian student of a similar age.

Bill Belsey’s class at RancheView School chatted with 13-year-old Serge from his hometown of Kirovohrad in central Ukraine last month. Serge was joined by his mother Natalia, who was working as a school principal when the war broke out.

“I think it’s kind of cool that we got to talk to somebody that’s actually in the middle of the war,” said Grade 6 student Tristinn Joshee.

“It’s kind of cool to know, but it’s also kind of sad, because at the end there were air raid sirens. I just feel bad for them.”

It was evident those air-raid sirens struck a chord with the whole class.

“When we were on the Zoom call we could actually hear the siren in the background which was a little scary,” Ashley Hunt explained.

“When they said that they had to go, I of course felt scared and sad for them because they said that they are in the bomb shelter for a very long period of time, like a few hours.”

“It felt a little bit sad at the end, because they heard air-raid sirens and that’s why they had to leave,” added classmate D’Angelo Austin.

Aliyah Halge said the Ukrainian pair were calm despite their difficult circumstances.

“When they heard the air raid sirens they were so polite and said ‘Can we please wrap this up because the air raid sirens are going on’,” she said.

“They were just really polite, and I felt sad that they had to go.”

That sentiment was shared across Mr. Belsey’s class: gratitude for the Ukrainian mother and son in taking time to speak with them.

“I just really appreciated them taking the time to talk to us even though they’re in a very scary situation,” explained Pavelle Smith.

“I just thought that it was a great learning experience, and it was good to know what was happening in Ukraine. I think they’re doing a great job fighting back against Putin.”

Her classmate Dani Pereira said “I was a little upset because they had to go to the bunker and they still had to sacrifice their time to the Zoom.”

“It’s really nerve-wracking because nobody knew, like, before Mr. Belsey texted Natalia, everyone was a little worried if she made it in time with Serge too.”

Added Belle Carr, “They didn’t have to go on Zoom with us and answer questions but they did anyway, so I think it was very nice.”

The discussion left some students with feelings of gratitude for the peace in their own hometown.

“When we were Zooming with Natalia and Serge it was really interesting, and it also made me sad to think that we have all these freedoms and theirs are kind of being taken away,” explained Emelia Alksne.

“We have this nice school where we get to come and learn everyday. Natalia is a principal of hers and her school has been destroyed and she kind of had to just sit back and watch us learn.”

“I think it was really nice of them to take the time to tell us what was going on there.”

Scarlett Kinning called it “an honour” to talk to the two.

“They’re in the middle of a war so it was kind of difficult for them to get on a Zoom call and answer questions about bombs and answer questions about all those types of upsetting things, and then go to a bomb shelter after while our class gets to come and learn,” she said.

“I think it’s really upsetting, and an honour for what we have for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well.”

Their teacher Mr. Belsey said Natalia is a friend and teaching colleague of many years.

“Natalia was a classroom teacher for some time. Until the war, she was a principal of a large school in her Ukrainian city. I check in with her every day,” Belsey noted in a March 31 email.

“Although the airport near her city has been bombed by the Russians, she and Serge are staying in their home for now. Should they decide to leave, my wife and I have let her know that they could stay with us here in Cochrane if they wished to do so.”

The class continues to learn about the unfolding conflict as part of current events in social studies.

“I just think that Ukraine is acting well in the war and is able to push back Russia really well, and I think that’s really good,” said Dawson Hull.

When the Times caught up with the class March 24, Google Earth (an interactive 3-D mapping program) was being projected onto a large screen. The class had been digitally exploring the borders of Ukraine, including the geopolitical differences between neighbors like Belarus or Poland.

“I thought it was really cool that we could learn about the Ukraine in social studies too just before when we talked to Natalia,” Elena Miller explained.

“I feel like that helped us understand the war when we talked to her.”

Classmates also expressed sympathy for Russian civilians.

“I hope that the Ukranians are safe, and I hope that Putin will stop attacking Ukraine, but I know that a lot of people are blaming the Russian people, and it’s not their fault it’s fully Putin,” Ashley Hunt said.

“But then people are blaming the Russian people and they’re getting mad at Russian people, when it isn’t their fault. They’re suffering too.”

“Honestly, I wish that Putin was thrown off of what he was doing,” added Dani Pereira.

“I know that many Russian people are suffering. We’re trying to see what’s going to happen and if everything gets even worse, I hope we’ll send in peacekeepers.”

An appreciation for the first-hand nature of their dialogue with Ukranians was clear.

“You can hear about the things on the news and see what’s happening and still feel sad and upset about what’s happening, but it’s different hearing it when someone’s experiencing it first-hand,” said Zoe Danielczak.

“I think talking to someone that’s coming straight from the source of whatever is happening in the world (is best), like talking to someone where a lot of the war is raging on close to them,” added Ethan Schumlick.

“What amazed me is she said that she heard troops were moving in closer to five kilometers from the city that she lives in, and I think it’s just crazy hearing stuff that’s coming straight from the source.”

Whether gratitude, fear, excitement or sympathy, it was evident the Zoom chat resonated with the Grade 6 class and is not a moment they’re likely to forget.

“It felt like a very special moment because I don’t think other classes are able to talk to someone in Ukraine like that and ask them what it is like being in a war and what’s happening around them,” noted Aliyah Halge.

Added classmate Pavelle Smith, “I felt very emotional while talking to them, because they were quite nervous…well, not nervous, but worried a little bit.”

“They were still good to talk to, and I just feel like it was a great experience for us to actually know what it’s like.”

Grade 6 students highlight cultivation, preservation of trees in council chambers

Author of the article:Patrick Gibson
Publishing date:Mar 29, 2022  •  March 29, 2022  

A Grade 6 class and their teacher Mr. Belsey on March 24 in the RancheView school classroom where they assembled the presentation they made to council three days prior. Patrick Gibson/Cochrane Times

A delegation of Grade 6 students spoke in council chambers recently on stewardship of the Earth, with particular regard to forests.

One by one, students from Mr. Belsey’s class at RancheView School took to the podium to share their research on the role trees play in the atmosphere, biodiversity, industry and community before offering proposals for the continued health of local forests.

“It was really cool to talk in front of the councillors and the mayor and deputy mayor because I’m not a very confident speaker and it was good to break the ice and speak out loud to a bigger audience,” said one of the presenters Pavelle, reflecting on the meeting three days later from their classroom at the Sunset Ridge school.

From across the table they share, Ashley said she’s more comfortable with speaking but appreciated the opportunity for the same reason.

“I like public speaking, I really enjoy it,” she said.

“I thought it was a really good experience and I’d like to do that again.”

The class structured their presentation to be like one might expect of a developer or other large organization. Speaking in a formal tone, the class opened by thanking council, administration and those in attendance, spent a few minutes summarizing their background research, before laying out a set of clear, concise requests.

“You guys did a great job up here. It’s super nerve racking, I can relate to how you probably all felt,” said councillor Marni Fedeyko, overseeing the March 21 meeting as deputy mayor.

“Kudos to Mr. Belsey, you obviously have some very caring and environmentally-caring students.”

The class had four proposals: a town map of areas where students would be able to plant trees on, the white spruce declared the official tree of Cochrane, the first Saturday in June declared as ‘Arbor Day’ in Cochrane, and that council write a letter of support for a national date.

Cochrane’s most famous tree (the class used the names ‘Grandmother Tree’ and ‘Grandfather Tree’ interchangeably) is a white spruce.

“It’s a huge tree that’s been here for like, three hundred years!” noted Reid, another classmate Gabe echoing his words almost exactly.

Their presentation was nuanced, particularly for a delegation of 11-year-olds. With the tree planting map for example, they referred to a need to stay in communication with the town and school district’s maintenance departments. It also credits the forestry industry’s impact on the local economy (Spray Lake Sawmills was listed as their ‘project partner’).

Ryan called the experience “amazing.”

“Because people got to present to the whole town council,” he noted.

“It felt good, like we were making a difference,” Emelia added.

The positive feelings sounded mutual.

“Thank you for your presentation, I thought it was great,” said councillor Alex Reed.

“I did learn something new as well.”

‘Learning something new’ was a similar theme from all of the councillors.

“ I had no idea that blue jays use the spruce trees for their fringes, that’s an interesting fact. And that the boreal forests seed the clouds with moisture,” said councillor Susan Flowers.

“So there’s lots of learnings here for us today as well as you’re sharing your passion and your enthusiasm… We’re sure soaking up the information and you gave us lots to think about.”

Councillor Tara McFadden agreed.

“Very informative, and really well put together and you all did a great job presenting and I want to thank you and your parents and your teacher for all participating in how we make decisions,” she said.

“As much as I learned great things about trees, it was also just great to be reminded how important and how energized our youth are.”

The class appeared during a ‘Committee of the Whole’, a more conversational format of council meeting where binding decisions aren’t made. Their proposals will be discussed by councillors and town staff at an upcoming ‘regular’ meeting.

Mayor Jeff Genung said he was “super impressed” with the presentation and that the proposals were particularly timely.

“Not only are you learning about government today, but you’re actually utilizing your government in making positive change, making good change in your community,” he said.

“I think that from my perspective, this is a good idea. We need to have more of these ideas come to us and I look forward to the discussion when we get together and make the decision.”

The class said they appreciated not getting too much of a ‘grilling’.

“I thought the councillors and the deputy mayor and mayor were very kind and respectful when we were presenting, because I definitely know I probably messed up a couple times, and they were not, they weren’t judging us,” Pavelle explained.

“So it was a very comfortable environment to present in, and so I felt way better presenting in front of them than someone who would judge if I messed up.”

The timeline for their requests isn’t yet clear, but in the meantime the class continues to study forests in science class and government in social studies.

“One thing I thought that was kind of cool that I learned this year about trees is that seventy per cent of the Earth’s moisture comes from trees,” noted Zoe.

“I was super surprised to learn that when someone cuts down a tree and the stump is left over, it can be used as a transport type of thing: It can move water to a different area,” added Dawson.

D’Angelo said they watched a video from a popular YouTuber involving a ‘challenge’ to get millions of trees planted.

“We studied about trees almost the whole year in science, and we watched a video about Arbor Day in the U.S. by Mr. Beast,” he said.

It sounds like the class took to the message.

“Our inspiration, it kind of came from a video because we were watching other people plant trees and what they were doing to make a difference and we were like ‘Oh yeah, we should do that,’” added Emelia.

The class is hoping they’ll be able to begin a large tree planting project at their school in June.

Said their teacher Mr. Belsey, “If we get permission from Rocky View Schools and the town and if they show us where we’re allowed to plant, (a sawmill staff member is) going to come up here with all the seedlings in a truck and he’s going to help us show us how to plant them properly.”

Arbor Day in Cochrane considered by council

Committee of the Whole sees the council review everything from a Grade 6 class’ request to recognize White Spruce as the town’s official tree to population growth and bike paths
by Jessica Lee Mar 23, 2022 12:00 PM
The Grade 6 class of RancheView School gave a presentation to council March 21 about the importance of trees in the community at a committee of the whole meeting. (Town of Cochrane)

The Grade 6 class of RancheView School gave a presentation to the council March 21 about the importance of trees in the community at a committee of the whole meeting. (Town of Cochrane)
Listen to this article00:06:03

The Grade 6 class of RancheView School presented to the council, under the leadership of their teacher Mr. Bill Belsey, about the importance of trees in the community in a March 21 Committee of the Whole meeting. 

In their presentation, they asked the council to map out areas where students can plant trees near or on the school grounds and that council consider declaring the White Spruce as Cochrane’s official tree because of the popular 300-year-old ‘Grandfather Tree’ of the same variety at Cochrane Ranche.

The Grade 6 class also seeks to declare the first Saturday in June as Arbor Day in Cochrane and hopes the council will consider writing a letter of support to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to create a National Arbor Day. 

Mayor Jeff Genung said he was impressed with the class’s presentation and forward-thinking mentality.

“The asks that you have before us are I think very timely,” he said, citing the trees being taken down along Cochrane Ranche where the highway is being widened. 

“We were talking about what do we do and how can we replace trees like that. So, you’ve brought forward a solution to that for us that we can utilize.”

Whether the class can plant trees on the grounds of RancheView school would be a decision for Rocky View Schools to make, however, explained Genung. Though, they could consider mapping out areas in public parks and spaces for the class initiative 

“As much as I learned some great things about trees, it was also just great to be reminded of how important and energized our youth are,” added Coun. Tara McFadden.

Council received the presentation as information and expects a decision at a future meeting.

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