When Dan and his son Cooper McClelland arrive at a local Christmas tree farm, the younger of the two marches directly for the collection of handsaws on the wall of a barn.
The nine-year-old grabs a pull cart and points it toward the acres of trees that stretch row upon row.
“He knows the deal,” the elder McClelland says, smiling.
They’ve bundled up for this bitterly-cold but beautifully-clear afternoon. And when the wind whips across the lowland flats where the farm sits, it lifts up the dry snow crystals and they sparkle in the fleeting sun. It’s not unlike a little bit of Christmas magic, but there’s still some hard work to be done.
The two temporary lumberjacks survey the land, and talk about what they’re looking for in a tree.
Something sturdy enough for large ornaments. Tall, perhaps eight or 10 feet. Full and healthy looking, a Christmas tree mom will approve of when they get back home.
They head one way, and put a few on the list of potentials. Cooper pulls the cart for the start of the trip, trudging through the snow eagerly. He can’t wait to cut down a tree.
This is their first time at Pine Meadows Tree Farms, on Prairie Central Road. But it’s far from his first visit to a tree farm. Cutting down a Christmas tree is a McClelland family tradition, as it is for so many Canadian families, and Cooper says he can’t imagine a Christmas without a real tree.
They’ve just moved to Chilliwack from Langley, and would normally visit Churchland Christmas Tree Farm with their whole family, including Cooper’s two older sisters.
But, this has been a busy Christmas season, and with the big day approaching the two boys of the family were put in charge of this job.
They won’t give up on finding just the right tree. When they can’t find just the right tree on their own, they head back to the barn to ask the worker for some advice. They were oh-so-close to the tall trees, he tells them. So they head back out, re-energized and still determined to find the perfect tree.
And when they do, just as the sun is going down, they’re overjoyed.
It’s a Colorado spruce, much taller than Cooper, beautifully full, with branches strong enough to hold the heaviest of ornaments. This tree will definitely pass the mom test.
McClelland guides his son through sawing the tree, offering his guidance until it falls.
“Timber!” shouts Dad.
They load their tree on the cart, and pull it back to the barn. In every way, it’s a Christmas success.
With the tree baled by string through the farm’s machine, and loaded up into the family vehicle, the McClellands can warm up in the hot chocolate room. But only for a few minutes, as Cooper has a Christmas concert to perform in, and they have a tree to set up.
Finding the right tree
Tree farms see a lot of foot traffic over the holiday season, from families to entire classrooms on field trips. But they are busy places year round, and at Pine Meadows, it’s not their busiest time at all.
Farm owner Tim Loewen says they are a nursery more than anything, and the spring is their busiest season. Still, they tend to the Christmas trees year round, keeping an eye out for pests, shaping and shearing, and taking care of weeds. He grew up on this family farm, and took over the business from his father, Arthur after studying agricultural business management in Manitoba.
“I had to make a decision,” he says. “Be a prairie farmer or a B.C. farmer.”
He is as proud of the farm as his father is. The family started on the farm in the 1970s, and it’s been a tradition for some families to trek there each and every Christmas.
Tree farms are generally a boost to their surrounding environment, providing a safe environment for critters through the year, and producing fresh oxygen for all.
“Our farm produces oxygen for about 2,500 people,” Loewen says, and young trees produce more oxygen than older ones.
There are several Christmas tree farms around Chilliwack, although Loewen says the numbers are dwindling. They sell some of their trees wholesale, and leave others for those like the McClellands who prefer to cut their own. They also select the very best from the farm and hang them in their main barn, where they offer a warm up room, goodies, and items for your tree.