Brothers Timmy Masso and Hjalmer Wenstob smile outside Wenstob’s Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet on Dec. 1 after harvesting 25 Christmas trees to sell as a fundraiser for the Food Bank on the Edge Society. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Local businesses step up in light of Christmas tree shortage in Tofino and Ucluelet

“I’m one of those ones where I’m really tenacious and I don’t like letting people down.”

An Island-wide tree shortage is threatening the landscapes of Christmas mornings across the West Coast.

Traditionally, hundreds of trees arrive at the Tofino and Ucluelet Co-ops for holiday revelers to pick from, but both those festive forests are noticeably absent this year.

The Tofino Co-op usually sells trees on behalf of Wickaninnish Community School, but Co-op general manager Michael Tomilin told the Westerly News that the school did not reach out to organize the fundraiser this year.

Rebecca Tuck of Wickaninnish Community School told the Westerly that the school’s annual Christmas tree fundraiser with the Co-op was cancelled when the school’s regular supplier in Port Alberni advised that there would be no trees available this year. Tuck said the Christmas tree sales raised an annual average of about $3,000 for the school.

In Ucluelet, the Co-op annually sells trees on behalf of the local Scouts program, but Co-op general manager Laurie Gehrke told the Westerly she first heard of the possible tree shortage in the summer.

“Our regular tree supplier advised us back in July that there would be no Christmas trees available to us this year because some of their land was annexed for a development and they’re unable to replace the trees that they grow,” Gehrke said. “So, we started searching across the Island looking for someone or somewhere that had trees available and we came up empty.”

She said the Co-op is still sourcing for next year and hopes to have Christmas trees again in 2020.

“We’re hoping to have a supplier in place for then but, of course, if we can’t locate a supplier then we’ll let our members know as soon as possible so that they’re not left in the lerch,” she said. “It’s dissapointing for us for sure. We loved getting those trees and having them lined around the outside of the store; it just made Christmas that much more special for everyone.”

In light of the Christmas tree shortage and the consequential potential for ornaments, lights and garland being left in storage boxes, two local businesses stepped up to sprinkle some holiday joy over the West Coast.

Trina Mattson owns Tofino’s OCN Garden Centre and brings in about 60 Christmas trees to sell each year. She told the Westerly that, when her usual supplier told her no trees were available, she scoured for new sources.

“I went to every supplier on the Island and every single one of them told me, ‘No we don’t have enough trees to sell,’” she said. “We were not going to be able to get trees either, but I did manage to find a supplier off the Island.”

Mattson told the Westerly News that she opened her garden centre in 1993 and has never experienced a Christmas tree shortage like this one before.

Unwilling to disappoint her loyal holiday customers, Mattson found a supplier on the mainland and eagerly doubled her usual order, bringing in over 100 trees.

“I’m one of those ones where I’m really tenacious and I don’t like letting people down,” she said. “Christmas to me is important. It’s not necessarily all about the tree, but for some people it is. So, I try to go that extra mile so that they get whatever makes their Christmas special. If that’s what brings everybody around the table, so to speak, together as a family, regardless of whether you’re related or not, I’m all for that. We need more of that.”

She added the season’s shortage could lead to some families adopting new traditions.

“I’ve always laughed and said, ‘It’s one of those things where kids don’t care what the tree looks like, they just want to know how many presents are under it,’” she said. “You could probably just as easily have a branch or something else that’s symbolic and, as long as that became your tradition, then that’s what your tradition is.”

READ MORE: Tofino and Ucluelet councillors remember best Christmas gifts ever

On the other side of the peninsula, when Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation artist and owner of Ucluelet’s Cedar House Gallery Hjalmer Wenstob heard there would be no Christmas trees at the local Co-op this year, he and his brother Timmy reached out to Tla-o-qui-aht leadership seeking permission to harvest some themselves.

“I’ve always been a big fan of celebrating at this time of the year. It’s the darkest time of the year and bringing lights and bringing nature inside and having that time to celebrate with family and friends is so important,” Wenstob said. “The Christmas tree just makes the living room. Every year we have a tree. It’s just part of life and it was sad to see so many people unable to get them, especially older people who aren’t able to go out and cut down their own…Getting the support from our Nation to be able to harvest on the territory was wonderful. It’s just celebrating and sharing that good old holiday cheer.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Ucluelet gallery owner hopes to connect communities

Wenstob harvested 25 trees last week to sell through his Cedar House Gallery, with half the proceeds going to the Food Bank on the Edge Society.

Those 25 went in short order, so he went back out on Sunday to harvest 25 more.

“We’ll be doing it at 25 trees at a time and making sure we harvest sustainably and in different areas throughout the territory, so we’re not just going in and taking a whole pile of trees from one location,” he said. “We’re going to be harvesting in a sustainable and traditional way.”

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