‘A lighthouse to the forest’: Well-known spirit tree in Winnipeg no longer standing

A well-known tree carving tucked away in Winnipeg’s Bois-des-Esprits is no longer standing. 

Woody-Mhitik, the spirit tree, has been attracting visitors to the south St. Vital portion of the Seine River Greenway for nearly two decades. But on Saturday it could be seen on the ground in pieces.

“It’s sad,” said Walter Mirosh, who worked over a two-year period to carve Woody-Mhitik with Robert Leclair.

“We looked at it as a lighthouse to the forest…. It brought a lot of people to come in and visit that area. Not only for Woody but all the other things that are going on in that forest.”

That’s exactly what Mirosh hoped to do when he and Leclair started working on the carving in 2004. 

The tree carving, which had been decaying for some time, was seen on the ground on Saturday. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Mirosh said he wanted to help raise awareness about conserving that area of the forest. The two offered their help to the Save Our Seine campaign. 

“Originally we thought it would be just a piece of log from the forest that we would carve and plant it in the ground beside [the] Seine River,” he said. 

WATCH | Woody-Mhitik no longer standing in Bois-des-Esprits:

Woody-Mhitik in pieces at Winnipeg’s Bois-des-Esprits

7 hours ago

Woody-Mhitik, a well-known tree carving tucked away in Winnipeg’s Bois-des-Esprits, is no longer standing. 1:04

Instead, Woody-Mhitik was carved out of the lower part of a 150-year-old elm tree that had been identified as needing to be removed due to Dutch elm disease. The city agreed to allow the lower portion of the tree to be used, as long as the bark was removed to prevent the disease from spreading, according to Save Our Seine.

Michele Kading, executive director of Save Our Seine, said Woody-Mhitik had become the face of the Bois-des-Esprits area. 

But she said it had been deteriorating for some time. The carving had also been burned in a fire in 2011.

“It had been decaying, decomposing naturally for the last few years and I guess it just was unable to hold itself up anymore,” said Kading. 

“As a naturalist I know it’s a natural process, but as an interpreter and someone who loves the forest I know its value went beyond the ecological,” she said.

“It meant something to people spiritually.” 

Walter Mirosh and Robert Leclair spent two years carving Woody-Mhitik, the spirit tree. (Submitted by Denis DePape)

Kading said there have already been discussions about what to do at the site where the three-metre tree carving stood and expects that to be determined over the next few months. She said the Save Our Seine board had been speaking about possibilities before the carving came down.  

“It may be possible to preserve it in other ways, possibly through art,” she said. 

Kading said since the tree was supposed to be removed by the city due to Dutch elm disease, it ended up having an extra 17 years of life. She estimates people have taken thousands of pictures of it over that time. 

The carving has been attracting visitors to Bois-des Esprits in the south St. Vital portion of the Seine River Greenway for nearly two decades. Now, discussions are underway around what to do next in the space. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

“Even just some sort of, you know, memorial on Facebook for Woody would be very interesting to see,” said Kading.

She’s also not ruling out another project with the original carvers. 

Mirosh plans to visit the area next week to see what the possibilities there are.

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