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Standing Tall Against All Odds: Alberta’s Famed Burmis Tree

Toppled by winds, marred by vandals, yet always rising, the Burmis Tree stands defiant

In the heart of the Crowsnest Pass stands a true Albertan icon that has witnessed the passage of time like no other. 

This guardian of history, known as the Burmis Tree, is estimated to be over 700 years old and has a tale that intertwines with the fabric of the land and its people.

Long before the influx of settlers into Alberta, local indigenous peoples considered the Burmis tree sacred. The tree was most likely a “directional tree.” Also known as a trail tree, prayer tree, or thong tree. 

Image of a limber pine tree against a sunset sky with the tree held up by metal braces over its roots
With metal braces, the Burmis tree continues to stand tall. wildereise | Instagram

Directional trees were commonly used as markers or signposts to distinguish geographical landmarks such as water sources, safe river crossings or hunting grounds.

The Burmis tree, standing isolated where prairie meets mountains, is the perfect sentinel for the region.

With the discovery of coal, miners and their families built a bustling town near the tree called Burmis. And henceforth, the tree became known as the Burmis tree.

Though now a whisper of its former self, the town was once alive with the sounds of coal mining and the hum of daily life. 

Amidst this backdrop, the Burmis Tree, a Limber Pine, stood tall and proud, already having hundreds of years behind it when the first coal was mined. It saw the town’s rise and fall, its people’s joys and sorrows, and Alberta’s ever-changing landscape.

But as with all things, time took its toll. Even after it died around 1978, its skeletal form continued to grace the horizon, a symbolic testament to the enduring spirit of the people of Crowsnest Pass.

The tree’s fame grew. Travellers from near and far would pull over their vehicles, captivated by the haunting beauty of this roadside tree set against the backdrop of the majestic Rockies. Its silhouette was a sight to behold, especially during sunsets.

The irresistible character of the tree demanded attention, and soon, the Burmis tree became Canada’s most photographed tree.

However, in 1998, a strong wind toppled the tree. 

The people of Crowsnest Pass, recognizing the cultural significance of this icon, rallied together. With metal straps and anchors, they resurrected the tree, ensuring it continued to stand tall. 

Then, in 2004, vandals thoughtlessly cut off a major limb, but the spirit of the locals prevailed again. They reattached the severed limb, further solidifying the tree’s status as a symbol of resilience.

Today, the Burmis Tree, even strapped with metal braces and bolted back together, remains more than just a lifeless timber. It’s a beacon of hope, a reminder of the past, and a symbol of the unyielding spirit of the people of Alberta.

The Burmis tree is a testament to the fact that there is beauty and strength, even in death. And that resiliency comes not from standing alone, in isolation, but through collective action.

So, the next time you find yourself on Highway 3, near the eastern edge of Crowsnest Pass, take a moment to gaze upon the Burmis Tree. Let its story inspire you, and remember that in the face of adversity, with resilience, determination and community, we, too, can stand tall.

The Burmis Tree.

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