Getting the tree to fit into those little stands is like putting a girdle on the family dog, and everybody argues about which way the top tilts, and exactly how to correct it: guy wires, tangled extension cords, burned-out bulbs, prickled hands and pipe-cleaner angels with missing wings are all part of the Christmas tree ritual. But, decorated
and lit, in a room it looks like all good memories made tangible, so people continue to trudge down to corner lots, where armies of evergreens lean on each other waiting for inspection. And this Christmas, several thousand households—in Boston or Atlanta, Moncton or Fredericton-have trees that came from Stanley, New Brunswick,
a village (population, 450) with more than 500,000 evergreens under cultivation, in plantations and “wild” stands.
“They talk about potatoes being the big crop in New Brunswick,” says David Pinnock, a former employee of the New Brunswick department of agriculture, who has several Stanley plantations of 70,000 lush balsam firs under way, “but I can see the day when Christmas trees will be a better business than potatoes.” A former dairying and hog-growing centre 28 miles north of Fredericton, Stanley switched from agriculture to Christmas tree cultivation about 16 years ago. The returns are still modest—between $25,000 and $30,000 for the 5,000 to 6,000 trees being sold this Christmas—but the future is starbright with promise. “This year sales will return about $1 million to New Brunswick, but within a decade that figure could easily be $5 million or more, according to Leo Lepine of the province’s Christmas Tree Council Association. The well drained soil and moist climate are perfect for growing balsam fir, a traditional Christmas tree, and demand from the U.S. eastern seaboard, with its less favorable conditions, is insatiable. “We could have sold five times the number we sold this year,” says Pinnock.
The 25 Stanley area growers belong to the Nashwaak Christmas Tree Co-operative, which handles the sales. Wholesale buyers paid up to $7.50 for an eightto 10-foot fir which would later retail at stateside nurseries for at least twice the cost.
These rates make the business sound like the nearest thing to growing money trees. But there are risks. Last year, for example, Pinnock sold just 35 trees, because his plantations and others were hit by a pesky critter called the balsam twig aphid. The notorious spruce budworm is also a problem because, contrary to its name, the budworm prefers balsam to spruce any day.
Growing Christmas trees 1978-style is, of course, not like a Currier and Ives tableau; it’s a business in which the goal is to mass-produce trees with the proper pyramid shape. Right now, some evergreen entrepreneur is undoubtedly working on a live tree that won’t shed its needles, and can be folded up neatly for the garbage on Jan. 2. In the meantime, Stanley, N.B., is doing just fine tending neat rows of snow-covered firs, ready for—are you ready? —next year’s Christmas rush.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.