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How a New West tree became a 'Fairy House'

Instead of removing a dying old tree, the New Westminster parks team gave it an enchanting makeover.

Opposite the stadium in Queen’s Park, surrounded by tall, healthy trees, green plants and vibrant flowers, a lone tree trunk stands. Leading up to it are steps made out of tree stumps and green shrubs. It reminds me of my childhood and the show, Noddy, which I grew up loving.

The mystical “Fairy House,” as it's dubbed in chatter on social media, harbours a small door and an even smaller window. A couple of tree-mushrooms and a miniature train carved out of the tree carrying succulents, stand by its side.

The manager of parks operations and services with the City of New Westminster, James Doan, pointed to a crack in the Fairy House and recounted the story of the Fairy House.

"You see the split down the middle of the trunk to the roof," he said. Left alone, the tree would have compromised the safety of anyone walking nearby, so it had to be cut down. But given the labour and cost involved in felling a tree of that size, city staff weighed an alternative —  one that would preserve public safety but give the tree a second life.

Ron Rebko, an artist and part-time gardener, helped bring the Fairy House to life — with the help of the city and  a team of gardeners, arbourists and irrigation specialists. He threw himself into the work, carving for hours straight.

He explained that a big part of the motivation for the project was the desire to put a smile on people's faces.

“A lot of the display work [at city parks] are for children and younger people,” he said. Children love those kinds of things."

Rebko’s inspiration for designs come from anywhere and everywhere. “ I have a huge book of ideas, so when I’m outside, I can always find something to do a painting or a sculpture or whatever else,” he said. “I love colours, and for me, flowers and plants are also like working with colours and a palette."

Doan and Rebko said the displays are seasonal and reflect the heart of the community. Queen’s Park has a rich history and attracts kids and families, therefore the themed build was a natural.

The pair led me to a rain garden where another display by Rebko, representing a flowing stream with red salmon, has been carved out of old cedar trees.

For Rebko, the whole sight is almost like a painting — he calls it "Soft Rains will come on Green Days." 

Bringing these visions to life takes months of planning, Doan said, and elsewhere in the city, teams have worked relentlessly to create tree-carved dogs, trains, and flowers.