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Is the real Christmas tree making a comeback?

For the past 30 years, Joe Butterfield has been setting up shop on the same corner of Red Deer to sell his Christmas trees.

At the onset of December, he had 920 Fraser fir trees, busting with a robust smell, trucked to Red Deer from a farm in Chehalis, Wash. — all of a grade one quality, he said.

“When I was a kid, it was all about walking through the bush and finding a beautiful tree. So the passion for me is in providing people with a really nice tree,” said Butterfield, a former rodeo champion out of Ponoka.

“It’s just a joy when people come in and say they love my trees, that they hold together. The big thing is these trees get cut in late November.”

While the business, located in the Sheraton Hotel’s parking lot at the corner of 32nd Street and Gaetz Avenue, was “a little slow” last year, things are already looking up for his 2013 season, said Butterfield.

So far, more than 400 trees have sold and Butterfield said he has an inkling he’ll be sold out just before Christmas.

According to Statistics Canada, cash receipts for fresh-cut Christmas trees declined in 2012 by 2.3 per cent, from a total of $53.3 million in 2011 to $52 million.

Likewise, the number of Canadian farms and the area devoted to growing Christmas trees has declined overall from 2006 to 2011.

The total value of artificial Christmas trees imported to Canada in 2012 was $49.5 million, up from $47.1 million in 2011 and $48.5 million worth of artificial trees were imported to Canada from China alone in 2012, up from $45.8 million in 2011.

While the numbers cause a bit of concern for Butterfield, he said nothing can compare to the deep smell and touch of a real coniferous in the house for the holidays.

“Lots of people come from out of town. Earlier this week, I had someone show up from Calgary and he said he comes to me very year and that he wishes I’d set up in Calgary because I have the nicest trees.”

At one time, Butterfield had 12 Christmas tree lots scattered throughout Central Alberta.

Today he has ones in Lacombe, Camrose and Red Deer and calls them all by the name of Kids’ Tree Lots.

Butterfield got into the tree business through a rodeo friend who was from British Columbia.

“I rodeoed all my life and this time of year was the off season. ...

“My friend sold B.C. trees in about 10 lots in Calgary, 30 years ago. So we’d just go down to Calgary with a horse trailer, load up about 30 trees and bring them back here. That’s how we got started.”

Butterfield was teaching the son of the former Capri hotel owners (now the Sheraton) how to rodeo the first year he tried his hand with the Christmas trees and they permitted him to use a corner of the parking lot for the business.

The deal has stuck three decades later.

While Butterfield plans to continue selling trees for years to come, when he does decide to leave it, he said he’d make sure to pass it on to someone who will maintain the tradition.



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