The root of the problem for Quebec retailers is the conglomeration of farms and a 10-year growth cycle.

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Like his father before him, Patrick Roy has been roaming the maze of Christmas trees on the Atwater Market lot for decades.

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Today, Roy continues the family tradition of delivering the essence of Christmas to the people of Montréal.

“My dad started selling trees in Montreal in 1945,” he said. “He was sleeping in a boarding house on the corner of the road and when he finished selling his last tree on Sunday, he returned to Lac-Brome on his horses.”

Roy has been in business long enough to see things change. In recent years, it has become more difficult for Quebec retailers to get their hands on trees, for a myriad of reasons.

Seasonal shortages are not unique to the province. It’s an issue that has had the Canadian Christmas Tree Association on the drawing board, trying to plan for the future for the entire country and always at the mercy of the 10-year growing cycle.

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For Roy, who is a retailer, the root of the problem is the Quebec farm conglomerate.

“There are fewer and fewer producers in Quebec,” he said. “The bigger growers are buying from the small growers, so we have huge tree farms. They buy with the objective of exporting, because exporting trees to the United States is much more profitable than the local market ”.

According to the Canadian Christmas Tree Association, about 2 million Quebec trees are exported to the US each year, while roughly 300,000 to 400,000 are sold locally. Only a few dozen farms are located in Quebec, despite the fact that Quebec exports more trees than any other province. In Canada as a whole, there were 2,381 farms in 2011, compared to just 1,872 in 2016 (the latest Statistics Canada data is expected in early 2022).

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Marcel Viens trims the bottom of a Christmas tree for customer Brad Phillips at Atwater Market on December 1, 2021.
Marcel Viens trims the bottom of a Christmas tree for customer Brad Phillips at Atwater Market on December 1, 2021. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

The decline in farms is explained by the aging population of farmers, who have no other option but to sell. His sons, unlike Roy, are generally not interested in taking over.

“They can find much better working conditions and much better wages working in other industries,” said Larry Downey, president of the Canadian Christmas Tree Association. “It is hard work, it is a job that takes a long time and accidents happen.”

Roy’s business has been significantly affected in recent years: “The trees we receive are smaller than usual, the quantities are lower than usual, and the prices are a little, much higher than usual.” , said.

Shirley Brennan, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Association, said a combination of factors has led the industry to where it is today. In addition to the decline in the number of farms, the demand for trees has exploded.

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“(The shortage) started about five years ago,” Brennan said. “It was mainly Fraser firs, but now it has snowballed in most species.”

Brennan said the Canadian industry is worth more than $ 100 million today, compared to about $ 53 million in 2015. The figures represent an increase in demand that he attributes to urban sprawl and new owners.

“Usually Mom and Dad would get the tree and everyone would be at their house,” Brennan said. “Now their families are having families and they have their own trees.”

Then there are the issues of weather and climate change.

“All agricultural products have Mother Nature as their silent external partner, and she has not been very cooperative,” Brennan said, adding that early spring frosts across the country, including Quebec in 2021, have damaged so much small as well as large trees. ready to go to market.

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“And we all see what’s happening in British Columbia with the floods, but they also had extreme heat,” Brennan said. “It just dried up the branches.”

As the industry grapples with a shortage it won’t shake until the saplings planted in recent years reach maturity – some vendors, like Mon beau sapin in the Atwater market, have managed to navigate it largely unscathed, but only because they have their own farms.

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“We have done this for several years,” said Marcel Viens, co-owner of the company. “The man I work with is his father, who started this about 60 years ago.”

The first weekend of December marks the busiest time of the season for the sale of Christmas trees in Quebec, but the association asks people not to panic and to step out of their comfort zone when choosing a tree, now and in the future.

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“Christmas trees represent hope,” Downey said. “If there is demand for Christmas trees, there is demand for hope and there is definitely a market for Christmas trees. That will attract new producers and new people to the market. “

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Reference-montrealgazette.com

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