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cityscape

Branching Out at the Market

On the hunt for independent Christmas tree vendors, we caught up with the folks at Jeffrey Jordan's St. Lawrence Market lot.

The St. Lawrence Market Christmas tree lot operated by Jeffrey Jordan.

In the holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown doesn’t find his inspirational Christmas tree among hundreds displayed behind temporary fencing in the parking lot of a hardware conglomerate or a big box grocery store.

Good grief, no.

As overwrought with anxieties as he may be, Charlie Brown realizes, if the true meaning of Christmas begins with the selection of the perfect tree, best to visit an independently owned and operated tree lot.

Drats, there aren’t many of those left.

Before the tree market, real and artificial, was cornered by the chain stores, the first of December meant the arrival of rural tree farmers to the city. With nothing more than a truckload of fresh-cut conifers, a string of gaudy lights, a hand-painted sign, and a beat-up camper trailer, they would set up curbside operations selling mostly Scotch pines to city slickers until Christmas Eve.

Then, just as quick as the jolly old man himself, they’d vanish for another year.

The various tree lots had their own personalities. Where one vendor was known for being cheery and festive, happily haggling over cost, another would sooner run their trees through a chipper than budge on the price tag.

Bound Fraser firs.

Today you’re more likely to purchase a tree from a part-time employee whose usual shift is in the tire department of a nationally recognized retail and automotive chain. Most often, they know less about trees than you do. In some ways, the demise of the independent tree lot has dulled the flavour of Christmas.

Don’t get us wrong—a few independents still exist, but they’re not easy to locate. The same man has been selling trees at the corner of Parliament and Spruce streets since Louis St. Laurent was prime minister.

We found another old-school tree lot, minus the camper trailer, located in the north market of St. Lawrence Market.

Tree farmer Jeffrey Jordan’s sidewalk setup may not be the fanciest, but if it’s a tree and the accompanying trimmings you desire, along with an opportunity to meet the friendliest, most knowledgeable tree merchants around, come see what Christmas is like down in the market.

Though he can’t verify it, market supervisor Jorge Carvallo believes that since the end of the 19th century, someone has been selling Christmas trees in Toronto’s original marketplace. Carvallo could confirm, though, that every holiday season since 1976 a vendor has operated a tree stand here.

For three quarters of this time, Jordan has been a seasonal mainstay, first with a partner, then solo.

The Christmas tree lot at St. Lawrence Market.

Home for Jordan is in Creemore, Ontario. Throughout the year, Jordan lives and breathes coniferous trees. Loose needles literally line his pockets. They also manage to deposit themselves in his hair, his hat, and every fold of his clothing.

This helps explain why he’s known as Jeff, the Tree Guy.

The tree guy got his start in tannenbaums early one morning at age 12 when childhood friends rapped upon his front door. They excitedly told him of an opportunity to make money hauling Fraser firs across a farmer’s field. Pay was a dollar an hour. After four tiring hours, a young Jordan had earned his keep, plus a bonus of a Coke and chocolate bar, too. Since then, he’s had a good life in the Christmas-tree game.

When the holidays are least in our thoughts, like in August, Jordan can be found in his fields, sweltering under the sun, pruning Fraser firs with a knife.

At the close of November, things shift into high gear. Upon the arrival of trees to the north market, the intersection of Front Street and Lower Jarvis gives off a fragrant, pine forest scent. Jordan has a workforce of 10. Some are returning employees. The Market itself is open only weekends, but the tree lot operates seven days a week.

Cameron Ross working the tree lot.

Cameron Ross has been working for Jordan since 1997. At over six feet tall, Ross is a gentle giant. During his time at the lot, he’s seen some unique sights. Once, a customer purchased an eight-foot tree, then carted it away balanced on a unicycle.

On weekdays, foot traffic consists mainly of office workers from nearby towers. Families with children in tow show up on weekends to shop for the ideal tree.

Lovebirds seem to gravitate to Jordan’s tree lot. Ross couldn’t count how many times he’s heard squeals of bliss from nascent paramours, delighted to find their very first tree as a couple. At times like these, it’s not unusual for Ross to be handed a camera and asked to capture the couple’s joy on film.

And talk about holiday romance—on a recent Saturday, a wide-eyed young man nervously asked Ross if the lot sold mistletoe. Relieved they did, he sheepishly announced his plan to incorporate the mystical shrub into a marriage proposal planned for later that evening.

He received a great, big shiny yes topped with a bow, we hope.

Tyler Parr talking to a tree lot customer.

A new face this season at the lot belongs to Tyler Parr. Quick witted and happy to chat, Parr excels at customer service. An actor with Russell Crowe–like features, he found this job while perusing the classifieds. Except for the weather, Parr has no complaints about the long hours he works at the downtown tree lot. Entirely outdoors, come rain, snow, and everything in between, the tree lot will remain open until Christmas Eve.

What about stragglers, those trees unworthy of decorating that nobody buys? After years in the business, Jordan can accurately estimate the number of trees that will sell even before the season begins. Still, there’s bound to be a few remaining.

At any other tree lot, the ugly truth is they’d face the dreaded wood chipper. Not here. Through a contact at a local production company, Jordan gives the unlovables to a film industry friend who gives them a second life as greenery in the movies. Corny, yes, but in the end, trees that aren’t topped with a star still manage to become stars themselves.

Charlie Brown would agree: you’re a good man, Jeffrey Jordan.

Comments

  • Pasha

    When we were kids, many years ago, there were 6 of us and we didn’t have a lot of money. My father would go out on Christmas Eve and bring home a tree that didn’t sell which the seller would give to my father for free. We always thought that was the most perfect tree in the world. Without the generosity of the tree lot man we would not have had a tree. And, I would expect that there were many more children who received the best gift ever with a free tree. Thanks for keeping up the tradition of a person behind the trees. I have purchased trees from this location many times. Thanks again and Merry Christmas to everyone.

    • Anonymous

      I disagree. The most perfect tree in the world would be set up at least a week before Christmas. The purpose of the tree is to heighten anticipation in the weeks preceding Christmas.

      • Canadianskeezix

        HotDang, you appear to have completely missed the point of Pasha’s post, and why his family thought that the tree they received on Christmas Eve was the most perfect tree in the world.

  • DS

    What can I expect to pay for a small (apartment-sized) tree?

  • Todd

    Be careful what you’re buying. We purchased a Fraser Fir from the lot at St. Lawrence a few years ago only to discover when we got it home, the “grown in Washington State” label on one of the branches!

    • Guest

      A Fraser Fir takes its name from the Fraser Valley, on the West coast. Were you expecting to buy a Fraser Fir grown in Ontario?

      • Anonymous

        Norway Maples grow all over Toronto.

        That’s Toronto, Ontario. Not Toronto, Norway.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    I dispute the premise, or at least the lede, of this piece. The only vendors of Xmas trees I have ever seen in my life were and are “independent.” Nor am I convinced that these imaginary corporate-sellout vendors would be a bad place to buy a tree.