Montreal pines for Rockefeller Center-style tree, fails spectacularly

Philippe Pelletier and his Christmas tree delivery business promised the citizens of Montreal a tree that would be bigger and more impressive than the famed evergreen in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

That didn’t happen… not by a long shot.

“I was really surprised by the reaction to the tree,” Pelletier told of the 88-foot, gangly tree in the city’s Quartier des spectacles. “We want to show people a natural Quebec Christmas tree, so that’s what we got.”

When a flatbed truck accompanied by police escort brought the balsam fir through the streets of the Canadian city in late November – broken branches, bare spots and all – Montrealers were far from impressed. After hoisting the tree up and covering it with lights and mini red Canadian Tire logos for the Le Grand Marché de Noël festival, things only got worse.

“Montreal's Christmas tree looks like it was just released from Xmas tree rehab and needs any spare change you might have for a bus ride home,” one Twitter user said on the social media site. Other social media users compared it Charley Brown’s sad Christmas tree and, worse off, “an erectile dysfunction.”

Local media tried to put a better spin on the scraggly tree, with an anchor on CTV saying the tree was “not perfect, but unique, they say — just like this city.”

A columnist at the Montreal Gazette waxed poetic that the balsam fir made him ponder the long history of the word “balsam.”

“The balsam fir is a North American species; indigenous peoples used its gum to treat coughs, colds and asthma,” columnist Mark Abley wrote in the newspaper. “Yet long before ‘balsam’ meant the type of tree now often adorned with Christmas lights and ornaments, it referred to a fragrant resin.”

Pelletier, who started the tree delivery company Sapin MTL last year with some friends, is used to attracting attention with his trees. Last year the company hosted the first Pan-Am Tree Toss in Montreal – but the scorn and criticism for the lanky tree is something he didn’t expect.

He added that the tree – which they found in a rural area near Quebec border with the United States – is what a real Christmas tree looks and that the one in Rockefeller is not what a tree looks like in nature.

“What we’ve realized is that people expect perfection from a tree, but we didn’t add any branches,” he said. “We presented the tree in its natural state.”

Despite the Christmastime criticism, Pelletier echoed the old saying that any publicity is good publicity.

“If it wasn’t for this tree, we wouldn’t have all these people talking about us,” he said. “We wouldn’t be getting calls from media all over the world.”