Hauntingly beautiful, the solitary Burmis Tree calls out to photographers around the world. Here on the eastern edge of Crowsnest Pass Alberta, the 700 year old timber stands as a cultural symbol of resilience. 

Every once in awhile you come across unique views that make you to pause and pull over the vehicle. The eye-catching, lifeless Burmis Tree, with its Rocky Mountain backdrop is one of those moments.

Burmis Tree at sunset

The lifeless Burmis Tree silhouetted by a winter sunset on the eastern edge of Crowsnest Pass

Where is the Burmis Tree?

Approaching the Crowsnest Pass along Highway 3 in Southwest Alberta, the lifeless Burmis Tree comes into view beside the highway, 8.5 kilometres from the Highway 22 intersection to the east and 9.5 kilometres from the Frank Slide turnout to the west.

Burmis Tree map Crowsnest Pass

The Alberta tree is located about 210 kilometres (130 miles) south of Calgary

The Burmis Tree is a fascinating, eerie-looking, lifeless Limber pine tree that is arguably the most photographed tree in Canada, with its mountainous backdrop to add to the beauty.

What’s in a name?

The tree’s name comes from the once (actually twice), thriving town of Burmis, Alberta. Originally founded as a coal mining town, actively mining from 1910 to 1914. Unfortunately, Burmis declined rapidly after the mine closed.

A lumber mill was built in the area in 1933, allowing Burmis to thrive once more from 1933 to 1956. During these times, the Burmis Tree became the Crowsnest Pass’ symbol of strength and resilience given the incredibly tough conditions and disasters that the region withstood.

Through the height of Crowsnest Pass’ coal mining activity in the first half of the twentieth century, multiple coal mining accidents and explosions resulted in over 1000 deaths. The people of the Crowsnest pass endure.

Full moon dead tree

Full moon 

The windy life of a Limber Pine tree

Limber pines endure a long life, up to 1000 years, in rugged and harsh conditions. The Crowsnest Pass  icon survived some 700 years of windswept conditions prevalent in southwest Alberta, before endings its life cycle in 1978.

The now lifeless tree remained standing on its own for 20 years, before falling over on a windy day in 1998.

Wind turbines in southwest Alberta, near Pincher Creek

Wind turbines capturing the strong prevailing winds 30 kilometres east of the Burmis Tree

Saving a cultural icon in Crowsnest Pass Alberta

As an important cultural icon for the region, locals resurrected the Burmis Tree by anchoring its roots to the rocky outcrop surrounding it. Metal straps secured the main roots to keep the Crowsnest Pass tree firmly in place. Having a medieval, dungeon-like quality to the large metal straps add to the eeriness of the tree.

Metal straps and pole supporting Crowsnest Pass cultural icon

Metal straps and pole give support

One setback occurred in 2004 when thoughtless vandals cut off a major tree limb. Not to be defeated, locals reattached the limb with a combination of glue and a metal support rod. It is very apparent how strong the attachment to the Burmis Tree is, pun intended!

Does it matter that the Burmis Tree is dead?

Does this tree deserve the popularity and care it receives? Should this much effort be afforded a dead tree, when so many challenges face our living environment? These are real sentiments that exist.

Being an ‘outsider’, I was in taken by the visual uniqueness of the Burmis Tree and even more impressed once I learned of its history and the efforts locals have gone to preserve its ghostly beauty. Personally, I regard it as a natural sculpture, which with human intervention, has allowed continued enjoyment for so many.

The Burmis Tree - Gateway to the Southwest Rockies and Crowsnest Pass

 Gateway to the Southwest Rockies and Crowsnest Pass

What do you feel about preserving the Burmis Tree? Are there any similar issues in your area?

More information on visiting the Crowsnest Pass region can be found here.

Thanks to South Canadian Rockies for hosting our recent photography tour with Neil Zeller Photo Tours.