Cranbrook’s tree pioneer recognized

Soren Johnson importance to Cranbrook's arborial history was marked with inaugural plaque on the Wall of Recognition in Rotary Park.

Members of the Johnson and Botteril families at the Wall of Recognition for the unveiling of a plaque recognizing the importance of their ancestor

Descendents of the Johnson and Botteril families gathered in Cranbrook’s Rotary Park Saturday, Sept. 8, to pay honour to the man who gave Cranbrook it’s legacy of trees.

Soren Johnson (1868-1948), was City Gardener for many years, and was responsible for the planting of some of the city’s most well-known trees.

Members of City Council and Cranbrook Public Works were on hand to unveil a plaque on the new Wall of Recognition — the first such plaque for the new feature in Rotary Park.

After some prefacing remarks, Mayor Wayne Stetski introduced Councillor Angus Davis, who brainchild the Wall of Recognition largely was.

Davis said the idea was developed four years ago, after a conversation with Johnson’s granddaughter June Botteril, who was looking for some recognition for her grandfather’s importance to Cranbrook’s arborial history.

Davis said this led to discussions with Public Works Director Joe McGowan, who suggested creating a central space for such items of commemoration, a space which would attact people to it. A policy was subsequently developed, with criteria for being included on the wall — these included significant contribution to the community through involvement and service. And the recognition would also be posthumous — those being honoured on the wall would be no longer living.

Davis closed off his comments with a quotation describing the importance of the “town square,” such as Rotary Park, and the “democracy,

the panoply of city life,” that flows through it.

June Botteril then unveiled the commemorative plaque.

Soren Johnson was born in Vilerslen, Denmark in 1868. He married Selma Ecland in 1901, and moved to South Dakota. The Johnsons immigrated to Alberta in 1904, and eventually arrived in Cranbrook in 1913, with six children (a daughter, Florence, would be born to them in Cranbrook).

Johnson initially bought land southwest of Cranbrook, known as Bald Hill ranch, but moved into Cranbrook in 1926. The Johnsons built a home on Watt Avenue South (now known as 3rd Avenue South) which would eventually be lived in by three generations of Johnsons.

Johson was employed as the City Gardener, and much of the city’s urban forest is due to his efforts. He was renowned for a special talent for growing and developing plants and trees specific to the Cranbrook area, the trees in Baker Park, Rotary Park, the cemetery, and in other locations around Cranbrook are a legacy of his career.

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