When driving, one naturally takes in the scenery. Occasionally, I must stop and pull over because of something I see. My friends all know that if they are driving with me and I see a “new” cemetery that I haven’t seen before that I will have a yearning reaction. It’s a death doula thing. If alone, I will definitely stop and check it out- thanotourism at its finest.
Over the holidays sometimes we drive just to take in the festive scenery. But sometimes when we drive, the scenery makes us wonder. I have often wondered about the story behind objects on the side of the highway. Mattresses that weren’t securely tied down or seeing single shoes that are on the side of the road, or shoes thrown over powerlines fascinate me.
Shoes thrown into trees aren’t as common here in Nova Scotia, as they are in other parts of Canada and the world. “Shoe Trees” are simply trees that are festooned with all types, colours and sizes of footwear. Sneakers are most common, but ice skates, boots, sandals, and other kinds of seasonal footwear are also draped over the tree’s branches in a seemingly random order.
There are documented (and famous) Shoe Trees in Hawaii, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, China, Russia, and the Middle East. I came across a few articles about them and was intrigued. The origin of Shoe Trees, according to the articles, is complex. “The phenomenon began in North America — at least as far back as the Great Depression, when people living in the same community sometimes hung extra pairs of shoes on trees for others to take, since not everyone could afford to have their own pair. When the Depression ended, the tradition continued. America became embroiled in a series of wars — first World War II, then the invasions of Korea and Vietnam — and soldiers returning home from battlefields abroad started tying their military boots together and tossing them into trees as a way of saying, “I’m done; time for a new chapter.” This unusual custom somehow, at some point, spilled out of North America and onto other continents. But no one seems to know how or when or why.” A certain Shoe Tree in Ontario, Canada seems to have garnered local attention, in 2016, as it is seen as a memorial for people who have died. "I've even heard of one young lady, her father passed away, she threw his shoes up there and she stops and visits and talks to him. As far as when did the first shoes go up there? Nobody can tell me. It certainly is an interesting and growing attraction. It's pretty neat.", says the Mayor of Springwater Township Bill French. This particular Shoe Tree serves a purpose, just as a headstone or memorial bench marker would, as a visual representation of the loss of a loved one. It provides an opportunity for conversation and reflection. I love the legacy concept. In conclusion, I’ll be on the lookout for local Shoe Trees, as anyone can start them anywhere, and at any time. Perhaps they’ll even feature a memorial book to sign or include an explanation.
Article Sources: https://omgfacts.com/ Shoe Trees Are Popping Up All Around The World, by Hunter Stuart,
https://www.barrietoday.com/ What the heck is a Shoe Tree?
Growing attraction sprouts lots of footwear and legends, by Sue Sgambati May 3, 2016 11:00 AM
Photo Credit: The Shoe Tree is located on Crossland Road and Flos Road 3 in Springwater Township. Sue Sgambati/BarrieToday