For nearly 20 years it has been a holiday tradition for an impromptu Christmas tree lot to pop up beside Centennial Stadium at the University of Victoria. And this year, despite the loss of local tree farmer Mike Fleming, both his family and their team are carrying on with the partnership.
Having started back in 1999, the annual sale – this year running until Dec. 22 – is a major fundraiser for the school’s cross country program.
In 2001 the Vikes began purchasing their trees from Fleming’s company, Woodstock Evergreen Inc.
With a reputation for growing the best trees in Western Canada, Mike established the business in 1968 and opened the Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm with his sister Joan in 1981.
“Mike liked the idea of partnering with us because he enjoyed being around the student athletes and appreciated the fact all the funds from the sales were going back to the students,” Brent Fougner recalls.
While harvesting Christmas trees in the Kootenays, Mike suffered a heart attack and passed away Oct. 27.
|Saanichton tree farmer Mike Fleming passed away unexpectedly Oct. 27. (Facebook/Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm)|
Fougner called the loss “shocking” saying it was important the team kept the holiday tradition going despite Mike’s absence. He would often swing by the lot during the sale to check in with the team, offering advice on everything from tree maintenance to customer service.
“He was always smiling and with his grand beard you would think it was Santa driving the delivery truck,” says Fougner, who regularly travelled to Shawnigan Lake to see where the trees were grown and out to Mike’s farm in Central Saanich.
“It was a great partnership and friendship that I had with him,” he says. “He is one person that you just always thought would be there.”
Many thanks to the Fleming family and the Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm for continuing a time-honoured tradition started by the late Mike Fleming of donating a beautiful Christmas tree to #BCLeg. #BCpoli pic.twitter.com/kIHr5zAdG1
— BC Legislature (@BCLegislature) December 3, 2018
Generosity was a big part of Mike’s business style and the former president of the B.C. Christmas Tree Council also donated the iconic trees that have lit up the B.C. legislature for the last 48 years.
“He certainly knew his trees and he was so passionate about what he did,” Fougner says. “He just loved his job.”
The Christmas Tree sale at Centennial Stadium is open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and all proceeds support the Uvic Vikes men’s and women’s cross country teams.
In the new year, Bartlett Tree Experts will be on hand donating tree chipping services from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Jan. 5 and 6.