Dr. Peter Murphy was a legend as well as a lecturer, known to virtually every forester in Alberta and many across Canada. His favorite place in the world was in the Alberta forests and mountains. A close second was anywhere with anyone he could pass on his passion for forestry. Peter spent the last day of his 90 years, tending the White Spruce Forest in St Albert.

Living Legacy

On November 14th, I stood by Peter’s graveside with 15 members of his family, leading a physically distanced memorial service. Beechmount is Edmonton’s oldest cemetery and features tree-lined roads, a fitting resting place for a lover of forests.

 

Peter felt ill after coming home from tending trees in the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park as he had done almost every day for years. “He was really passionate about forestry. He loved trees and loved the regeneration of trees,” says his daughter Sharon. “The reason he was so keen on building up the White Spruce Forest was to make it a legacy for people in St. Albert to enjoy.”

Sharon called the day after her father passed and asked if I would help with his memorial service. Peter had attended North Pointe with Sharon when I was the pastor.

 

Peter was renowned in St. Albert for his work with trees. His analysis of a 161-year-old tree from the White Spruce Park confirmed that the forest there predated the city by several decades.

Founder, Professor, Pine-scented Dad

Peter established the Forestry Training School in Hinton and was instrumental in the creation of the NAIT and University of Alberta forestry programs. He headed the Park Ranger program in 1956 and was the first Director of the Hinton Training Program. In 1973 he began working at the University of Alberta as a professor and chair of the newly created Faculty of Forestry program. He subsequently became the Associate Dean of the Faculty. He was the President of the Forest History Association of Alberta.

Peter started the popular Junior Forest Rangers program in Alberta in 1965.

Barb, Peter’s daughter, remembers her dad smelling like a pine tree.

Trees in the Bible

Trees are mentioned in the Bible more than any living thing, next to God and people.

There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis, the first Psalm, the first page of the New Testament, and the last page of Revelation. Whether it is the fall, the flood, or the overthrow of the Pharaoh, every major event in the Bible has a tree marking the spot.

Trees are the oldest living things on earth. There are trees alive today that were already ancient in the time of Jesus. God is always trying to teach humans to think long-term. Trees can live as long as 10,000 years. Living just three score and ten years, we get blinded by short-term gain and lose sight of eternity.

God wants us to see the forest and the trees.

Resiliency

Symbols say so much. The anchor is a symbol of hope. The dove is a symbol of peace.

The symbol for resiliency? A tree.

It’s the resiliency of trees that kept Peter in forestry. Kevin Ma, St Albert Gazette, interviewed Peter in 2010 and asked why he dedicated so much of his life to forestry. “It’s such an exhilarating sight to see a young stand with all those leaders (young trees) reaching for the sky.”

In the middle of a pandemic, the long view is a wise view. Trees living today were ancient when the flu pandemic of 1918 raged through Canada.

If you are feeling unsettled today, let Peter Murphy’s love of trees inspire you to build resiliency and keep your eyes on eternity.

There is a season for everything. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us,

“God has made everything beautiful in its time.

He has also set eternity in the human heart…”

Did you know Peter Murphy? Have you walked through the White Spruce Forest in St Albert?  Please write a comment at the bottom of this post in his honour.

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Bob Jones

Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 41 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vinnie and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love being a pastor and inspiring others through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, reading, and ball hockey. I'm a fan of the Esks, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers

6 Comments

  • Dennis Faulkner says:

    A very gentle and kind man.

  • Julie MacKenzie says:

    Thanks for sharing the story on Dr. Peter Murphy. What an interesting story.

  • Millie S says:

    I wander through an old boreal forest nearly every day to ground my thoughts and get outside air and exercise for my dog, Thunder, and I. I learn so many lessons as I observe the subtle changes in the woods every day over all the seasons. In the snow I see animal tracks ranging from mice, to rabbits, coyotes, deer and moose. Sometimes I see bigger human boot prints and wonder who has been in “my forest”. I am always amazed how quiet it is down at the trail level, even when there is extreme wind in the canopy. There is stand of probably 100 year plus “sentinel” trees where even though the top branchy portion has broken off, they are still pointing up to the sky which reminds me to keep looking up!

  • Delores says:

    I met him at church with his daughter Sharon. He seemed so kind and gentle to me. Now, I wonder if my daughter Sarah ever studied under his direction when she attended the Forestry program at NAIT many years ago….. also one who appreciated the outdoors. Rest In Peace, Sir.

  • Gordon Graham says:

    I worked 35 years with the Alberta Forestry Department and had only a few brief interactions with Peter Murphy. However, it was obvious that he had a real down to earth love for the Forest, it’s history and teaching whoever was willing to listen about the amazing benefits of the life processes that go on in the forests. I didn’t really know him well but was impressed by his gentle spirit especially for someone of his stature as I consider him as a great Albertan.
    I’m retired living in the city and have found a hobby that takes me to the Forest often year round. I love the peacefulness
    (Until I start my chainsaw) and am amazed when I consider the many, many interactions and processes that go on below and above ground in the Forest to make it all possible. The Forest speaks to me of a great God and Creator and there’s not a better sanctuary to drop to your knees and raise your arms in worship and praise to our Lord God, Creator and, the One who loves us so much! I often see the outstretched limbs of the trees and I believe are reaching out to their Creator who sustains them to worship and praise Him!

  • Sharon Murphy says:

    Pastor Bob, thank you for taking the time to write this beautiful tribute to our dad, and for your thoughtfulness and care in preparing for our memorial service. Your words about trees and dad resonated so strongly and it was especially meaningful while we were grieving. It’s amazing how we find peace and solace and a deep sense of connecting with God in the grandeur of the forests and mountains, and that cool, fresh air! Dad was able to spend a few days exploring the forest around Jasper just this fall and I know it brought him a lot of happiness to be there. Our family is grateful that you could be with us during this time, and I know it would’ve meant so much to dad as well. And we learned a few more things about trees!

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