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The story of Big Lonely Doug

October 1st, 2018

Harley Rustad with Big Lonely Doug AR. Photo Art Gallery of Ontario.

All alone in what was once an old-growth forest stands Big Lonely Doug, the second-largest Douglas fir tree in Canada. The tree is about 1,000 years old and 66 metres high – taller than Niagara Falls. And thanks to augmented reality (AR), Big Lonely Doug is also in the AGO’s Galleria Italia as one of three spectacular AR sculptures now on view as part of our new exhibition, Anthropocene.

The fascinating story behind the tree inspired author Harley Rustad, who wrote Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees. The book tells the story of the logger Dennis Cronin who saved Big Lonely Doug from being cut down. Join Harley and Sarain Fox, an Anishinaabe artist, activist and storyteller, for a conversation at the AGO on October 19 to celebrate the launch of this captivating book.

We caught up with Harley to learn more about this incredible tree and the story behind his new book.

AGO: What led you to write a book about Big Lonely Doug?
Harley: The story began as an article in The Walrus. But it only scratched the surface on the broader issues of environmental activism, the state of British Columbia’s timber industry, the ecology of old-growth forests and the motivations of why a logger saved one of the largest trees in the country. I wanted to dig deeper so I evolved the story into a book.

AGO: What will surprise people most when they read this book?
Harley: I think people will be surprised by how environmental activism has changed and how Big Lonely Doug speaks to the importance of these movements in finding a single icon that can be rallied around – like the recent story of the mother orca whale who carried her dead calf for more than two weeks. That emotional image drew attention to the plight of that species. Big Lonely Doug is doing the same for old-growth forests.

AGO: What do you think the logger Dennis Cronin would say about how famous Big Lonely Doug is today?
Harley: It was such a privilege to interview Dennis, the logger who saved this tree. He passed away in 2016. So he never saw the article or the book, let alone the AGO’s Anthropocene exhibition and the AR of Big Lonely Doug, but I think he would be proud that this tree has become so much more than a tree. And that his one act has attracted so much interest.

AGO: Is there a possibility of Big Lonely Doug will be cut down?
Harley: It’s unlikely. There’s always a chance that a disgruntled logger might take a chainsaw to this iconic tree, but the greatest protection of the tree is now public attention.

Don’t miss the conversation with Harley Rustad and Sarain Fox on October 19 at 7 pm. Book your tickets now.

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