The Joy of the Hunt – Pick Your Own Christmas Tree at R Family Tree Farm

The Joy of the Hunt


by Maria Johnson

The joy is in the hunt. Bundling up, tromping through glistening snow in crisp winter air, examining from this angle and that. It’s all part of the quest for just the right tree.

Then after “the one” is discovered, cut, and packed for the journey home, there’s additional outdoor excitement to prolong the magic; speeding downhill on toboggan or gliding across an open air rink. A crackling fire awaits nearby to warm cold hands and feet.

The Porttin family just west of Sylvan Lake; Gary, Susana, and Ryker, have created the stage for this experience.

“It gives families memories that last a lifetime”, says Susana.

She says that Ryker, 7, loves meeting the people, showing them around, and joining in the kid centered fun in this joyful excursion leading up to December 25. The Porttin’s agree that it’s wonderful having people come and go in the best of spirits.

Since 2005 the Porttins have planted about 7,000 white and Colorado blue spruce on the 80 acre property. Their supplier is the Bonnyville Forest Nursery. “I’ve always loved to be around spruce trees”, he says. Unexpected benefits are the birds, deer, and moose the trees have attracted. “There’s birds here I’ve never seen before”, he says.

R Family Christmas Tree Farm opened for business in 2013. What can’t be shared through photos is the fragrance of a fresh cut tree. As the trunk takes up water, sap runs and releases that woodsy spruce tree smell, more so at room temperature as compared to out in the cold.

She said that although most people are on the lookout for a bushy symmetrical tree, one customer’s annual mission is to purchase a unique tree rather than a perfect one. “Last year she picked one with two tops”, says Susana.

While the sales season is just six weeks long this year from Nov. 13 to Dec. 23, the trees need attention throughout the year. “They have to be groomed”, says Gary. To achieve the desired conical shape trimming is carried out through spring, summer and fall on thousands of trees. “It’s a big job.”

The Porttins are continuing to develop sideline activities. They’ve built a larger fire pit and gazebo, added a light over the skating rink, and a full service, all season cabin to rent throughout the year. It will double as the tree sales office.

The farm’s convenient location, just minutes from Sylvan Lake, makes it an easy destination for families travelling to the tourist area for summer or winter get-a-ways.

“It would be a good place to stay for people coming out for hockey tournaments” says Gary. “They’d have their own skating rink and fit pit”.

Gary grew up on the property which is part of the original half section that his great grandparents homesteaded in 1895 when they emigrated from Finland. “We had a dairy farm here in the early 1900’s, he says of his ancestors. “Right up until 1962. And a blacksmith shop.” A symbol of his Finnish ancestry, although no longer in use, is the sauna. It’s just steps from the main house, which sits on the same spot as the home he grew up in. Porttin’s parents farmed here until the mid 1970’s.

The search for the perfect tree is part of their family tradition as well. “I love it”, says Susana. “We walk among the trees and find the very best one.”