City Orders Sisters to Take Down Beloved Neighborhood Tree Swing


This weekend, 11-year-old Reilly McMillan and her sister Gracie, 8, have a sad, government-mandated task ahead of them.

They must take down the tree swing in front of their house — the one they made and put up with their dad. It could “chafe” the tree’s bark.

The problem is that while the tree is on a patch of lawn that the Calgary, Alberta, family mows and rakes, it is separated from their property by a sidewalk, making it a officially a city tree on city land. An onlooker noticed the swing a few months after the McMillans put it there and called the city to complain, anonymously. Complaining about things not bothering anyone except themselves is what anonymous callers do.

An official was dispatched to assess the menace, and determined the swing presented a liability risk (‘natch) and could hurt the tree bark. As Brodie szidhnetza
at MetroNews reports:

 Jeannette Wheeler, urban forestry lead with the City of Calgary… explained that there is a bylaw that prevents people from attach[ing] things to public trees. A swing could chafe the bark over time. 

“I don’t think there’s fault with the family,” said Wheeler. “They just wanted to have fun.”

Yesterday I spoke with the girls’ mom, Ali, who confirmed exactly that: Fun it was. Each morning, “all the neighborhood kids meet at our house and swing on the swing and then they walk to school together.” Now maybe they can meet up and take selfies.

The nearest non-illegal swing is at a park and “it’s like a safety swing,” says Ali. “It’s for little kids — you can’t really swing on it.”

As we chatted, I mentioned the “Red Swing Project,” an international push, as it were, to hang red swings in public places. Ali was thrilled to hear about it.  After a bit of Googling, she found that another Canadian city, Halifax, had been faced with the “illegal” red swings a few years back and had decided the joy was worth the “risk.” So as MetroNews reported today:

Adam Hayter was part of a group of people in Halifax who secretly hung 12 red swings in public green spaces early one summer morning in 2014.

“The idea was around creating projects that could be delivered in one day that delivered public benefit,” said Hayter.

People took notice of the red swings and started using them. So when the city announced it would be removing them due to liability issues, a firestorm erupted on Twitter.

“Red Swing Halifax was a top trending tweet across Canada for 24 hours,” said Hayter.

At the last minute, Halifax sent some employees out to inspect the swings and they gave the thumbs up.

Hayter said he and a few others now refurbish the swings on a yearly basis to make sure they’re clean and safe.

What a radical idea! Letting people improve the world, rather than curtailing them with bureaucracy.

It’s a lesson the McMillan girls are drinking in. “The kids don’t get that one person complained and now we have to take our swing down,” the mom told me. “It’s kind of like their first little activist cause.”

As long as there are bureaucrats and busybodies, I expect this won’t be their last. – L


The little lawbreaker herself:

The little lawbreaker herself: Gracie McMillan, age 8.



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41 Responses to City Orders Sisters to Take Down Beloved Neighborhood Tree Swing

  1. steve June 23, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    The grammar in this article is atrocious.

  2. Vicki Bradley June 23, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    The pettiness that some people exhibit is unbelievable. I just chalk it up to the person who made the report as being a mean-minded, kill-joy who can’t stand to see other people enjoying themselves because they themselves are so miserable. The fun police are on patrol, ready to get you!

  3. Vicki Bradley June 23, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    Really, Steve, that’s all you can come up with. I guess my comment about petty people doesn’t just apply to the person in the article.

  4. James Pollock June 23, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    When I was about ten, the neighborhood association objected to the treehouse in the big tree in our front yard… treehouses in front yards are against the homeowner’s covenant. When we moved shortly thereafter, the new house was in a brand-new development that was being built in what had been farmland… no trees bigger than saplings in the whole neighborhood.

  5. James Pollock June 23, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    Vicki, don’t be petty.

  6. Jessica June 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    That is a huge curb area. When I first started reading, I imagined it to be as wide as mine, which is about the same width as the sidewalk (2-3 ft). With that much room, there’s very little danger of falling in the street or hitting cars. All I see is wasted space and two clever kids making good use of it.

    Also, as far as complaining goes, there ought to be a relative minimum number of complaints before action can be taken, instead of an absolute minimum (in this case, apparently, one). So if 100 people drive down that road every single day and in 3 months only one person complains, maybe they’re just a killjoy. And I would suggest finding out just what the bylaws say you can do with that stretch and push it to the limits.

  7. Shelly Stow June 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    I don’t mind being petty. Steve, I am generally considered the grammar guru. I found a stray “a” that is certainly a typo that the editor missed, a comma before an “and” that technically should not be there, and something in quotes that should have either ellipses right after the opening quotation mark or have the first word of the quote capitalized. None of that adds up to “atrocious.” What specifically caused you to make that pronouncement?

  8. Walter Underwood June 23, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Ropes tied around a tree limb can “girdle” the bark and can cause serious damage. I removed the swing in our back yard that had damaged a lovely walnut tree.

    Then I got two heavy duty screw eyes. I drilled pilot holes in the bottom of the branch, installed the screw eyes, and hung the swing from it.

    This is better for the tree, probably safer (screws into hardwood are very secure), and the swing works much better. Before, the ropes would slip, but now, the swing moves freely and evenly.


  9. Tee Dee June 23, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    It is indeed a liability risk. Sad, but that’s the society we live in.

    That bit about chafing the bark is nonsense, though.

  10. Tee Dee June 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Or maybe not, judging by Walter’s comment above.

  11. Suze June 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Well, I better complain to my city too. The doctor down the street from me has a tree swing in his front yard on a tree growing on city property. His two small children enjoy that swing pretty much every day. So, while I’m at it, I better let him know he’s breaking the law. Egad. What’s this world coming to?

  12. Rivkacatholicaspie June 23, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    “while the tree is on a patch of lawn that the Calgary, Alberta, family mows and rakes, it is separated from their property by a sidewalk, making it a officially a city tree on city land.”

    I think the family needs to stop mowing and raking that patch of lawn. If it’s the city’s land, the city can mow it.

  13. Rivkacatholicaspie June 23, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    It IS true, though, that swings seriously damage tree bark. I’ve seen it happen. Walter suggests a better way of putting up tree swings.

  14. Elisabeth K. June 23, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    Ali and Gracie,

    Keep on swinging! And put up the red swings. Get your friends to help you change the community.

    Elisabeth, age 12

  15. Ali McMillan June 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    We saw the stuff online about putting the screws in the tree but because this was a city tree, and we are only putting the swing up temporarily (summer months) we didn’t use that method. We did a lot of research into this. Instead we selected a smaller branch which had already been lopped off half way by city pruning. We researched knots that loosen when the swing isn’t weighted. We love this tree too and wouldn’t want to harm it but let’s put things in perspective here. There is balance and trade offs with everything in life. This swing gets kids playing outside. It brings joy to passers by and builds community. It makes a boring boulevard alive and fun. I think common sense should prevail here.

  16. Donna June 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    At first, I was picturing the curb areas around here that are about a foot and a half wide and thought that reporting the swing and ordering it down was perfectly reasonable. No way you could put a swing adjacent to the curb in my area where a swinger was not obstructing the street and sidewalk with every swing and I could see someone being annoyed by that enough to report it. But the curb area here is huge. As long as the kids can swing without obstructing traffic on the road or sidewalk, reporting it was ridiculous. It existence couldn’t possibly have impacted someone’s life that bad.

    That said, once it was reported, the city had a right to make them take it down if it didn’t want it there regardless of how many people complained. It is city property. We have no more right to keep unwanted things on city property than the city does our property. Even if we think they are being ridiculous, we can’t insist that the city take on a liability that it doesn’t want. I do hope that the girls can convince the city that it does want a tree swing there though.

  17. Ali McMillan June 23, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Halifax seemed to find a way to be reasonable

  18. railmeat June 23, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    The area in question (between the sidewalk and the roadway) is called a planting strip, and sometimes (erroneously) a parking strip. It is the homeowner’s property, but local municipalities usually have a variety of easements on this piece of land. For example, the homeowner’s ability to prune or remove trees is nearly always heavily regulated. And, as Mr Underwood has pointed out, ropes girdling branches can cause significant damage. So that argument has at least SOME validity.

    The liability issue is simply dead wrong. The sidewalk and planting strip remain the homeowner’s responsibility, and any liability would remain with them. Think about tripping on badly maintained concrete, or slipping on an icy sidewalk that wasn’t properly cleared of snow. That last one should get the Calgary code enforcer’s attention. I GUARANTEE that he/she will quickly let folks know that it is the homeowner’s liability, not the city, if the sidewalk isn’t safe.

    So, as a reasonable compromise, rather than removing the swing, how about following Walter’s advice above and installing eyebolts? Or better yet, throughbolts with large washers on the top-side. The tree will grow to include this hardware in the living wood of the branch. Much MUCH stronger (read, ‘safer’ 🙂 )

    Problem solved.

  19. BL June 23, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    “explained that there is a bylaw that prevents people from attach[ing] things to public trees.”

    So what does “public” mean? Aren’t “good citizens” supposed to concern themselves with “public” things? As in improving them (which this does, or at least it can be very strongly argued)?

    “Le publique, c’est moi,” says Jeannette Wheeler.

  20. Chris McCauley June 23, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    What the hell is going on. Seriously. When will we just tell folks to mind their own business. Wow. What a waste of taxpayer money and a wasting away of the quality of our lives.

  21. Steve June 23, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

    @Walter Underwood

    “Ropes tied around a tree limb can “girdle” the bark and can cause serious damage. I removed the swing in our back yard that had damaged a lovely walnut tree.”

    Did you know that to improve the appearance of the grain of walnut wood, people would send kids out to the orchards with sticks and get them to beat the hell out of the trees?

    The more you damage the tree, the more amazing the grain in the wood!

  22. TeacherJR June 23, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    McMillan Family –

    First of all, your easement is HUGE! If it were mine, I would fill it with swings and flowers and vegetables and all the other awesome things, all for the public to enjoy. It’s almost like having a personal pocket park!

    Secondly, I’m a certified master gardener in my county, and I would definitely look into swing-hanging methods that would cause the least harm to the tree. Although I live in the desert, where our tree protocol is certainly different from yours, I would suggest that you find a way to attach the swing to the tree in such a way that it does not rub a wound in the bark over time, because that’s often how diseases enter the tree.

    Best of luck!

  23. Dean June 23, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    Bureaucrats and busybodies. Exactly!
    Bureaucrats have to do something to justify their existence , and busybodies are self-justifying.

  24. Donna June 23, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    “The sidewalk and planting strip remain the homeowner’s responsibility, and any liability would remain with them.”

    Actually, this varies from state to state and even municipality to municipality within a state. In the majority of cases, the city has some liability for public sidewalks and planting strips, although they may share that liability with the homeowner in certain areas.

    I have no idea what the law is in Canada.

  25. Theresa June 23, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    Our government has too much time on their hands. Always has poke their noses where they are not wanted.

  26. railmeat June 23, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    Donna, if the city or municipality takes on liability, they also take on the maintenance costs. Show me a municipality that is actively looking for ways to increase their infrastructure *and* legal costs, and I’ll change my position.

  27. Donald June 23, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    I’m bored. Not much to do today. Nothing good on Tv. What to do?

    I know! I’ll find something to complain about!

  28. bmj2k June 23, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    This is what’s happening in this world. One person has a complaint/issue/problem and everyone has to bend over backwards to make that one person happy. So one person is happy and everyone else is not. But that’s OK! We took care of one person’s hurt feelings/bad mood/weird opinion.

  29. Donna June 24, 2016 at 7:35 am #


    Really it is as simple as doing a basic Google search of “who is liable for sidewalks” to get copious answers that do not comport with your beliefs. Try it.

  30. Steve June 24, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    (different Steve here)

    For the grammar gurus, snobs etc;

    The definition of correct usage of a language is; if a native speaker produces it and, on introspection, that native speaker affirms that their usage is correct then it IS correct.

    Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language and then (and this is important) goes on to use that language in a community of its native speakers, will find that those native speakers are producing grammar which is, according to what they have been taught, incorrect. You learn very quickly that the grammar you’ve been taught in your language lessons is woefully inadequate for the nuances and variations that an actual living language community produces.

    Grammar is a useful fiction. Grammar is useful in teaching beginners about language and thats really the origin of the concept of grammar.

  31. Stacey Gordon June 24, 2016 at 1:28 pm #


  32. LRH June 24, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m going to side with the first Steve about grammar.

    Grammar matters. It’s one thing to nit-pick every single little thing like a dangling modifier or ending a sentence with a preposition, but come on–I’ve known not to say things like “your funny” (should be you’re) and “the phone has a crack on it’s screen” (should be its) since I was in 3rd grade. EVERYBODY ought to know THAT much–if not, I dare suggest you’re intellectually lazy and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I’m absolutely serious.

    I remember a comment one person made about the “7 year itch” when they said “there’s no shame in HAVING it, but it’s a disgrace to KEEP it.” Exactly. In other words, it’s one thing to not know something, but to know it and to keep on doing it anyway, yes to me that’s disgraceful.

    I take pride in spelling words properly, and I don’t consider the response “well that’s you” to be correct. It should matter to EVERYBODY. It’s not that we’re all supposed to be the same, but there is NOTHING to be proud of when your grammar and spelling look like they come from someone who’s never left the sticks. I don’t care if it’s “just a Facebook post,” it should apply everywhere. Me personally, I even make a point to get such correct when sending a text message on my phone.

    I mean come on. I remember in typing class in high school how it was the case that if a glaring type was spotted and it was located in such a way that the only way to fix it was to type that one page all over again, guess what, it was expected of you to do just that. Now we have word processing, spellcheck, and dictionaries simply by opening another tab on our Firefox or Chrome browser, and we’re too lazy to do that?

    I’m sorry, that’s pathetic, and GOOD for people who call it out. I’m one such person, and I’m proud to do so. Don’t like it? Stop being lazy, clean up your grammar. Period.

  33. LRH June 24, 2016 at 4:19 pm #

    PS–yes, I did notice in my posting I made a mistake, TYPE should be TYPO.

    To expand on it a bit, I also think we’ve gotten a bit out of hand with the acronyms. “BFF” and “HTH” and the like? I’m sorry, to me that’s also lazy. Spell your words out. It’s one thing when it’s something like DVD or NASA or FBI, but come on, if typing out “best friend” or “I hope that helps” is all of a sudden some big huge burden, I think we’re starting to get a bit ridiculous and, yes, lazy.

    Call me intolerant, call me lazy, call me a grammar Nazi, tell me that I’m being judgmental, I don’t care. Where does it end? Should I know start posting on Facebook “eye thenk dat Fwee Wange Keds iz exculent?”

    Furthermore, ESPECIALLY when it regards “your funny” and “the phone has a crack on it’s screen” (and my extreme example), that’s not a matter of opinion (the way acronyms are), that is FACT. It is an absolute FACT that “your funny” is WRONG and it is FACT that, even if people understand what I was saying in my extreme example, that it is horribly wrong and way off with the spelling and resoundingly so. I’m sorry, being “nice” shouldn’t mean not telling someone they have the grammar of a molecule, just use nicer words than that.

    As for the issue at hand, this is ridiculous. I agree with the one person who said that some people do this simply to get their jollies off with respect to the chaos which ensues, and that such people seem to be of the mentality that “if I can’t have any fun, then neither can anyone else.” People like that ought to be flogged.

  34. LRH June 24, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

    Final PS–yes, it is also “fact” that I should have typed “now start posting” instead of “know start posting,” and that “call me lazy” makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (it would make more sense to say “petty”). I goofed up. I’ve made a point to be extra careful here before clicking “submit.”

    See, that’s my point, it’s not that one can never ever make a mistake? It’s also understandable that sometimes things slip through if you click “post” or “send” in haste (heck I just did that very thing twice). However, when you know (not now) that a certain spelling or such is incorrect, or if you make such a mistake and someone points it out, don’t get all butt-hurt and/or dismiss it like it doesn’t matter. Take pride in what you say in the written form, ANYTHING you write, even a Facebook post, even a blog that’s not meant for your boss. Grammar matters EVERYWHERE (well maybe not when you’re playing pool while guzzling a bottle of Budweiser). To dismiss it is intellectually lazy and shameful. How are kids supposed to take their parents seriously about doing good in school and learning what the teachers are teaching in English class if all the adults around them goof up even the most basic of spellings (seriously, come on, “your funny,” really?) and then act as if it doesn’t matter?

    It’s also shameful and ridiculous what that anonymous caller did bothering little girls enjoying a swing.

  35. Donna June 25, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

    I have now seen another picture of the swing. The girls are barely swinging in the picture and half their legs are over the sidewalk. There is no way that a person can walk down the sidewalk while the children are swinging without dodging or waiting until the swinger stops. If this area was a regular place that I walked, I might complain too. I completely support tree swings, but they should not impact the use of a public sidewalk.

  36. Jim Collins June 25, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

    Make sure to use stainless steel hardware. It will not rust and lose strength. Zinc, galvanized or cadmium plated hardware can leech chemicals that will harm the tree.

  37. Dawn June 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm #

    What tiny-minded killjoys! Apparently they have nothing better to do than harrass little girls! Well, that’ll teach ’em–that adults and governments are picayune nitwits. What an”American ” thing to do!

  38. NY Mom June 26, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    In an odd reversal of the governmental behavior we have come to expect , the City of Rochester NY has announced it will be putting play equipment at bus stops as mini- parks.

    Odd. We haven’t had bus shelters for decades. Or even benches. Now they are coming back and with neat stuff for little kids. In poor neighborhoods.

    A cultural shift? I hope so.
    People Over Paranoia.
    A big win for free range kids.

  39. Frances June 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

    So…I actually live in Calgary,which has a great many really good city-owned play spaces for kids, including a series of adventure playgrounds circulating through various parks this summer and some of the most hair-raising toboggan runs around. THIS IS NOT ABOUT STOPPING KIDS FROM PLAYING. I won’t speak for the person who called it in (anonymous complaints are a different issue) but we have a bylaw that forbids attaching things to public trees. It’s not new. It includes swings and hammocks and slacklines and signs. It’s not really there to protect the kids, it’s there to protect the trees.

    Calgary is in a semi-arid high altitude climate. Trees big enough to hang swings from don’t actually grow all that easily here, and many of the old black poplars that line our streets aren’t strong enough to hold the weight of an adult, or a couple of kids…but you can’t tell by looking that the branch is rotten, or weakened by one of the unseasonal snowstorms this area is prone to and which cost the city millions to save our urban forest (google “snowtember”). And swings don’t just chafe bark,they can carve deep grooves in it! Fairly quickly, too. When branches on these trees break, they don’t just snap off, they split the trunk. That is catastrophic for the tree.

    Halifax, btw, is on the other side of the country. Completely different climate. They can grow hardwoods there. We can’t.

    Now, maybe our bylaw should be reviewed. Fair enough. But maybe in the meantime we could consider that there is always more than one side to a story.

  40. Dornier Pfeil July 4, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    The rules of language are descriptive not prescriptive. Language evolves. Get over it.