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I half expect this to be closed, but in Louise Penny's novels set in and around Quebec, three pine trees are said to have been a sign of sanctuary for British Loyalists fleeing the Anglo-American War. I can find no confirmation of this, and considering how long it would take for the trees to grow, and how short the War actually was, seems unlikely. Is there any truth in this suggestion, or is it merely a fictional device?

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    Seems a legit question to me. The only issue I have is that if there's no truth to it, short of finding a lucky interview with the author stating so, it would be hard to get an answer showing that.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:30
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    Oh, which war are you referring to exactly? The war in 1776 or 1812 perhaps? This appears to be British terminology with which I'm unfamiliar (perhaps my bad there), but also which is confusing Google (big problem).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:36
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    I think this is a very specific fictional backstory to justify the name of the fictional village, called Three Pines (which "isn't on any map"), in which the novels are set. The idea of the village (which has three pines on the village green) as a sanctuary seems to be a theme in several of the stories (e.g. in "Nature of the Beast" it becomes home to an American draft dodger.
    – Steve Bird
    Feb 9, 2017 at 19:32
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    @T.E.D. The American War of Independence - as a mere Brit ;) I got the impression that "Revolutionary War" was more politically correct for my US cousins! Apologies for the confusion. My bad, not yours.
    – TheHonRose
    Feb 10, 2017 at 1:29
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    The war lasted less than a decade, even including the fighting prior to 1776. That's no where near long enough for any pine trees to have grown into noticeable landmarks. May 4, 2021 at 12:03

4 Answers 4

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This may be more than fictional backstory. From a website concerning genealogy of Loyalist ancestry:

Softwoods also have significance for Loyalist descendants. In the Jan 10 issue of Loyalist Trails, Denis Robitaille, Ph.D, Président de la Société d'histoire Forestière du Québec, tried to verify a familiar anecdote about plantation of white pines and the immigration of the Loyalists into the province of Quebec. He had heard that the inhabitants sensible to the Loyalists cause living close to the U.S. border (Frelighsburg, Saint-Armand, Sutton, Knowlton, Dunham, Bedford, ...) planted three white pines in front of their house to tell Loyalists that they were welcome to their home. To date no reference has surfaced.

This was dated "Loyalist Trails" 2010-17: April 25, 2010, so considering the publication of Still Life, the first of the 'Three Pines' novels appears to have been 2005 it is possible the above 'familiar anecdote' is due to people interested in the novels.

An interview with the author found states the following concerning the three pines legend:

An elderly woman sitting beside Penny at a church supper mentioned that her husband’s ancestors had long ago planted three pine trees on the family homestead as the customary signal to the Loyalists that they were in safe territory. “But then other people from the Townships who have read Still Life say they’ve never heard that story before, so I have no idea if it’s true,” adds Penny. "It’s real imitation folklore."

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    "Real imitation folklore" seems like as good a label as any for this. Kind of a weak version of what Robert Wuhl called The Liberty Valance Effect.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 10, 2017 at 16:26
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    She does at least claim having heard the story, so it would seem to me to be at least local folklore. I was working on a theory relating the three trees to the three hatchet slashes of the 'Kings Mark' on trees, but couldn't find any documentation of the Loyalists using that emblem anywhere.
    – justCal
    Feb 10, 2017 at 16:51
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    That's part of why I called it a "weak version". Its possible, but not nearly as well-supported as it is a good story.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 10, 2017 at 17:03
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My father bought a farm just outside of the Town of Brome Lake (Knowlton - which is "Three Pines" in the Penny novels) Quebec, in the Eastern Townships in 1947 - when Louise Penny was barely alive. Our family was very familiar with many descendants of the Loyalists and among them was the knowledge passed down that if there was one White Pine planted in front of a house, that house was a haven for Empire Loyalists. Truth or lore?

Therefore, I would not attribute this 'lore' to Louise Penny.

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I live in Dunham and I sometimes notice three pines planted together in prominent locations. Most notably, there are three mature pines at the main crossing in Frelighsburg. They are quite old. I cannot say if the lore pre-dates the books but the trees do. It is a distinctly Loyalist area wedged between the border and the French speaking Saint Lawrence Valley around Montréal.

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I live in Rosemère Québec on the north shore. Most of the old Anglo loyalist family properties have tall pines on them. It’s definitely not a French Canadian tradition.

It actually takes its roots in New Hampshire where the colonial government passed a law that forbade chopping select pines in order to keep them for masts in the vast shipbuilding industry for the British empire. This law can be traced back to 1708.

This was actually considered a bone of contention and part of the frustrations of the American colonists leading to the pine tree riot of 1772. Most territory in northern New England bordering with Quebec was already inhabited by the British, so probably when fleeing to French Canada, they just continued the habit of planting pine trees as a meme to keep alive their nostalgia of their New England loyalist roots, and also as a community rallying symbol since pine symbolism in Anglican tradition is said to represent steadfastness, peace and longevity.

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    This answer would be improved with the inclusion of some supporting references.
    – Steve Bird
    Nov 5, 2023 at 15:07

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