'Christmas Tree Charlie': Chatham resident marks 75 years in the tree business

'Christmas Tree Charlie': Chatham resident marks 75 years in the tree business

Chatham Ont. resident Charlie Dorner entered the Christmas tree business in 1944, at the age of 16.

At the time, Dorner was living with his brother John, and needed to find a job if he hoped to maintain his living situation. 

Dorner lept into the business, eventually spending his career selling trees within Windsor-Essex, as well as Detroit and even parts of Florida state. 

Seventy five years later, the now 91-year-old Dorner is still working with Christmas trees, selling Fraser firs, balsam firs, Scotch pines and blue spruces out of a plantation in Chatham. 

"People just come here and they buy a tree, and they love the trees," Dorner said.

Gloria Dorner, Charlie Dorner's daughter, said most people know her father as "Christmas Tree Charlie," adding that Dorner's Trees has never skipped a year of sales.

Katerina Georgieva/CBC

"He is the main person, and he will go out during the summer, in the month of July and he will prune all those trees by hand," she said.

"There's about 3,000 trees and he does that himself ... when he's hurting with a new hip … he takes a ladder out there and he climbs the ladder and he prunes the trees."

Still, the rise of artificial trees — as well as new building codes that prevent residents from owning real Christmas trees — the Dorner tree farm has seen reduced business in recent years.

In fact, Gloria said that she and the rest of her family weren't certain that Dorner would sell trees this year. 

"With his age and getting older and just staying out in the cold, we didn't even think he was going to open it," she said.

"He decided in the first part of December, 'Yeah, I'm going to have a tree [sale].'"

Katerina Georgieva/CBC

Dorner cut down about 60 trees to sell this season.  

For some customers, Charlie Dorner and his tree farm are part of Christmas tradition.

"There was one customer that said 'I have to come and get a tree from Charlie, because I moved away and my dad wasn't going to buy a tree, and when I come home, I'm going to get the tree and bring it into the house," explained Gloria Dorner. 

"I'm just so proud of him how he keeps going at it."