Quebec City's 'cannonball' tree finds second life in locally made snare drums

Ebenor Percussion founder William Leclerc used wood from the Quebec City 'cannonball' tree to make limited-edition snare drums.  (Submitted by William Leclerc - image credit)
Ebenor Percussion founder William Leclerc used wood from the Quebec City 'cannonball' tree to make limited-edition snare drums. (Submitted by William Leclerc - image credit)

For years, the mysterious "cannonball" tree in Old Quebec City drew visitors, eager to catch a glimpse of the dark metallic sphere lodged at its base.

Some had even suggested the "cannonball" trapped in the American elm on Saint-Louis Street was an explosive.

But that excitement came to an end when the city announced three years ago that it would have the century-old tourist attraction removed. The 17-metre tree became a public safety risk after fungi invaded it, threatening its structural integrity.

Officials called on a Canadian Forces team, which spent three days pulling out the elm and extracting the ball from its cavity in 2021.

The Quebec City 'cannonball' tree was cut down in 2021.
The Quebec City 'cannonball' tree was cut down in 2021.

The Quebec City 'cannonball' tree was cut down in 2021. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

But to the delight of percussionists, the tree is getting another shot at fame.

William Leclerc, a drum maker from Courcelles, Que., has repurposed the wood to make 10 snare drums and a drum kit to highlight the 10th anniversary of his business, Ebenor Percussion.

"It's a sound that I never produced in the past. It has its own identity," he said. "Elm produces a very dark tone, and it has a really nice sensitivity."

William Leclerc, left, and his father, Gilles Leclerc, have worked together at Ebenor Percussion for the past seven years.
William Leclerc, left, and his father, Gilles Leclerc, have worked together at Ebenor Percussion for the past seven years.

William Leclerc, left, and his father, Gilles Leclerc, have worked together at Ebenor Percussion for the past seven years. (Submitted by William Leclerc)

As a trained mechanical engineer and drum enthusiast, Leclerc said he was at Atelier du Bronze d'Inverness to pick up parts when the owner offered to sell him some of the Quebec City elm's wood. The bronze foundry had been conserving pieces of the tree, which will be used to make public art.

Leclerc was happy to discover that the elm had a "beautiful grain" when he cut the wood into boards and fed them into a planer.

"There were so many nails and steel bars in that wood that we scrapped around 10 saw blades during the process," said Leclerc, who normally works with maple or cherry wood.

Another aspect of the elm that took him by surprise was its scent.

"The smell was like the exhaust of a car, probably because it was in the city and grabbed a lot of carbon," he said.

A distinctly 'hollow' sound

Leclerc said it took about three weeks to sell all the instruments made of the legendary tree's wood.

Todd Sucherman — drummer for the American rock band Styx who has been a client of Ebenor Percussion since 2021 — was one of the first to receive the elm snare drum.

When Sucherman tried the instrument, Leclerc said, the drummer appreciated its "darker" and "hollow" sound for studio recordings.

Canadian singer-songwriter Jonathan Painchaud, of the traditional Acadian group Salebarbes, said he would receive his limited-edition snare drum in time to close the band's final tour.

"I wanted to bring an instrument that means something too and that has historical and human significance," Painchaud said. "We couldn't do better than that."

Leclerc said drums from the collection produce a 'very dark tone.'
Leclerc said drums from the collection produce a 'very dark tone.'

Leclerc said drums from the collection produce a 'very dark tone.' (Submitted by William Leclerc)

Although Leclerc knew little about the tree's history (he says he only visited the tree a couple of times), the drum maker says he instantly knew he wanted to build special instruments with its wood.

"The tree is very emblematic of Quebec City," he said. "To me, it was obvious to use it for my 10th anniversary collection."