MAHONEY: The mystery of the Westover shoe tree

Westover is one of those modest, sparsely populated little communities tucked away in the distant rural folds of Hamilton's vast amalgamated terra incognita; you might never have heard of it if not for the Enbridge pipelines protests that started up there in 2013.

But maybe there's something else going on there. Spectator photographer Cathie Coward discovered a rather impressive shoe tree there a few weeks ago. I've been up to see it a couple of times, out at the corner of Westover Road and Concession Road 8 W, hoping to crack the story. But Westover being, well, Westover, there was never anyone around.

I'd stand there, under the big silent Flamborough sky but no one ever came by. All I could hear was the buzzing on the wires and I think a cow lowing on its way home from pasture.

I tried to ask a squirrel about the shoe tree but you know squirrels this time of year. Their heads throb with one idea — "Nuts! Nuts! Sorry no time to talk. Gotta get more nuts. Winter's a-comin'." (Like Donald Trump, it obviously doesn't believe in global warming.)

So, for lack of success with my primary research, I now reach out to you, good readers. Can anyone tell me what's the story behind the great shoe tree of Westover-opolis? How did it get there? What does it mean?

It's not something peculiar to Westover, of course. A quick sleigh-ride through the internetty googlesphere produced many articles on the shoe tree phenomenon.

There are, says the always trustworthy information superhighway, shoe trees all over North America and they've even made appearances in England and Europe. Speculation about what they mean and how they originated is rampant and somewhat inconclusive.

Apparently, shoe trees have been seen as far back as a hundred years ago or more. They appear to be related, close cousins, to shoes on wires and shoe tossing in general.

Theories about their "etiology" include military practice of throwing boots over a wire or the limb of tree to mark the end of active duty; the lore that bullies steal the shoes of their victims and toss then high into tree so the victim can't recover them; European fertility rituals whereby shoes in a tree signify abundance.

More recent ideas are that they mark a place where someone has died or a place where one can get drugs or gang turf.

Are we getting warmer? Gang turf? What? The Westover Sharks Versus The Westover Jets? Blood versus Crips? The Ladies Auxiliary versus the Poultry Club? And drugs? That's a long, lonesome way to go when you can get a prescription for your "glaucoma" if you know what I mean.

No. I can't quite figure out a convincing explanation. So I leave it to you. Somebody's flinging those shoes up there. Is it you? Tell me why (see contact info at end). I'll keep you posted.

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