Protecting Heritage Trees – Toronto Field Naturalists

reprinted with permission from The Toronto Field Naturalists

The White Oak at Jane and Weatherell is a beautiful and impressive tree, 75ft high with a spread of 79 ft.  Its circumference is over 13 ft., its diameter is 4ft. It was identified by TFN members Gavin Miller and Madeleine McDowell in 1997. Madeleine believes this tree to be over 260 years old. David Orsini a landscape architect who has been propagating acorns from this tree, says this tree is three hundred years old. This tree has a story (see next page) and a presence, both historically and now. The continuation of a local gene pool with a pedigree of three centuries is both remarkable and essential. It reflects the integrity of our natural heritage as a living entity. This tree should be designated by the City of Toronto under the Ontario Heritage Act. But the City of Toronto does not have a policy with regard to the designation of heritage trees under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Madeleine has been actively advocating for a City policy for a decade and for the designation of this particular tree since amalgamation. It was flagged by Urban Forestry and was one of the first designated by the Ontario Heritage Tree Alliance. In spite of the fact that this group had a “do not touch” agreement from Urban Forestry, it was pruned by Toronto Hydro’s contractor last fall- see before and after photos.

Toronto has good tree bylaws to protect the urban forest, but has virtually no recognition, much less protection, of the local genetic pool of the remnant aboriginal forest. Many of these trees are reaching maturity and there is a narrow window in which to document them and set up their planned regeneration.

Heritage trees have been left to the protection of under-funded and volunteer-run organizations with neither the financial resources nor the enforcement clout of a government agency. Many of Toronto’s tree advocates hope that the City will finally step up and provide Toronto’s heritage trees with the protection that they deserve so that citizens can enjoy their cultural and ecological legacies for years to come. Madeleine intends to continue to pursue such a policy.  We urge TFN members to let their councilors know that the City needs a policy to designate and protect this oak and other heritage trees like it.

A witness to History from the Aboriginal Forest a beautiful and impressive white oak (Quercus alba) located on the Toronto Carrying Place, a 5,000 year old aboriginal tail near the banks of the Humber River, is a living witness to people and events that are part of the history of Canada. This tree was young when the French established their second trading fort, Fort Toronto, in 1749 at the foot of the Portage on which the tree stands- the fort from which Toronto takes its name.  It was part of the forest canopy by 1764 when Alexander Henry passed by on June 19thwith a group of Mississauga on his way to Fort Niagara from Mackinac, where he had been taken prisoner the previous year in the Pontiac wars. It was a mature tree when Benjamin Frobisher passed by, recommending in a 1784 report, that the Northwest Company use this as the preferred route to the West. It witnessed the passage of Lieutenant Governor Simcoe on September 25, 1793 on his way to Penetanguishene. The feet of the War Party dispatched by General Brock in 1812 to join Tecumseh and capture Fort Mackinac may have trod over the roots of this tree. The assault was so successful that when they later approached Fort Detroit it surrendered.  Chief of the Mississaugas, Peter Jones, possibly passed by with his people, the Mississaugas of the New Credit, on their way to a meeting regarding their Treaty, with the Inspector General Jacques Baby on his estate in 1828. The oak felt the terrible onslaught of Hurricane Hazel, witnessing the rescue flights from Bloor Street Bridge in October 1954. In the spring of 1997 this was on of a hundred and fifty oak trees along the Toronto Carrying Place, all over 125 years old, which were proclaimed by Metropolitan Toronto as an ancient oak grove and named in honour of Tubbanahneequay, daughter of Wabanosay, Chief of the Mississaugas at the time of the Toronto Purchase. History written by Madeleine McDowell. Article compiled from: