IN THE GARDEN: Tree has deep roots in Canada's history

The oldest tree in Toronto could be cut down.

The 350-year-old red oak is located on a residential lot in Rexdale. The homeowners fear that the house may no longer be livable. As the tree grows, it “squeezes” the house and its foundation with branches and roots.

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The property is on the market for about $750,000.

The city has said that it does not want to buy it, but a final decision has been put off for a few weeks while discussion and study goes on. Some Torontonians with a keen sense of history and appreciation for Toronto’s oldest tree have challenged the city to meet them halfway. Edith George, a long-time advocate for heritage trees, is leading a coalition of private citizens to raise half of the value of the real estate, approximately $325,000.

What is the significance of this tree? First, it was a rather mature 130 years old when Toronto, then York, was founded in 1793.

Secondly, it is not just the tree that is significant, but what it represents. There is only one “oldest” tree in the city. When it is gone, another tree will be deemed “the oldest.” But it won’t be 350 years old and it may not be in a state of health that makes it worthy of saving, as this one is. To a large degree we need to save this tree because we can. 

Third, the location and age of this tree has special significance to Indigenous people. It is considered sacred by many.

We believe this campaign should focus on the tree and its preservation. The house should be gently removed, the soil around its roots remediated and the entire tree be given special attention by professionals in the business of arboriculture. It deserves nothing less.

We understand that the tree could live another 150 years or more, given proper care and attention.

During the war of 1812, the Americans thought it was a good idea to come to Canada to claim our country as their own and as 35,000 Americans left home to fight, 5,000 British, Canadian and Indigenous people defended our border.  

Without the help of our Indigenous people, specifically the people of the Six Nations, historians agree that we would most certainly be American today.

All non-Indigenous Canadians owe another debt of thanks to our native brethren. Our attention is drawn to Toronto’s oldest tree. What a fitting tribute to the efforts and sacrifice made by Indigenous people on behalf of us all.

We believe today is the best day of all to remind ourselves of our history, to acknowledge past mistakes and to make good on the promise to “never forget.”  

Now would be the ideal time to seriously consider making a donation through this important crowdfunding effort: www.tinyurl.com/GoFundMeRedOak.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. Follow him at markcullen.com.

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