by Neil Carleton
Over the past two centuries, the property of the present day golf course at Pakenham has undergone significant changes. When the crown patent was issued to surveyor Billa Flint in 1823, the landscape would have still been old growth forest.
The relatively flat terrain of glacial deposits on the property, over Paleozoic age limestone bedrock, was sculpted by thousands of years of erosion since an ice sheet several kilometers thick covered our part of the continent. The dendritic drainage pattern of the area, with branching gullies, was created by a network of creeks and streams flowing into the nearby Mississippi River.
As the Flint family cleared parts of the forest for farmland and lumber, some of the mature trees were spared. One in particular continued to grow after Daniel Hilliard bought the property in 1854.
He was a United Empire Loyalist, born in 1824 at Prescott, where I grew up, on the St. Lawrence River. As a young man he came to Pakenham to open a general store and run the post office. Records indicate that by 1849 he had married Jeannie Dickson (daughter of village founder Andrew Dickson), become a lumber entrepreneur, and was a partner with his father-in-law in the business Hilliard and Dickson.
Built in the 1850s, the Hilliard family's stone house is now the club house of the Pakenham Highlands Golf Club. It sits on a rise overlooking the highway at the southern approach to Pakenham before the railway bridge.
After Daniel Hilliard died in 1888, and the family left the district, the property was purchased by Alexander Fraser. It was subsequently owned by John B. Fraser, Thomas Somerton (1902), Daniel O'Neill, Richard Bourk(1918), Harriett Bourk (1935), and Thomas Walter Bourk.
About a century after the house was built, Sydney John Noad acquired the property (1959) and began extensive restorations and renovations to the building. Noted as “one of the finest houses in the entire Ottawa Valley”, the home was featured in an article titled 'The Hilliard house' published by the Ottawa Journal on Saturday, August 28, 1971.
The passage of time brought with it changes to the property that were made by each owner, such as cutting firewood or extending pasture land. As the forest landscape changed to settlement fields, a mature looking basswood was spared the touch of the axe or bite of the crosscut saw. Perhaps it was valued because it provided shade for cattle that came to drink from the stream near its base. Maybe its mature size and presence of character was respected over the years by those who saw it.
When the property was purchased for a golf course, established in 1994, the developers planned around the giant basswood to protect it. If you're walking the pathway near the green of the second hole at the Pakenham Highlands Golf Club, you can't miss this month's shady character. With its immense girth, this tree of renown is the largest I've measured for my monthly columns. It has a circumference at chest height of 18.09 feet / 5.51 meters, and a diameter of 5.42 feet / 1.65 meters. Situated at the end of the second hole, the remarkable basswood on the Pakenham golf course continues to leaf each year despite its hollow condition.
In its years of decline, the American basswood at the Pakenham golf course has been a survivor. Over the decades, where it lost large branches to high winds and ice storms, fungus and insects took advantage of the vulnerable wounds to invade the softer wood. Although almost completely hollow now, this giant produced a seed crop last year. It was budding with another year of leaves when these photos were taken on May 7.
In Canada the height of a mature basswood is usually in the 60 to 70 foot range, or 18.3 to 21.3 meters, and 2 to 2.5 feet, or 0.6 to 0.8 meters, in diameter. This tree only occasionally rreaches 100 feet / 30.5 meters in height, or exceeds 4 feet / 1.2 meters in diameter.
The largest American basswood in Ontario was recorded in Dungannon Township, Hastings County, in 1998. It had a diameter of 6.2 feet / 1.9 meters, and a height of 75.6 feet / 23 meters.
Basswoods like the rich, well-drained soils of lowlands. Beneath and around the trunks, their decomposing leaves enhance the soil more so than by other trees. The leaves of last year add important minerals to the upper soil, such as calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Much of the basswood's canopy at the Pakenham Highlands Golf Club was lost after upper branches were broken or damaged by high winds or ice storms.The size of the loonie, not growing on the tree, provides a scale of comparison to the coarse and deeply furrowed bark of the American basswood at the Pakenham Highlands Golf Club.
American basswood (Tilia Americana) is recognized by its dark grayish-brown bark, broken into many, long, flat-topped, scaly ridges. Look too for its large, alternate, toothed leaves, with long leaf stalks. Although I couldn't find any of last fall's leaves on the carefully groomed grounds of the golf course, I discovered another identifying feature of basswoods. The yellow-white clusters of basswood flowers hang from long leaf-like wings, called bracts. With a good example of a bract in hand, I was able to investigate further back in the lab.
Basswoods can be identified in midsummer with closed eyes by the loud hum of honeybees. Known in many places as 'bee trees', basswoods produce nectar-filled flowers long after most trees have stopped blooming for the year. Honeybees swarm to the sweet blossoms, and the great honey they make from basswood nectar is one of nature's treasures.