Trees and our past

by Michael Macpherson

left to right: Ron Ayling, Chair, Mississippi Mills Tree Committee; Shaun McLaughlin, Mayor; Jane Torrance, Councillor, Almonte Ward.  Photo by Tiffany MacLaren.
left to right: Ron Ayling, Chair, Mississippi Mills Tree Committee; Shaun McLaughlin, Mayor; Jane Torrance, Councillor, Almonte Ward.
Photo by Tiffany MacLaren.

The Heritage Tree Workshop held in the Old Town Hall on February 11th brought arbour experts and admirers together to learn about the characteristics of trees of distinction in our community, and how they can be recognized, honoured, and preserved.

Dr. Paul Aird, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, set out a broad train of characteristics, both natural and cultural, that we have come to use over the years to help distinguish heritage trees. Based upon his redoubtable knowledge of forest history, biodiversity, and bio productivity in Ontario he put forward a comprehensive definition of a heritage tree. This provided the grounding upon which exploration of the idea was able to proceed.

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Edith George, advisor to the Ontario Urban Forest Council, presented a case study on the research required for the designation of a heritage tree. Photo by Ron Ayling.

Edith George helped turn the abstract into the practical by relating the story of her neighbour’s red oak tree in Weston, Ontario. Using a Heritage Tree Toolkit with its categories of requirements and a scoring chart she showed how an analysis was made of this old soldier oak to ascertain whether and how it is worthy of heritage tree designation. The immense size and age of the oak, its notable survival through agricultural land clearance and suburban development, and Ms. George’s research and knowledge of the social and cultural history of the community provided a winning “score” that confirmed the status of the tree. The account and her photographs of the episode helped to provide answers to the questions, how do we identify a heritage tree, and why is it important to protect them?

Barbara Heidenreich addressed the legislating tools that are available to protect heritage trees and natural areas. Photo by Ron Ayling.
Barbara Heidenreich addressed the legislating tools that are available to protect heritage trees and natural areas. Photo by Ron Ayling.

Barbara Heidenreich, Natural Heritage Coordinator at the Ontario Heritage Trust, is also a Heritage Tree Advisor to the Ontario Urban Forest. She carried forward the discussion by outlining the ways in which heritage trees in Ontario can be protected. She described the various levels of protection which can be gained through several available legal options. These range from private ownership of a heritage tree by a conservation organization or the Ontario Heritage Trust, to varying and sometimes looser provincial and municipal designations and bylaws. Of interest locally, the designation of Heritage Conservation Districts by municipalities could offer a means to protect specific designated features such as heritage trees.

She also discussed the ways in which heritage trees can be recognized and commemorated. These range from international to informal levels of recognition. She pointed out that designated heritage trees could be commemorated internationally, for example, via their inclusion in an area inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the other hand, and in our own back yard, Forests Ontario has a Heritage Tree Program that encourages individuals to get involved through identifying, evaluating, and nominating trees for heritage recognition. While recognition and protection are two different entities, the former can sometimes provide an important impetus for long term protection.

Ms. Heidenreich informally commenting on a project to replace the oaks at Vimy Ridge was surprised and pleased to receive an update from gardening guru, Ed Lawrence, who was in attendance at the workshop.