How to identify a heritage tree and protect it

Published: January 15, 2020

heritage tree Photo by UBC Stock/Shutterstock.

It’s not often you hear about trees causing such an uproar in a community, but there’s a red oak in North York doing just that. The City of Toronto, horticultural specialist Mark Cullen, and nature, and history lovers are coming together to try and save one of Toronto’s oldest trees from being cut down.

If you drive by 76 Coral Gable Drive, you won’t be able to miss the massive red oak estimated to be between 250 and 350 years old—that’s older than Canada. Currently, the tree sits on a property with a house for sale. It’s at risk of being removed as its root system interferes with the basement of the home, and therefore compromises not only the foundation, but the asking price. 

Mark Cullen, chair of the Highway of Heroes tree campaign, donated $100,000 in 2018 in an effort to raise awareness and save the red oak. With the help of the City of Toronto and area residents, the goal is to buy the property, demolish the house, and remediate the soil with an effort to keep the tree alive and growing for decades to come. According to CTV News, the city will pay half the purchase price—$430,000—while residents are being asked to donate the rest by December 12, 2020. 

Identifying a heritage tree

The tree is recognized with a Heritage Toronto plaque and is part of Ontario Forest’s Heritage Tree Program. The program seeks to create a database of historically or culturally significant trees throughout the province and bring awareness to the importance they play in our social and ecological systems. 

Do you see an old tree on the way to or from your cottage? Do you know of one in your area? You can search the database to see if it is already recognized by Ontario Forests. If not, you can nominate it. Or, look into how else you can help local conservation areas.

What constitutes a heritage tree?

In order for a tree to be deemed worthy by the program, it must meet the following criteria: The tree must be associated with a historic person or event or be growing on historically significant land. Ontario Forests lists quite a few resources you can use to start your research. Once you have the information you need, you can submit your nomination. The prominence of the tree, as well as form, shape, age, colour, size, and more are evaluated before a decision is made. 

Although the program does not protect trees from being cut down, it serves as a place to acknowledge and promote the importance of nature in our ecosystem—especially those in urban settings.

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