Citizens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada are fighting to save a 300-year-old Northern Red Oak tree from being cut down by the owner of its host property . Homeowner Ali Simaga agreed to a deal with the Toronto City Council to sell the property to the city for conservation purposes, but the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing things down.
The tree dates back to some of the earliest French explorers who settled in Ontario. Standing at a stunning 79 feet (24 meters), the beautiful piece of history and nature is one of the oldest trees in the city. This special oak bears a powerful sentimental heritage from Canadians – It was an important landmark that safely guided thousands of native travelers. According to historian Madeleine McDowell, the tree’s current location was formerly the Humber Valley trail used by Indigenous Canadians and European traders.
This tree absorbed some of the most important events in the history of Toronto. It was already there, thriving and expanding when French and British explorers battled for a monopoly over the area. Initially held by the French, the area was later lost to the English who established the town of York, which is present-day Toronto. The tree stands at the back of a small bungalow in the North York neighborhood, the 1960s home bought by Simaga in 2015.
Unfortunately, Simaga says the tree’s roots are digging into the foundation of his home and may destroy the house if it’s not removed. He’s also concerned about the exorbitant maintenance fees for such a gigantic tree. The homeowners within the lot worry that the old tree may fall during a heavy storm, potentially endangering lives and property.
Old trees often carry a strong sentimental value to people and are of great importance to the environment. For this particular tree, concerned locals and residents in the area are not ready to have their precious oak cut down. With its long and wide leafy branches, the tree stretches over the entire lot and protect a few homes from the harsh rays during hot summer months.
However, the property owner thinks the price to pay for the majestic tree to remain on his property is far too great and too risky.
At last, a concession was reached
It appears the former owners of the home before Simaga had also attempted to have the tree cut down. According to Edith George, a local in the area, she has been fighting for 14 years to keep the tree standing, and Simaga only moved in 5 years ago.
“It’s the Rolls-Royce of heritage trees. No other tree in Canada has the heritage value that this tree has,” said George, 68, to AFP . In her words, the sight of the tree “just takes your breath away”.
In 2018, the Toronto City Council cut a deal with Simaga to sell the property to the city. The plan is to convert the residential lot into a sight-seeing park where the tree would be protected and made accessible to everyone.
The city brokered the deal on the condition that the funds for the project would be sourced through freewill donations from the general public. However, the target is yet to be reached and it’s only a matter of months before the deadline for the sale is exceeded, and the deal goes off the table.
With a target of CAD$430,000 (US$325,000) to be met before the end of this year, donations began in December 2019 and as of July 2020, only CAD$125,000 has been raised. Several organizations and individuals initially pledged to contribute large amounts to the cause, but many promises could not be fulfilled due to the economic hardships triggered by the pandemic.
If the deadline is missed before the target is reached or at least neared, the city plans to invest all the funds already amassed into tree planting efforts across Toronto. No one knows what will happen to the majestic oak if this sad reality comes true.
“Hope for a planet in peril”
Expert dendrologists estimate that the ancient oak has absorbed over 11 tons of carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere during its lifetime. The ecological importance of the tree is no less significant than its historic value.
To this effect, the City of Toronto unveiled a first-of-its-kind plaque in the tree’s honor in 2019.
According to the homeowner, Simaga, the situation is beyond his ability to handle.
“A tree like this is expensive to maintain. If the lot is a public space, the city will be able to take care of it better than I can,” Simaga said. “I don’t want to be selfish and keep it to myself, either,” he adds.
According to die-hard lovers of the tree such as Edith George, the stunning oak tells the story of her beloved country, and it would be too heartbreaking to see it destroyed.
“When bad things happen,” said George, “I don’t go to church, I come here because this is like my cathedral. It’s a survivor and it gives us hope for a planet that’s in peril.”
We hope a middle ground is found soon and this tree would continue to live on in the beautiful maple country. Experts estimate that it can live for another 200 years, considering its current age and condition.
- Olivier Monnier. In Canada, People Are Fighting to Save a Majestic Tree That’s Older Than Canada. Science Alert. https://www.sciencealert.com/efforts-to-save-toronto-trees-older-than-canada-are-being-complicated-by-the-pandemic Retrieved 11-09-2020
- Olivier Monnier. Toronto seeks to save oak tree older than Canada. Yahoo! https://news.yahoo.com/toronto-seeks-save-oak-tree-013551024.html Retrieved 11-09-2020
- Get the Facts About Coronavirus. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html Retrieved 11-09-2020