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GREEN FILE: Campaign underway to save 250-year-old red oak in Toronto

A 250-year-old red oak is the oldest tree in Toronto.
A 250-year-old red oak is the oldest tree in Toronto.
TORONTO, Ont. —

Toronto’s oldest tree will always exist. If we keep chopping down the current winner, there will be a next in line, but it just will not be as old as the last one.

Perhaps there is some logic in this thinking, but we think that the time to celebrate and preserve what is believed to be Toronto’s oldest tree is right now. While we can. A 250-year-old red oak (Quercus rubra) stands in northwest Toronto in the Humbermede community and the people of our great city are ready to preserve it for another 200 years.

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Volunteers around Coral Gable Drive have convinced the mayor and city councillors to preserve the tree by establishing the space as a parkette to showcase this beautiful example of our natural heritage, in partnership with the community.

A conditional deal has been struck with the current owner to sell the property, tree and all, to the city upon achieving a fundraising target of $430,000 by Dec. 12. The city will cover all other costs to complete the sale, convert the site from a private residence into a public parkette and care for the great oak moving forward, allowing the public to visit the tree and celebrate the history that it represents.

Located within a block of the Humber River, Toronto’s heritage tree grew in the path of travellers who used the river as a corridor on their journey north and south, at a time when no roads existed. Its significance to Indigenous people is great for this reason.

Community-led fundraising

Ten-year-old Sophia Maiolo lives near the giant oak and has raised more than $2,000 in three years to help preserve it by selling lemonade, garage sales and going door-to-door asking neighbours for financial support. Now she is making bracelets to raise money to support the old oak. You can order yours at savethebigredoaktree@gmail.com.

We ask, “If Sophia can do that, what can we do?”

Currently more than $140,000 has been committed. With less than $300,000 and less than three months to go, organizers are anxious to get the word out and money in.

We think this is the perfect time to donate. Last week was, after all, national forest week and Wednesday was national tree day. Autumn is the perfect time of year to plant a tree, sow an acorn and to save an extraordinary example of one of natures miracles.

Incentives

Something new for national tree week – donate $50 before Monday, Sept. 28, and a red oak acorn will be sent to you, in addition to a thank you letter and tax receipt. For a minimum donation of $250, you will receive a red oak seedling. Aside from these new, green incentives, major gifts of $10,000 or more represent the opportunity to make a transformational change for the oak and the recognition program includes items such as oak carvings from local artist Trevor Comer and guided historical tours of the red oak depending on the gift level. Details at toronto.ca/redoak to give or reach out to DonateTO at 416-392-1144 or donate@toronto.ca. All donations of more than $20 qualify for a tax receipt.

Included in the running total is the Cullen family's commitment to donate $100,000. We challenge corporations, charitable foundations, and private donors to step to the plate and donate what they can. The goal is to sacrifice something to preserve something more. Not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.

This magnificent tree is worth saving. First, the environmental benefits are extraordinary. It is in its oxygen-producing prime, performing environmental service that equals to many other trees of a smaller size.

Second, Toronto is a wonderful place to live, work and play. Who would argue with that? Who, then, would argue that our 250-year-old oak tree lacks value for all that it represents? Our natural and human history. Our pedigree and our future.

Our future? When children grow mature enough to figure out the world, they are inheriting was the making of generations before them, how will we answer their questions about what we did to make it a better place?

Toronto is a pretty nice place as is. But preserving our wonderful tree would make it measurably better from any point of view.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.

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