Toronto Mayor John Tory is known for publicly campaigning to protect and plant trees in Toronto, even going as far as to recommend a million dollar fine for developers who tore down 30 trees on Bayview Ave. and York Mills Rd. in late July.
The mayor takes Toronto’s tree bylaw seriously — and for good reason. Living in Toronto, I am hard-pressed to find large canopies of trees that I can sit under and relax. One of the trees chopped down on Bayview Ave. and York Mills Rd. was a 150 year-old Linden tree, also known as a Basswood tree. The Linden is indigenous to Toronto and it is imperative the city protects it. Native trees are dwindling in Toronto because of their sensitivity to pollution and pests that cause tree rot. The largest threat to the city’s canopies, however, is the profits of human consumption, or in other words the big greedy developer.
Interestingly tree covered areas do appear in the city, but in very specific neighbourhoods. When we look at neighbourhoods like Rosedale or the Beaches, we see a lot of greenery and trees dotting the sides of roads. In neighbourhoods like Jane and Finch (or anywhere in downtown Toronto, really) the trees are sparse. The division of green space is a result of wealthy neighbourhoods compared to low-income ones. When did trees become made of gold and silver?
My own personal love for trees knows no bounds. I have been fascinated with them ever since I was young. More recently, my love for the ‘green’ found its way to a tree in Toronto that I saw while cycling in Leslieville. There is a 97-year-old-Willow tree on the Ashbridge Estate, a heritage property donated to the city in 1972. The tree was planted by a woman named Emma Rooney, married to Jesse Ashbridge in 1919. The willow has survived being hit by lightning and catching on fire, and it is nothing short of a majestic Queen. This tree is nearly as wide as a car and when touching its branches, you can feel the test of time and history of Toronto breathing through its roots. I stop by this tree often to clear my head and breath, for as Herman Hesse once said, “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.” I have a feeling this old Grandmother Willow knows all the secrets of life and I more than willing to listen.
Every neighbourhood deserves a canopy for increased oxygen intake, a healthier lifestyle, shade, and the natural beauty of living amongst the majestic king of nature. In Toronto, it is easy to see that an abundance of trees indicates wealth. The GTA suburbs have an entirely different agenda concerning trees, and frankly it scares me. There are rarely any trees, even in the green spaces. This causes scorched grass and empty parks that leaves a barren feeling when visiting these neighbourhoods in the GTA. These areas are in desperate need for tree planting.
Between 1999 and 2009, tree cover in Toronto only increased 1.3 per cent. Under the Strategic Forest Management Plan introduced in 2012, the city created a 10-year plan to expand tree canopy cover to 40 per cent. The canopy cover currently stands between 26.8 and 28 per cent. This is a lofty goal, but in the wake of climate change it is a necessary one. The city has been planting more trees since the goal was set, and with a new native seed bank plan launched by Forests Ontario, the city is hoping to plant 2000 trees using the new program in 2016.
Can you all do something for me today, my fellow environmentalists and Toronto urbanites? Hug a tree for National Tree Day. It may seem weird, but the feeling you will get is well worth the embarrassment of looking silly. You will literally feel the energy of life, memory, and continuity flowing through the trunk of the tree you choose. It is important to know that we as humans are not kings of the castle, and instead can learn many great lessons from the trees that surround us.
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