By Mark and Ben Cullen
Toronto’s oldest tree will always exist. If we keep chopping down the current, most-senior tree, there will be a next in line — yet it won’t be as old as the previous one.
All of that is just logical. But it’s our passion for what is believed to be the city’s oldest tree that’s behind this column. We want to celebrate and help preserve the 250-year-old red oak (Quercus rubra) that stands in northwest Toronto. Cullen family members are among those who are ready to put their money behind it and, hopefully, help give this tree another couple of centuries.
Nine-year-old Sophia Maiolo lives near the giant oak. She has raised more than $2,000 to help preserve the old oak by selling lemonade, holding garage sales and going door-to-door asking neighbours for financial support.
“Trees are treasures and this one is a big treasure,” said young Sophia, who started fundraising for the old oak when she was just six.
Now she’s selling Tree of Hope bracelets she makes from donated supplies such as gemstones and craft beads — each bracelet has a metal bead stamped with an oak tree – that range from $5 to $25. You can order yours at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If Sophia can do that, what can we do?
Volunteers around the neighbourhood of the tree, on Coral Gable Dr., have convinced Mayor John Tory and city councillors to turn the property into a parkette. The big red oak was recognized in 2009, by Forest Ontario’s Heritage Tree Program. It is protected under the City of Toronto’s Private Tree bylaw.
A conditional deal has been struck with the current owner to sell the property — tree and all — to the city. This is dependant upon achieving a fundraising target of $430,000 within the next three months: specifically by December 12, 2020. If that happens, the city will cover all other costs to complete the sale, convert the site and care for the great oak.
Located within a block of the Humber River, Toronto’s oldest tree grew in the path of travellers who used the river as a corridor on their journeys north and south, at a time when no roads existed. The tree has been a marker, and a milestone, for many peoples over many generations.
Currently, over $140,000 has been committed in the fundraising drive to preserve the tree, including a $100,000 commitment by the Cullen family. But there’s still more than $250,000 to raise in less than three months. Organizers are anxious to get the word out.
As it turns out, the end of September holds National Forest Week in Canada and Wednesday, Sept. 23 is National Tree Day. Autumn is the best time of year to plant a tree, sow an acorn and to save an extraordinary example of a miracle of nature.
So consider this for National Tree Week, donate $50 before Monday, Sept. 28 and a red oak acorn will be sent to you, along with a thank you note 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.
We’re depending on you.
We challenge corporations, charitable foundations and private donors to step up and give what you can.
This magnificent tree is worth saving for a variety of reasons. First, its environmental benefits. The tree is a major oxygen producer, performing an environmental service to equal that of a forest of other, smaller trees. Second, our 250-year-old oak tree represents unequalled natural and human history, as well as our future.
When our children ask, how will we answer their questions about what we did to make their world a better place?
Preserving this wonderful tree would make it measurably better from every point of view.
Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter at: @MarkCullen4