Forests Ontario

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Great White Oak Recognized as Heritage Tree

At 94, Tillie Kertesz has certainly seen some changes in her community near Islington and Dundas in Toronto, where her family has resided since 1954. Every day, however, when Tillie ventures into her backyard with her terrier Robbie, she encounters a witness to almost three centuries of history in the form of a towering white oak. Measuring 24 metres in height, over 4 metres in diameter, and estimated at more than 250 years old, this white oak is the latest to be recognized through the Heritage Tree Program.

The Heritage Tree Program was launched in 2009 by Forests Ontario (then Trees Ontario) in partnership with the Ontario Urban Forest Council (OUFC). The program allows anyone across Ontario to nominate a tree for recognition based on its social or cultural history or its special community significance. A number of criteria may qualify a tree as a Heritage Tree, including its distinct size, form, age, rarity, or its connection with historic individuals, events, or locations.

The Heritage Tree Program is a way of telling the story of the incredibly diverse range of tree species throughout Ontario and brings awareness to the value of trees not only as environmental assets, but as beautiful cultural and historic treasures, living things that have witnessed major events and withstood the evolution of surrounding communities. Stories of Heritage Trees are published on Forests Ontario’s website.

In a column featured in Inside Toronto, Edith George details the incredible history that the white oak in Tillie Kertesz’s backyard has been a part of.

The area on which the tree stands was originally within a Clergy Corporation property until 1803. The Clergy Corporation was charged with administering the one seventh of surveyed Crown lands in Upper Canada that were set aside to support the clergy of the Church of England through rents collected on these lands. Portions of “clergy reserve” land were also used as residences for clergy. The property would eventually be sold to the Kertesz family in 1954. Fred Kertesz, Tillie’s father, was an importer whose clients included PEZ Candy.

The story of this great white oak is a testament to the resiliency of trees through changes in history, all the while adding beauty to our communities and fostering a healthy ecosystem. With the Heritage Tree Program, Forests Ontario and the OUFC hope to build a greater appreciation of these natural treasures and inspire action to protect our oldest trees.

Anyone can nominate a tree for recognition (full criteria and details here). Heritage Trees can serve as potential seed sources, especially for rare native species, and foster a greater appreciation of our urban forest. With the recognition of Tillie Kertesz’s great white oak, nearly 100 unique and beautiful trees across the province have been recognized as Heritage Trees. We invite readers to submit their nominations and help us continue telling the story of our forest.