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Heritage Tree Driving Tour: Toronto to Algonquin Park

Posted: August 1, 2018

by Alex Walker

Weekends in the summer are a time to unwind, relax and get outside. Whether you are camping, cottaging or simply enjoying the great outdoors, here in Ontario we’re lucky enough to have access to a whole lot of green! Why not take advantage of all of that nature by embarking on a scenic drive up north, discovering some heritage trees along the way? This driving tour will guide you from Toronto to Algonquin Park, allowing you to soak up amazing green spaces while learning about some of the trees in your own backyard. Here’s a map to guide your trip!

The Heritage Tree Program, run by Forests Ontario along with key program supporter TD Bank Group, recognizes unique and historically significant trees found all across the province. This series of blog posts will highlight several of the 100 trees that are already part of the Heritage Tree Program. We hope these stories will inspire individuals and communities to share historically significant trees found all across Ontario. 

Stop 1. Kick off the Heritage Tree Tour with this 200-year-old American elm, located in Toronto’s 

Stop 1: American elm in Cedarvale, Toronto.

Humewood-Cedarvale neighbourhood.

This ancient elm remains firmly rooted on what used to be the rolling parkland of the Blake Estate, known as “Humewood.”

With the intent of establishing a maternity home for unwed mothers, the Anglican congregation of St. Thomas purchased the Blake property near St. Clair and Bathurst Streets in 1912. The home, known as the “Humewood House,” opened on April 23, 1912.

The original Humewood House burnt down and was replaced by the present building, which reopened in 1925. Despite the fire, this American elm continued to thrive. Partnered with the Board of Education, Humewood House is one of the oldest and most respected organizations in the country, helping pregnant women and new mothers.

Clearly visible from St. Clair Avenue, this tree dominates the well-treed park site despite being separated from the park by the width of the roadway. This elm is so majestic it was included in a list of significant trees compiled by arborists in the former City of York. Come admire this well-known and well-loved community landmark!

Stop 2. Join us on our next stop, where we pay a visit to one of the oldest residents of the Davenport neighbourhood: A beautiful, 125-year-old northern catalpa.

Stop 2: Northern catalpa.

This historic tree was planted around the 1880s on the property of one of the neighbourhood’s first European settler families, the Bulls.

The family’s patriarch Bartholomew Bull, originally from Tipperary, Ireland, came to the Davenport area (formerly known as the Regal Heights neighbourhood) area in 1818. He went on to become a vital part of the community, founding the Davenport Road Methodist Church as well as the area’s first school, both of which were run out of his home.

The Bull family were also founders of the Earlscourt district and prominent residents of Toronto’s Junction area. The Bull property remained in the family until the early 1900s, when it was eventually sold and subdivided.

Today, this northern catalpa can be found in the southwest part of the neighborhood, in the immediate vicinity of Davenport Road. Also an important part of Ontario’s history, this road was originally part of the Indigenous trail that followed the ancient Lake Iroquois shoreline from the Don River to the Humber River.

Stop 3: Aurora red oak.

Stop 3. Continue the journey north, stopping by Aurora Cultural Centre’s historic red oak on the way.

This 130-year-old oak shades the front lawn of the Aurora Cultural Centre, and has done so since the building was known as the “Church Street School,” first opening in 1886.

Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1981, this building was recognised through an Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque as being one of the finest examples of a public school built in the High Victorian style.

The school was reportedly attended by Lester B. Pearson, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, became Prime Minister of Canada and oversaw the introduction of the Maple Leaf Flag. Perhaps he too enjoyed the shade of this red oak!

Stop 4. Time to head deeper into nature, towards this famous red oak in Georgina!

Stop 4: Georgina red oak.

This majestic red oak grows on land set aside in 1822 by Sir Peregrine Maitland (the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada at the time) to become the capital of Upper Canada. Obviously, Maitland’s plan never came to fruition, and the area was designated as ‘government land.’

James Edgar, a lawyer in the House of Commons, purchased the property around 1880 and commissioned a summer house to be built there for his family. It is very likely that this oak, positioned at the east end of the home’s driveway, was planted by the Edgar family. If so, the tree would have been passed under by various government figures that stayed at the house as guests, one such visitor being Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1888.

Edgar eventually became the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1893. At this time, his wife Matilda met the wife of the Governor General, Lady Aberdeen, at the founding meeting of the National Council of Women of Canada. Over the next few years, the two women worked closely to promote both the National Council and the Victorian Order of Nurses. Lady Aberdeen would go on to preside over the 1909 International Council of Women held at the University of Toronto. Lady Matilda Edgar supervised the logistics of this gathering and arranged an excursion to Lake Simcoe, hosting a reception at her summer home where this red oak stands. Under her leadership (and the shade of this tree!), the National Council fought for Canadian women’s right to vote.

Stop 5: Red maple in Port Sydney.

Stop 5. As we make our way deeper into the heart of the Ontario wilderness, let’s make time for another stop at this red maple in Port Sydney.

The red maple of Indian Landing is a tree of character, community and cultural significance. Come sit with this tree on the banks of the Muskoka River, touch its heavy trunk twisted by time and watch its steady limbs reach out over the water. A famous landmark and popular tourist destination in the area, this stately tree is loved by many.

Situated en route to Algonquin Park, it’s possible that this twisted and turned tree was a trail marker for First Nations hunters travelling by river. Sitting on the shores of the Muskoka, one can’t help but wonder what it has witnessed throughout the years. Why not make it your next stop and ask it!

Stop 6. Congratulations, you’ve completed the road trip! Reflect upon your journey beneath this iconic Eastern white pine nestled in the Township of Chisholm.

Stop 6: Eastern white pine

One of the few of its kind in the area, this nearly 300-year-old Eastern white pine stands in an old growth forest amidst tamarack and white and black spruce trees. This historic land was once owned by one of Ontario’s most famous lumber barons – John Rudolphus Booth, well-known for his contributions to the Canada Atlantic Railway. Not far from this tree, Booth owned a sawmill that was part of the largest lumber operation of its kind. At the time, the old pines located on this site were considered the most prized species to harvest, used often as the masts for large ships. The sawmill later burnt down, but this eastern white pine remained.

Accompanied by local author Robert John Leach, many people over the years have hiked to see one of the last standing Eastern white pines in the region. Leach’s stories illustrate the area’s rich history, which is no doubt physically, functionally, and visually linked to this regal tree.

This driving tour is designed to give you a small sampling of the Heritage Trees that can be found here in Ontario. These trees are only a handful of the hundreds that have been recognized thus far as part of the program, and we are always looking for nominations!

Alex is currently working towards her Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, where she was introduced to and gained an appreciation for urban forestry. Alex is spending the summer as a Forests Ontario intern, assisting with outreach and promotion of the Heritage Tree Program.