Forests Ontario

Heritage Tree

Recognition Number
250 years
24 m
495 cm
City of Toronto

The Nicholas Family’s red oak is probably one of the largest of its species in Ontario, if not Canada. Part of an ancient oak savannah, this red oak tree is an indigenous species of the Humber River Watershed.

This pre-settlement tree established itself before 1793, and grew in the immediate vicinity of the historic Toronto Carrying Place Trail. Worn down through Canadian history, the trail served as a trade link for indigenous people, a route for European explorers, and a military trail for both the French and English.

In 1848, the area was purchased by Matthew Griffith, one of three Irish brothers who were the first European settlers of the area. Matthew’s brother, Thomas Griffith, fought as a loyalist in the 1837 Mackenzie rebellion.

The land was sold to the Percy Gardiner in 1933 and used as a summer country estate. The estate house, known as “Rivermede,” still remains today. Helen and Paul Phelan (daughter and son-in-law), and Helen and George Gardiner (daughter-in-law and son) were all recipients of the Order of Canada. George and his wife, Helen, would go on to establish The Gardiner Museum, one of the world’s finest ceramic museums.

One of the last owner’s of the property had an ancestor named Ebenezer Doane. Doane was the architect of the Sharon Temple in Sharon, Ontario, which was later designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. Interestingly, Doane’s nephew Charles joined the rebels in the MacKenzie Rebellion of 1837. One might wonder if Thomas Griffith or Charles Doane ever met, as two men on either side of the uprising. Though we will never know, this red oak remains to this day, serving as a reminder of all of the history it has witnessed.

On Thursday, July 26, 2018, the City of Toronto voted on Item GM29.15 regarding the great red oak. The Item carried 39 to 3 regarding the acquisition of this property to make this as a municipal parkette.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Glen Gauslin, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – August 23, 2006.