The 82th millionth tree, a native sugar maple, stands in front of the plaque commemorating the milestone. Aidan Chamandy, Centretown News

Tree Canada plants 82nd millionth tree

By Aidan Chamandy

Tree Canada celebrated both its 25th anniversary and National Tree Day on Sept. 27 with the planting of its 82nd millionth tree, a native sugar maple.

The maple now stands in the shadow of the Bytown Museum, flanked on either side by Parliament and the Rideau Canal, symbols of the city’s 19th-century roots.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr attended the event and spoke to the importance of trees in a more environmentally-conscious world.

“There’s value not only for the role that trees and forests play in sucking carbon, but also the beauty of the tree,” he said. “The tree makes for neighbourhoods and helps build communities. It’s a very powerful force in our lives and we’re very keen on ensuring that continues and grows.”

The timing of the event took on a special significance later in the day, as powerful winds up to 160 km/h and a torrential downpour destroyed many trees throughout the city, even leaving one woman critically injured after she was struck by a falling branch on the grounds of the Ottawa Hospital. The woman, 37-year-old Hiba Yusuf, later died.

The storm also badly damaged a very old and much-loved oak tree in the Arboretum southwest of Dow’s Lake, a popular backdrop for wedding pictures.

Aside from the storm, Ottawa’s tree population has taken another hit in recent years because of the invasive emerald ash borer beetle. The beetle lays eggs underneath the bark and as the larva grows, it feed off the nutrients that would otherwise be used to sustain the tree. Since 2009, approximately 50,000 affected ash trees have been cut down across the city.

Tree Canada also teamed up this year with the Government of Canada, CN Rail and the City of Ottawa to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation by planting groves of 150 native maple trees in each of Ottawa’s 23 municipal wards.

“The Canada 150 Maple Groves Project is truly a living legacy of Canada’s 150th anniversary. There is no better symbol than the maple leaf to mark this milestone in our country’s history,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in a statement.  “Whether it is on the flag, your passport or stitched to your backpack, the maple leaf is the iconic symbol of our nation.”

Tree Canada president Michael Rosen said he is optimistic about the prospects of urban trees in Ottawa.

“Urban forests are everything to a neighbourhood like Centretown. They filter the air, they give us oxygen, they’re stopping erosion, and they’re giving habitat for wildlife,” he said. “Trees are not just a frivolous aesthetic thing. Trees are something that provides a tangible benefit to people and that people need.”