This has been an amazing year for our nursery, Puslinch Naturally Native Trees. We launched our assisted tree migration program and intensified our efforts expanding our ancient tree data base. It is the ancient tree project that I will be writing about. Naively, I thought it would be an easy task to track down heritage trees and harvest their seeds. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Why did I ever think there would be data bases, and if they did exist, how do you gain entry? It turns out you need a different approach for finding each tree and, somehow, we have turned into tree sleuths. We have been asked to discuss these stories, and I wanted to share them with you.
This summer we went to the historic village of Swansea which is more than 300 years old. This village was completely surrounded by the City of Toronto, and by 1967, had been amalgamated. My journey to the banks of the Humber river started several years ago when I found an old book on the Toronto Carrying Place. The history was intriguing and I wanted to explore Swansea and see how much of the actual foot path was left.
The Toronto Carrying Place (TCP) was a major portage route, linking Lake Ontario and the northern Great Lakes. The Mississauga built a seasonal village on the west bank of the Humber river and used it for summer hunting, fishing and farming. In the winter, the Mississauga moved north along the TCP to hunt for food and furs.
By 1615, the first white man to be seen on the shores of Lake Ontario, Etienne Brule, walked the TCP and stayed at the native encampments at the Humber river. By 1793, this area was declared a mill reserve so that the forests could remain intact for the use of the King’s sawmills. By 1800, encroaching settlements pressured the Mississauga to relocate.
Initially, I had combed through the heritage tree dedications listed in Forests Ontario. A tree had been dedicated, a red oak at 300 years old, near the trail. There were no locations listed but the person who had nominated the tree was a landscape architect. He kindly sent me his tree dedication proposal which gave me a location along the Humber river and the TCP. Then, he started to email me any interesting tree stories that were in the newspaper or articles that he had saved. And then, by accident, there was a reference to the City of Toronto heritage tree department.
In the spring of 1997, the City of Toronto 150 trees all over 125 years old were proclaimed by the City of Toronto as an ancient oak grove and named in honor of Tuhbananequay, daughter of the Chief of the Mississauga at the time of the Toronto land purchase. The grove includes ancient mixed oaks and maples.
When we contacted the City of Toronto heritage tree department about locating the ancient oak grove, we were immediately shut down and diverted back to Trees Ontario. Since Trees Ontario did not do the actual dedications, but the City of Toronto, they could not help us.
Our trip to Swansea was an exploratory one. We did not know what to expect. Was there an actual foot path or were there disjointed parks along the river, or was there anything left at all? It turns out the TCP is a combination of all 3 scenarios. We did not find the ancient oak grove or the 300 year old red oak but we stumbled along a 300 year old white oak which was masting. The land owner was thrilled at the idea of continuing the legacy of this mighty oak and gave us information on more trees in the area. Right now, we have 100 germinated white oak from that day over wintering in our sunroom.
The research still continues and we have another exploratory trip planned for the Humber river to further investigate the TCP and remnant old growth Carolinian forest along its banks. Love this tree sleuthing and the way it connects you to Ontario’s rich history and landscape.