Will city step in to save what could be Toronto’s oldest tree?
A realtor says a North York homeowner may chop down a centuries-old red oak that is threatening the structural integrity of the house — unless the city agrees to buy the property.
April 3, 2018
How much is a 300-year-old red oak, perhaps the city’s oldest and largest tree, worth?
That’s the question realtor Waleed Khaled Elsayed is asking on behalf of his client, on whose property the massive tree stands.
About 24 metres tall and with a circumference of about five metres, the oak frames the bungalow with its expansive branches -- nine to 12 metres in each direction -- and cups the foundation with its roots.
Those roots, Elsayed says, are the problem.
The gnarled invaders have snaked under the foundation of the North York home and curl up against it, threatening the structural integrity of the house and representing about $60,000 to $80,000 in “lost opportunity” for the homeowner, Elsayed said.
He plans to put that price, plus the current value of the property (about $750,000, he estimates) to the city, which a few years ago expressed interest in purchasing it to preserve the oak.
If the city isn’t interested, Elsayed said, the homeowner will chop the tree down.
The potential felling of the tree is disturbing news to some neighbours. Edith George, 65, lives just around the corner from where the old oak holds court, towering over Coral Gable Dr., near Sheppard Ave. W. and Weston Rd. She has been fighting to preserve the tree for the past 12 years, and became emotional when she heard there were plans to cut it down.
“It has survived the toxins in the air, water and soil. It gives us hope for a planet that’s dying and it has truly earned the right to live,” George said.
The oak is protected under the city’s municipal code, which requires homeowners to get approval from council before chopping a tree down. It’s also designated as a heritage tree, said city spokesperson Jaclyn Carlisle.
“City staff would not support a request for removal and would recommend that council deny a permit request,” Carlisle said.
Fines for illegally removing a tree range from $500 to $100,000, plus a possible supplementary fine of $100,000, according to the Toronto municipal code.
According to Forests Ontario, the oak’s roots date back before 1793 -- the year John Graves Simcoe established what was then known as the town of York. The city estimates the tree could be up to 350 years old.
At one time, it was a marker on the Toronto Carrying Place Trail, a major First Nation trading route, according to George.
The property it stands on was once owned by a man who fought on the loyalist side during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, and later by a descendant of a rebel fighter in the same battle, George told the Star in 2015.
In 2015, council agreed to seek private donations to cover the cost of purchasing the property, creating a parkette and maintaining the tree, said Carlisle. She said the city has made “multiple attempts” to contact the homeowner to find out how much they’re looking for, but has received no response.
“As a result, it’s my understanding that the city has not formally expressed an interest in purchasing the property at this time,” she said.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (York West) said the situation is nothing less than an “emergency,” and the city needs to make an offer.
“There is absolutely no way we should be saying no to buying this land in an effort to save this magnificent tree,” he said.
The oak is exceptionally rare, said Ken Lund, whose company Four Seasons Tree Care maintained it for about two decades until the house was sold to the current owner in 2015.
The oak is strong, sturdy and could live for centuries, he said. When he cared for it, he was never concerned about it posing a risk to the house or homeowner.
“It does need a little bit of extra care and attention,” Lund said, noting that about once a year he’d prune it, clear out dead wood and treat the odd infection. “It’s a geriatric tree -- very old, very mature and deserves a certain level of respect.”