Taking Up the Mantle: Kingston Crescent & Row Neighbours Rebuild a “City of Trees”

Thanks to Robert Orr, Chair of the Kingston Cres/Row Tree Committee, for providing this local tree story!

I spent my formative years, the 1960s, in an eastern city already grappling with the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease. The street I lived on once had towering elms that formed magnificent arches over the street. They reminded you of the great cathedrals of Europe that rose majestically towards the heavens. A cathedral took decades to construct, just as an elm tree properly maintained with water, food, and the removal of dead, diseased, or broken branches would take decades to grow to heights of 30 metres.

The people who built the cathedrals or planted the trees knew they would never see the culmination of their work. Yet they persevered to create something lasting, something to be appreciated for generations to come. Their efforts succeeded as anyone who has ever walked in the shadow of a great cathedral or picnicked under the gentle embrace of an elm can testify.

However, today cathedrals and elms alike face challenges that left unchecked could render them a relic of the past. Each face the natural challenges of aging or the suddenness of fire, but the elm tree has an added challenge: the insidiousness of Dutch Elm Disease. Dutch Elm Disease spreads through the fungus carried on the backs of elm bark beetles. They lay eggs in elm trees in the spring which go on to hatch and mature throughout the summer before a new generation is born in the fall. Each year the city loses thousands of trees to this terrible disease. I knew the ravages of Dutch Elm only too well. The elm-lined street I lived on lost its beautiful canopy of elms in a single terrible season.

As a result of these losses, we formed the Kingston Crescent/Row Neighbourhood Tree Committee. Our neighbourhood was once home to a wonderful woodland known as Elm Park, renowned for its dense forest of native elms which provided pretty walks for hikers and cyclists. As time evolved, the park transitioned to an urban enclave but one with an abundance of trees. Sadly, due to Dutch Elm Disease, the emerald ash borer beetle, threats to the oaks, and unpredictable weather events, we have seen a neighbourhood transition from one of beautiful mature trees to one with a constant thinning of that once-majestic canopy.

Nothing less than a call to action was required. The people in the neighbourhood really love trees and it is one of the key reasons for people choosing to live here. In the spring of 2019, our newly formed association approached our city councillor, Brian Mayes, with a request for funding through the City of Winnipeg Land Dedication Reserve Fund to plant new trees; that application was approved.

Our plan was to plant as many trees on public property as we could purchase with the grant money, while at the same time encouraging people to plant trees on private property. In October, 2019, the forestry department spent a morning with us walking through the entire length of the neighbourhood, determining the best places to plant new trees. Our goal was to have these trees planted in the spring of 2020.

Fast forward to 2020, and we were delighted when the city collaborated to plant 60 new trees in our neighbourhood as part of their annual planting strategy. Our association used the funds provided to plant an additional 12 trees with a maintenance contract in our local parks. Using current best forestry practices, a variety of tree species were planted such as Silver and Autumn Blaze Maples, Discovery Elms, American Lindens, Burr Oaks, Ohio Buckeye, Poplar, and Larch.

Like our forebearers who envisioned a city of trees, it is now our turn to pick up the mantle and remain true to that vision. While the modern-day canopy will be more diverse than its predecessor, it will still provide the same shade, shelter, and serenity as in the past. It is our desire to see reforestation become a cornerstone of planning and implementation in every neighbourhood of the City of Winnipeg.

For more on this project, see Growing back with hope: Residents help replenish urban tree canopy (The Lance, July 22, 2020)

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