Above Ground Economy
Toronto Star column – published March 28, 2015
Above Ground Economy
The tree was rotten to the core but the band from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry played on, pouring as much meaning as they could into every note on that cold January morning. “The Maple Leaf Forever” is, after all, the official song of the Princess Pats.
It is important to note that the song came close to being made our national anthem back in the day. The silver maple that inspired Alexander Muir to write the patriotic piece in 1867 stood in Leslieville, here in Toronto, until a storm took it down in July of 2013. It is estimated to be over 170 years old, not bad for a soft maple!
Large logs of the fallen tree where being buzz cut through a portable saw mill last January at the Evergreen Brick Works and I had been asked to say a few words on behalf of the ‘tree community’.
Janet McKay, the executive director of LEAF [Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests], took an interest in preserving the tree in a way that would be enduring. Weighing in at 3,175 kilograms (about 7000 lbs) the tree provided a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the history of the tree and all that it represents. McKay and a group of enthusiastic supporters hatched an idea of a competition among the wood carvers, artists, and cabinet makers in the GTA. They asked, “What if we solicited everyone in the ‘urban wood products’ industry to submit a proposal to re-purpose the wood of the famous tree?”
They did and the rest is history. This weekend you can visit the Green Living Show at the Direct Energy Centre and see the results for yourself. There are 14 finished pieces of work and, I can tell you, they are outstanding [I was on the judging panel and had an early look at the proposals]. Not only can you ogle and photograph them, you can bid on them. Who knows, perhaps you will read next week’s edition of the newspaper under the light of an electric lamp that features the wood of our famous maple. Or you could be sitting on a bench made from wood of the same tree.
For details of the Maple Leaf Forever competition, go to www.yourleaf.org.
Urban Wood Directory
Rob McMonagle is the senior advisor to The Green Economy at the Toronto Economic and Development and Culture office. He is passionate about the repurposing of urban wood and for good reason. As a full-time employee of the city, he sees a lot of trees cut down and ‘wasted’ as mulch.
Rob led the charge to create a directory of Urban Wood Products and Services and I must tell you, it is a very handy piece of work. The 30 page directory is a priceless hand book for anyone thinking of acquiring some furniture or flooring or anything made of wood, using trees that are removed from public and private land in the city. There is an extensive list of carpenters, arborists, furniture makers, millworkers, craftspeople and sawmills [portable and stationary].
The directory provides some interesting statistics:
– About 200,000 trees are felled in Toronto each year. Many more than that in the last two years due to ice storm damage [remember December 2013?] and the invasion of the emerald ash borer, which has killed over 800,000 ash trees in the 416 alone.
– The wood-using industry in Toronto employs almost 25,000 people [who knew?].
– Toronto is a North American hub for furniture and exterior design using wood.
– Canada is the world’s 4th largest furniture exporter.
The introduction to the directory states that, “The term ‘windfall’ now means an unexpected, unearned or sudden gain. However, the origins of its meaning, and one which the founders of York (eventually Toronto) were well aware of, referred to a tree that unexpectedly came down in a storm.” Two hundred years ago a fallen mature tree represented a chance to build furniture, heat homes, and provide some of our first exports. Sadly, we have forgotten all of this and now view a blown-down tree as a pain in the neck, for the most part.
The directory provides an opportunity to change all of that and to open our eyes to the potential gains of preserving the wood of mature urban trees.
You will find a section that details the features and benefits of the common tree species found here. You will discover that an ash has a fine, straight grain, is strong and hard, and is perfect for the making of furniture and baseball bats. You think I am kidding? Imagine playing ball this summer using a bat from your own tree: what would your buddies say to that? In my opinion, the idea enhances the experience of the game the same way that an ash handle on my spade or shovel would enhance the experience of tending my own garden. And the gift giving ideas: a bowl made from the wood of the family tree for siblings and parents perhaps?
When I think of sumac I reflect on the scrubby shrub that holds soil in place along Scarborough bluffs. This past Christmas my son-in-law gave me a hand-turned pen made of, you guessed it, sumac. Now, I see the plant as something more than just a weed.
Perhaps if all of us had some furniture or art or a kitchen floor made of repurposed wood from the urban environment, we would see trees differently. A slight change of view would not hurt some of us. Sometimes the first thought that comes to us when we think of trees is leaves that need raking, heaved sidewalks from tree roots, and an expense to cut down when it dies.
A simple pen reminds me that trees provide oxygen [fresh air], cooling shade on a hot summer day, storm water control, filtering of toxins out of rain water, and a place to throw down a blanket and enjoy a sandwich. They don’t complain, bark, bite, or go on strike. They just stand there until their job is finished.
“The purpose of this directory”, it states, “is to link homeowners and commercial enterprise to the companies that can provide services and make products from urban wood when the need arises to remove a local tree.” It provides an expansive list of carpenters, artists, millworkers, sawyers [people who saw logs], arborists and tree removal specialists.
This weekend some of them will strut their stuff in a grand fashion-show of repurposed wood products. The exhibit at the Green Living Show provides an opportunity to see how far the industry of repurposed wood has come in recent time. If you take the time to view it, you might be inspired to support the efforts of organisations like LEAF and the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, both beneficiaries from the proceeds of the auction.
And, perhaps more to the point, you may want to make plans to plant a tree this spring.
You can access the directory electronically at www.yourleaf.org
Or contact the City of Toronto offices for a printed copy of the 30 page booklet.
For details about the Green Living Show go to http://www.greenlivingshow.ca/.