Published in the Toronto Star – January 14, 2017
It was just a tree. Straightening his back and inspecting the hole that he had just dug, he was pleased. This would make a fine home for a maple. Not just any maple but a sugar maple. And not just any sugar maple but a sugar maple whose mother lived in the neighbourhood.
And so it was not ‘just a tree’ after all. It was a native arboreal tree that shared an image of its leaf on our national flag. Ken Jewett was working on his farm in Brooklin, Ontario while in his early 20’s when the thought occurred to him, “I want to plant more native Canadian sugar maples. This will be my life.”
He had a lot of living to do before he would commit himself to the task. After working in the forestry business he started his own company, Marsan Foods (they make chilli for Time Hortons) when he was 40. At 65 years old he handed the reigns of the family business over to his sons Graeme and James, and committed himself to the promotion, education and planting of Canada’s tree, the sugar maple [Acer saccharum].
Maple Leaves Forever
Almost 20 years later, Mr. Jewett is busy every day with his charity Maple Leaves Forever. “I started MLF in 2000 with the mandate and determination to encourage the planting of native Canadian maple trees. Like any new venture it took time and patience to settle into where we are today.” He explains. “We started by creating awareness of the MLF program by providing thousands of native sugar maple seedlings at local municipal public tree planting days. Later, we offered saplings, larger trees that had a much better chance of survival.”
Ken was not the first to think that this was a good idea. In the 1880’s the Ontario government encouraged farmers to transplant sugar maple seedlings along their laneways and road allowance that were harvested from their own woodlot. They received 25 cents for each seedling planted, roughly a day’s wages back in the day. Today many of those same trees can be seen as you travel the rural areas of Ontario.
How does the program work?
Land owners who commit to plant at least 10 trees on their property (max. 50) can obtain stock from a list of 17 recognized nurseries and receive a 25% subsidy on the purchase of each tree. There is no restriction on size. Ken explains, “Once approved on line (visit their website www.mapleleavesforever.com) you place your order. When you have paid your invoice, send us a copy of it and we will send you a cheque for 25% of the cost of the trees.”
The system is simple and straightforward. Since inception Maple Leaves Forever has spent over two million dollars on its Certified Woodlot and for promoting/subsidizing the planting of Native Maple Trees.
While visiting a tree farm in Ontario several years ago, Ken learned that all of the growers stock was imported from Oregon. Ken explains, “This led us to meetings with the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission. Most of their maples were coming from Oregon. This turned into a seven year frustrating challenge. To bring this to a head we placed a half page ad in the Ottawa Citizen addressed to the Governor General, the CEO of the N.C.C. and the mayor of Ottawa.” The N.C.C. acquiesced on their position when ‘tree people’ objected.
Maple Leaves Forever are lead sponsors of Ontario Envirothon, which involves over 10,000 students in elementary school. The kids are challenged to develop their own ideas and proposals to help make the province more green. Each summer a competition of the best ideas is hosted by a different city. Ontario Envirothon is hosted and organised by Forests Ontario (www.forestsontario.ca)
Highway of Heroes Living Tribute
When the idea of reforesting the Highway of Heroes was first hatched, Ken called Tony DiGiovanni, the executive director of Landscape Ontario and asked if the 117,000 trees being planted were native. “Why, yes Ken. And many of them will be maples.” This was all that Ken needed to hear as he stepped to the plate to make a $25,000 commitment. That was over a year ago, in the early days of the campaign. The Maple Leaves Forever donation was a game changer for the new organisation. Details at www.hohtribute.ca
What makes us Canadian?
When Canadians open up the debate about what makes us truly Canadian, I hope that someone will put up their hand and remind us that there are precious few Ken Jewett’s in this world. Our country is a better place for him and his work.
By the numbers:
17 – the number of years that Maple Leaves Forever Foundation has been in existence
$2 million – the amount of money invested in Canada’s native, green tree canopy (mostly using sugar maples)
160,000 – the number of native maples planted as a result of MLF
25% – the portion of native tree costs covered by MLF (details at www.mapleleavesforever.com)