Maple Leaves Forever is proud to present this series of posts detailing the history of roadside tree planting in Ontario, researched and written by Terry Schwan, R.P.F. The full essay will be released in its entirety in Fall 2021.
Terry Schwan is a semi-retired forest consultant. Born in Hanover, he served as District Forester in Guelph for the Ministry of Natural Resources for 17 years. One of his current projects involves researching and delivering forest history tours. He was winner of the Maple Leaves Forever / Ontario Envirothon Leadership Award in 2020.
Maple Leaves Forever thanks Terry warmly for this detailed and informative essay.
The Ontario Tree Planting Act of 1883
Interest in forestry was growing through the 1870’s. This whole growth of forestry in Ontario is well documented in ‘Renewing Nature’s Wealth’. The American Forestry Congresses in Cincinnati and in Montreal, in 1882, was a large impetus to move the fledgling forest movement forward. Over 100 speakers in the two conferences presented and discussed forestry across the range of topics. Following these Congresses, Ontario delegates made a number of recommendations on a number of forestry topics relating to Ontario. One of those in particular concerned roadside trees:
That encouragement be given to farmers to plant and maintain shade trees along public highways and the boundary lines of farms, by granting out of the Provincial treasury, a sum of ten or twelve cents for each tree so planted and maintained in a healthy and growing condition for a period of five years, provided the municipal council of the municipality in which they are growing shall have granted a like sum .
As a result, two important events happened in 1883. First, the Ontario legislature repealed the 1871 Act and passed a new Act entitled An Act to encourage the Planting and Growing of Trees or short title, The Ontario Tree Panting Act, 1883.
How was the new Act different? The main difference, and the one expected to produce more interest in the 1883 Act, was that “any municipality may pass a by-law paying out of municipal funds a bonus or premium not exceeding twenty-five cents for each and every ash, basswood, beech, birch, butternut, cedar, cherry, chestnut, elm, hickory, maple, oak, pine, sassafras, spruce, walnut or whitewood tree” that was planted on any highway, boundary line or within six feet of such boundary. Municipalities paid this sum to the landowner and the Province reimbursed one half that amount to the municipality. It allowed any landowner, with the consent of an adjoining landowner to plant trees on the boundary of their farm, and that any tree planted on the property line was deemed common property of the two owners. General provisions for planting and ownership on highway trees remained the same. Prohibitions and penalties continued the same as the 1871 Act. The ‘Ontario Tree Planting Fund’ was established with $50,000 apportioned .
The Act allowed municipalities to pass by-laws:
- To regulate the planting of trees on public highways
- To prohibit the planting on the public highway of any species of trees which they may deem unsuited for that purpose
- To provide for the removal of trees which may be planted on the public highway contrary to the provisions of any such by-law
The municipal by-laws provided: for the appointment of an inspector of trees; for tree protection against injury or removal by anyone, except by resolution of council; for conditions on which bonuses may be paid; and generally, for regulations as authorized by the Municipal Act. The inspector was to report annually to Council, the number of trees planted by species, the names of those who were entitled to the bonus and the amount. The inspector had to certify “that the distance between any one tree and the tree nearest thereto is not less than thirty feet, that the trees have been planted for a period of three years and that they are alive, healthy, and of good form and upon adoption of such report the bonuses or premiums shall be paid”.
A key amendment to the Act was made the following year, 1884. The provision that allowed the landowner to own trees on the highway was repealed. The following substitute was made – “Every tree now growing on any Highway in this Province shall upon, from and after passing of this Act, be deemed to be the property of the municipality within which each highway is situate”.
The second event that year was to appoint a Clerk of Forestry for the purpose of informing the public on forestry matters. This was Robert W. Phipps (quoted above) and until 1892 he was attached to the Department of Agriculture. Phipps was described as a short, stocky man full of energy and rapid movements. He had no formal forestry training but a strong interest in farming and forestry. But he was a prolific writer. He travelled widely through Ontario, the United States and Europe to gather opinion and forestry articles to include in his reports. His annual forestry reports to the legislature were lengthy and covered the entire array of forestry topics and, of most interest here, promoting the planting of roadside trees. His first report on the Necessity of Preserving and Replanting Forests in 1883 had 8,000 copies given away in 1885.
In his Forestry Report for 1884 Phipps recounted numerous farmers expounding on the need for trees following the earlier destruction. Farmers themselves who cut down the forest and left little or nothing, now see that the landscape must have trees. Farmers talked about planting windbreaks and yard trees 20 and 30 years ago. Below are just two of dozens of accounts.
Mr. Clark has planted many trees in this vicinity (Scarborough). He points out one row of maples by the roadside, only three years planted, a full mile in length: they are now twelve to fourteen feet in height and seem to be in every way successful. “Trees I plant”, said Mr. Clark, “rarely fail to grow. My method is – in June to go to the bush, select such young trees as appear most fit for my purpose, and, with a sharp spade, cut a circle round the tree, about eight inches from the stem. I tie a string round the tree to know that its (sic) roots are cut, and mark a red chalk cross on the south side, to plant it as it stood. I then leave it till fall, when I take the waggon and go for my trees. By this time the summer’s growth has started fresh roots inside the circle, and the young tree, properly lifted with a spade, will come up a mass of earth and roots which will cling together, and grow without fail. Some say, cut a rather larger circle when you take them up, to save the little roots that sprout at the ends. This is needless, for the original roots will die back an inch or two, and all new roots will grow inside that. Then, taking all the earth I can, and planting at once after digging, filling up with soft loam, not hard chunks, and mulching well afterwards, the trees will grow if mice and cattle can be kept away”.
Not far off is a splendid row of young maples, planted by Mr. Macklin, Jr. These are set out but five years, and have made twice the growth of many for the time. They are twenty feet in height, nearly fifteen in spread, many six inches in stem and present a splendid appearance, extending the full length of the lot along both concession and sidelines, as well as forming a long double avenue from the road to the house. His success was attributed to mulching an area six feet in diameter with pea straw and stones – the stone to keep the cattle away.
Along the road in front of Mr. Gould’s house (near Oshawa) is nearly a mile of roadside maples twenty feet apart doing excellently well. Between one and two hundred of these were planted seventeen, the rest thirteen years ago. Of these one hundreds, not one has missed to grow and flourish.
Phipps wrote of numerous accounts of farmers’ techniques of selecting trees, preparation for transplanting, then transplanting, spacing, mulching and fertilizing. But there were failures too, from wind, drought, mice, trampling by cattle. Many farmers noted that survival was much better with mulch and manure.
R. W. Phipps continued promoting and reporting until 1892. He died in 1894 at age 59 and the province lost its greatest promoter of replanting trees and forests. In his job, Phipps was tireless and dedicated to advancing the cause of tree planting in Ontario.
- Researched and written by Terry Schwan, R.P.F.
 Lambert, R. S., Renewing Nature’s Wealth. Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. 1967.
 Beadle, D. W. et al. Report of Committee appointed to attend the American Forestry Congress at Cincinnati, Ohio. Appendix to Sessional Paper No. 3. p 139. Authors were D. W. Beadle, Secretary and Treasurer of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association, Wm. Saunders, future first Director of the Dominion Experimental Farm, Prof. Wm. Brown Founder of Ontario Agricultural College, P. C. Dempsey and Thos. Beall
 Statutes of Ontario. VIC 46. Chap. 26. An Act to encourage the planting and growing of trees. 1883. babel.hathitrust.org/… >
 Statutes of Ontario. VIC 47. Chap. 36. An Act to Amend “The Ontario Tree Planting Act. 1883”. 1884. babel.hathitrust.org/…>
 Lambert, R. S., Renewing Nature’s Wealth. Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. 1967.
 Ontario. Forestry Report 1884. Sessional Paper #4 of the Ontario Legislature. 1885. P. 35-36 archive.org/details/…>
 LATE R. W. PHIPPS: Death of a Man Who Played an Active Part in More Than One Role in Life. The Globe (1844-1936); Mar 20, 1894; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail pg. 8