It was just a tree. Straightening his back and inspecting the hole 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.
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 had been working on his farm in Brooklin, Ont., while in his early 20s 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 (which makes chili for Tim Hortons), at age 40. At 65, 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, 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.”
Jewett has not been the first to think this was a good idea. In the 1880s, 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 (maximum: 50) can obtain stock from a list of 17 recognized nurseries and receive a 25-per-cent subsidy on the purchase of each tree with a minimum height of 175 cm. Says Jewett: “Once approved online (mapleleavesforever.ca), 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 per cent of the cost of the trees.”
The system is simple and straightforward. Since its inception, Maple Leaves Forever has spent $2 million on its certified woodlot, and for promoting/subsidizing the planting of native maple trees.
Why native? While visiting a tree farm in Ontario several years ago, Jewett learned that all of the growers’ stock was imported from Oregon. “This led us to meetings with the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission (NCC). 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 NCC and the mayor of Ottawa.” The NCC acquiesced on its position when “tree people” objected.
Envirothon: Maple Leaves Forever is the lead sponsor of Ontario Envirothon, which involves more than 10,000 elementary school students, and their ideas and proposals to help make the province more green. Each summer, Ontario Envirothon, hosted and organized by Forests Ontario (forestsontario.ca), holds a competition in a different city.
Highway of Heroes Living Tribute: When the idea of reforesting the Highway of Heroes (hohtribute.ca) was first hatched, Jewett called Tony DiGiovanni at Landscape Ontario, and asked if the 117,000 trees being planted were native. When told yes, they were, and many were maples, Jewett stepped up with a $25,000 commitment. That was more than a year ago, in the early days of the campaign. The Maple Leaves Forever donation was a game changer for the new organization.
Correction – January 16, 2016: This article was edited from a previous version that mistakenly said there is no restriction on the size of the tree.
By the numbers
17: years that Maple Leaves Forever Foundation has been around
$2 million: funds the group has invested in Canada’s native tree canopy
160,000: number of native maples Maple Leaves Forever has helped see planted
25: percentage of native tree-planting costs covered by Maple Leaves Forever
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, Order of Canada recipient, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new bestseller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook.