It’s a North American elm tree that’s stood the test of time, deeply rooted in the history of Whitchurch-Stouffville for nearly two centuries, but it could end up on the chopping block.
“There’s a couple of broken branches in it and a couple of dead branches but other than that it’s in great shape,” town arborist Mark Carroll said. “It’s going to take generation after generation to see some of the trees we’ve planted today get to this size. So when we have one, let’s keep it.”
Four years ago, Metrolinx purchased the old nursery and farm the tree is planted on, with plans to expand the Lincolnville GO Station, which would include a new commuter, layover, transfer and bus station as the company prepares for growth along that line.
The tree is smack dab in the middle of the development but town officials say Metrolinx is looking at redesigning the plans to save the tree, which is estimated to be between 170-200 years-old.
“I have only received a positive response from Metrolinx and I know our staff have been working with Metrolinx to redesign the new commuter station and using the tree as a feature. Although I haven’t seen new site plans at this point in time, I’m really hopeful they will have listened to us,” said Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt.
The town has proposed that Metrolinx develop 30-metres around the tree to give it the ability to continue to grow, and according to Carroll, the tree is in great shape with exceptional root flare and new growth.
“It’s a magnificent tree.”
In the 1970s, millions of North American elm trees were wiped out when Dutch elm disease came through the GTA. Somehow this one managed to survive not just that, but the deforestation of the area for farm fields.
“This one has managed to survive, why? I couldn’t tell you. It’s one of those trees where its just been out here and it’s just survived,” says Carroll.
In 2015, when the town took down a controversial grain elevator at the Main Street station, it caused an uproar within the community as it was a heritage landmark.
Ward 5 Coun. Richard Bartley says he’s fighting to save this tree because losing it would only let down the community as a whole.
“I sat on council when we had to make the terrible decision to take the grain elevator down so this time I can make this up to the community and save this tree. In today’s throwaway world, it’s a big concern and it’s certainly easy to cut them down but its hard to grow them.”
And he’s got the support of town staff behind him.
“I would like nothing more than for my grandkids to come and have a look at this tree when they’re my age. It would be a great legacy for this town,” added Carroll.
As for Metrolinx, they said they are committed to forming a plan that makes everyone happy, on both sides of the tracks.