The trees of Leaside were the drawing card when Ted and I, then living in Thorncliffe Park, were starting to make decisions as to where in the city to buy a house. That was 1970. We would drive along Southvale on our way to the Bayview Extension and admire all those trees. It wasn’t until after we had actually bought our Leaside house that we even knew the name of the neighbourhood!
Our house came with a Chinese elm in the backyard. Most of our neighbours had them too – sort of a large-size hedge to separate us from the backs of the commercial properties on Laird. We learned that they grow quickly, but not too well, and are expensive to remove. Our next-door neighbour had a Tree of Heaven – another big gangly tree that rained pods. Bessborough Drive, especially between Millwood and McRae, is especially beautiful with its avenue of trees. Unfortunately, most of them were planted at the same time, and are non-native Norway maples, nearing the end of their life. None of these tree species is currently on the official City of Toronto list.
Trees in front yards or boulevards, usually known as “street trees,” are owned by the City, and are planted by them, but appreciate some loving care and watering, especially when they’re young, by the abutting homeowner. About 15 years ago, when Jane Pitfield was the councillor for this area, there were teams of us who walked up and down all the Leaside streets, armed with brochures of “city-approved tree suggestions.” We would be looking for properties with no front-yard tree, and try to decide which of the approved trees to recommend. We would then drop the brochure with our recommendation in the house mailbox, and put that address on a list for the Forestry staff. It wasn’t quite negative-option planting, because the City staff did actually check with the homeowner before putting a tree in the ground, but it was close.
Sometimes, there was kind of a “flavour of the year” style to tree plantings. The City really loved Japanese silk lilacs at one point. Just look on Millwood between Sutherland and Randolph to see the grove there as one example. Elms and ashes are also no longer on City lists, thanks to the dangers of Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer.
This is a good time of year to keep an eye out for the relatively few tulip trees in our neighbourhood. Some lovely ones blooming soon are on Laird at Divadale and on St. Cuthbert’s Road. You might also recognize the distinctive bark of a London plane tree. There are a few around the neighbourhood, but one odd one is kitty-corner from Leaside United Church.
Then there are the gingkos. Gingkos are an ancient tree species, with a lovely twirly leaf, and male ones are still being planted regularly. But not the female ones. Not only do they rain berries, but smelly berries – and not a nice smell either!
Some of our trees are older than the neighbourhood. One of these is the Ontario Heritage White Oak in front of St. Cuthbert’s Church. We aren’t sure how old it is, but when it was originally planted beside a Lea family orchard, they certainly weren’t having to consider the hydro wires.
Interested in a tree for the road allowance in front of your property? Call 311 or browse through the list of current recommended trees on the City’s site. If you’d like to see a variety of fine specimens, identified with tags, visit our very own arboretum in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.