Community pushes to save massive 300-year-old oak tree starved for water

The Harbord Village Residents’ Association, a community organization with a history of local activism dating back to the late 1960s, is spearheading a campaign to preserve a Bur Oak tree in downtown Toronto, estimated to be over 300 years old. The tree, situated at the bottom of Chapel Hospice Laneway between Brunswick and Major, south of Ulster, is a rare remnant of the ancient oak savannah that once covered the area.

The association, recognized for its commitment to neighbourhood liveability and solid volunteer base, is attempting to address the historic tree’s lack of water by unblocking trapped root systems. The roots of the tree are estimated to extend an astounding 100 feet in all directions. 

In a collaborative effort with Toronto’s forestry and transportation departments, the group has formulated a strategy to improve the tree’s access to natural water. The plan involves the city replacing three feet of the asphalt laneway with permeable pavers. This modification will reportedly help rainwater to penetrate the surface and nourish the tree’s roots.

“What the community wants is to have the pavement in the lane redesigned so that it allows for better permeability. They would like to have a section of the pavement turned into something that would allow the water to percolate the soil.” a city representative told Post City. 

Additionally, the association is working with four neighbouring homeowners to replace parts of their backyard parking pads with similar permeable materials and encouraging seven other neighbours to redirect rainwater from their downspouts into gravel-filled holes. An effort, they say, will help “recharge the groundwater” and reduce runoff into nearby storm drains.

To fund these environmental initiatives, the association aims to raise $25,000, which they say will cover the installation of the pavers and modified downspouts in the affected properties near the bur oak. 

The fundraising campaign is being facilitated through Scadding Court’s donation system, with contributors directed to specify their donations for the “Bur Oak Project” under the Community Climate Fund on the Scadding Court website.

Anyone interested in supporting the Harbord Village Residents’ Association’s campaign can donate by following these steps: 

  1. Visit the donation page at Scadding Court.
  2. Choose your donation frequency by selecting either ‘Donate Once’ or ‘Donate Monthly.’
  3. Enter the amount you wish to donate.
  4. In the ‘Fund’ section, click the dropdown arrow (∨) and select option #6, ‘Community Climate Fund.’
  5. To ensure your donation is allocated to the Bur Oak Project, type “Bur Oak Project” in the box for private messages.

This bur oak effort by the Harbord Village Residents’ Association echoes past initiatives in Toronto, including the preservation of a 250-year-old Red Oak on Coral Gable Drive. Recognized as a heritage tree by Forests Ontario for its significant age, size, and beauty, this oak’s story of survival amidst urban development was commemorated by Heritage Toronto in 2019 with a plaque.


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