Heritage tree designation adds new layer of history to Labatt Memorial Park

For decades, Barry Wells has had a soft spot for the hard sugar maple tree that towers above all others in the small parkette at the entry gates to London's Labatt Memorial Park.

Massive sugar maple dates back to about the time the park first opened in 1877

Barry Wells has hit a home run in his effort to get heritage tree designation for a massive sugar maple located near the entrance to Labatt Memorial Park. The designation doesn't bring legal protection, but Wells hopes it will prevent anyone from removing it. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

For decades, Barry Wells has held in his heart a special place for the sugar maple that towers above all others trees in the parkette beside the entry gates at Labatt Memorial Park. 

Now 64, Wells founded the Friends of Labatt Park group and with them he's spent considerable time and energy fighting to preserve the park and its place in London's history. And while his love of Labatt Park is well known, he's also gone to bat recently for the massive maple. 

"The foliage on the tree in the summertime, there's always a nice cool breeze underneath it," he said. "Every summer we had a picnic underneath this gorgeous tree." 

Barry's mother Darlene, who joined him during many of those picnics, died in 2011. Some of her ashes are sprinkled at the base of the tree and Barry had a red oak planted in her name just steps away from the sugar maple.

"She came to a lot of London Majors games with me," said Wells. 

Earlier this year, Barry nominated the maple for designation as a heritage tree with Forests Ontario

That designation came through last month, to the delight of Wells. 

He felt the tree deserved the designation because in addition to its size — its circumference is about four metres — it sits behind the stands of the world's oldest baseball diamond. Also, the tree dates back to about the time the park opened in 1877, give or take a few decades. 

The designation doesn't give the tree any extra legal protection, but Wells hopes it will give pause to anyone who considers removing it. 

"It's a case of awareness," he said. "Because you never know, sometimes trees get cut down for silly reasons and we don't want that with this tree."  

Barry Wells with his mother Darlene in 2004 at London's Labatt Memorial Park. (Submitted by Barry Wells)

Heritage designation for the tree comes as the London Majors kick off their 94th season Friday with a home game against the Hamilton Cardinals. 

There will be a plaque eventually, and Barry hopes the heritage designation will add a bit of character to a ballpark already brimming with history.

For Wells, it will add another aspect to his life-long love affair with the park.

"What I love about the ballpark is it's apolitical," he said. "People can argue and fight about various issues in the city but when you come down to Labatt Park, you sit in the stands, it's a social outing. You shoot the breeze and nobody gets into inflammatory issues. It's a good vibration. Labatt Park is a place where there's good vibrations."

The London Majors open their season Friday with a home game against Hamilton. (Dave Chidley/CBC)


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.