Whitchurch-Stouffville fighting to save historic elm tree ahead of GO station construction

The historic elm tree is on a property that was purchased by Metrolinx, which plans to build an extension to a nearby GO station.

Metrolinx open to protecting tree, which arborist says is in 'perfect shape'

A few years ago, the area where this elm tree is located was purchased by Metrolinx, which plans to build an extension to the nearby Lincolnville GO Station. The town of Whitchurch-Stouffville is now trying to save it. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

There are dozens of historic trees in the town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, but a local arborist and city leaders are currently worried about the fate of one in particular: the towering elm on a property Metrolinx purchased for an expanded GO station.

Town arborist Mark Carroll said he was shocked when he learned about the transportation agency's plan to remove the tree, which officials said is between 170 and 200 years old.

Carroll discovered the tree would be destroyed while going over Metrolinx's design plans for the station in the town, which is about 50 kilometres northeast of Toronto. He sprang into action and immediately brought it to the town's attention.

"You are looking at probably one of Whitchurch-Stouffville's oldest trees, and largest trees. I've pretty well documented almost all of our trees and this is probably the biggest tree that we have here," Carroll told CBC News.

"We're going through development. We're losing trees through development but something this old? This tree has been here before the airplane, before cars and now we're looking at just taking it down and building a parking lot and a roadway here so it's kind of disappointing."

'Tree could easily last another 200 years'

A few years ago, the area where the tree is located was purchased by Metrolinx, which plans to build an extension to the nearby Lincolnville GO Station. Metrolinx's plans include a bus loop that would run right through that area.

A Metrolinx spokesperson told CBC Toronto that it understands the tree is valued by the community, and is open to working together to protect it.

Carroll said they've recommended a plan to Metrolinx that they believe is "fair and workable" and could save the tree. 

"Not only the tree can be saved but I think the habitat also has to be saved. We have our master plan for this. It would be a 40- to 45-metre circle around this tree with nothing touched," he said.

"It's in perfect shape; there's very little deadwood; it's upright. This tree could easily last another 200 years. I would love to have this tree survive past me. It would be a great feeling to think that this tree is going to be around."

Last month, Whitchurch-Stouffville city council passed a resolution to identify this tree as a natural heritage feature. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

Only last month, Mayor Iain Lovatt and the city council passed a resolution to identify the tree as a natural heritage feature — a move widely supported by the community.

"It is the most significant tree in our community; might be in the province, that hasn't been destroyed by disease," Lovatt told CBC News.

"We want to work closely with Metrolinx and other partners when it comes to transportation. Whether it was overlooked in the original design or plan, we've reached out to Metrolinx to work with them on saving the tree and how to reorient the design of the station in order to accommodate our desires in the community," he said.

"It's far too common to just cut down a tree, scrub a whole lot and start from scratch, it's the easiest way to build. But certainly saving a feature like this in our community is important." 

Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt, left, and Ward 5 Coun. Richard Bartley are both working to save the tree. (CBC)

"All that has gone on in the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville. This town was founded in 1802," Carroll said.

"This tree could have started growing in 1802 and here it is today."

Ward 5 Coun. Richard Bartley said he has lived in Whitchurch-Stouffville all his life and he cannot imagine the elm tree not being there anymore.

"I've heard quite a few of the residents say this is big for them, to save this tree, and we're going to do what we can to save the tree for sure," Bartley told CBC News.

"I think we can work this [out], make it a park-like setting or something . . . but it's important to save these trees. It's easy to cut them down [but] it's hard to grow them."

With files from CBC's Greg Ross