Preservation board shelves Scarborough historian's plan to protect Vimy oaks

​Toronto's preservation board voted unanimously Thursday not to pursue official designation of Scarborough's Vimy oaks as a historic site.

But local councillor Jim Karygiannis vows trees will be preserved anyway

An arborist works at retrieving cuttings from one of Scarborough's Vimy oaks in 2015. They'll be flown to France next year and planted at Vimy Ridge. (The Vimy Foundation)

​Toronto's preservation board voted unanimously Thursday not to pursue an official designation of Scarborough's Vimy oaks as a historic site.

Instead, the board agreed to a less formal agreement to protect the trees, brokered by Coun. Jim Karygiannis.

"You can't cut them down," Karygiannis said. "These trees are large trees and if anybody wants to cut them down it has to come to [Scarborough] community council. And I'll be damned if I'm going to support cutting down those trees at community council."

The oaks grew from acorns brought back to his Scarborough farm by a First World War veteran who fought at Vimy Ridge in France in 1917. They're now located on property owned by the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church at 3223 Kennedy Rd, north of McNicholl Avenue.

Local historian Richard Schofield had asked the board to fast track the designation so a plaque could be in place in time for next year's centennial celebration of the battle, won by Canadian soldiers.

But the church opposed the designation because of concerns it could hinder their expansion plans.

Informal agreement will protect trees

At Thursday's meeting, the board voted to shelve a motion to speed up the designation process after Karygiannis said he had helped broker an informal agreement with the church that will ensure the grove of about a dozen trees is protected.

"One of the things we're going to do is have some sort of a commemoration as well as designate this an area where people can go to celebrate the hundred years, and we're trying to come up with some money to see what we can do with the place," the councillor said after the meeting.

Toronto councillor Jim Karygiannis says he has brokered an informal agreement to protect the Vimy oaks. (CBC)

Karygiannis agreed that the trees will now have no official protection under the Ontario Heritage Act, but he said he would stake his reputation on their safety.

Richard Leung, a deacon at the church, later reiterated that the trees wil not be harmed during his church's planned expansion.

"​The trees will remain. They are under good protection," he said. "The church has no intention of harming the trees."

Schofield did not speak at Thursday's meeting but said later he was disappointed with the board's decision.

Although he is confident the trees will be protected for now, "who knows 50 years from now who'll own the property and whether the bylaws [protecting trees] will have changed," he said.