Long Branch community rallies as construction threatens to destroy 160-year-old tree

A community group in Toronto’s west end is ramping up its fight to save a tree beleved to be more than 160 years old. 

The maple tree, which has become something of a landmark in the area, sits at the back of a bungalow slated for destruction in the Long Branch neighbourhood. The owner, a developer, wants to cut it down to make way for a larger detached home on the property, located on James Street south of Lakeshore Road and east of Etobicoke Creek.

Sheila Carmichael of the Long Branch Community Association describes the tree as “large, healthy and historic.”

“The fact is, this is a healthy tree. We understand that trees get sick and that they have to be taken down. But this is not a tree that is in any distress,” Carmichael explained.. 

“And because it had been part of the community for so long, people, they object and they are concerned that a tree of this importance and age could be dismissed so easily.”

The city initially objected to the tree being cut down during the first phases of hearings in front of the Toronto Local Appeal Board (TLAB). But in February of last year, a letter was sent to the board by the city solicitor saying an agreement had been reached with the developer. 

In the letter, the city states that it will “take no position with respect to the proposed application” as long as the developer submits an application to have the tree removed, and pays the city to replace the tree — a fee of $538. 

That’s when the neighborhood got involved. 

Sheila Carmichael of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association says her community has ‘been under attack, under siege’ by developers, and since about 2009 she’s seen a lot of trees destroyed. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

The Black Barn Maple of Eastwood

Known as the Black Barn Maple of Eastwood, it was thought to be a sapling on the newly purchased Eastwood farm in 1860. It grew alongside a barn on the property and became a touchstone for travellers coming into Toronto from the west. 

“Development happened but the tree continued to exist,” said Carmichael.

Carmichael said her neighbourhood has “been under attack, under siege” by developers, and since about 2009 she’s seen a lot of trees destroyed. Her group is fighting to save this particular tree because if it’s taken down “it means then that no tree is considered valuable,” she said. 

“If you walk in the neighborhood, anywhere in Toronto actually, and you look up, and you see the extremely large trees, you’ll realize how important they are to our environment. But also they’ve been here long before us,” Carmichael explained.

Carmichael said support for her group’s cause is intensifying. 

“People are passionate about trees,” she said. 

The group’s aim is to find a creative solution that allows the developer to build a design that would accommodate the tree and “allow it to continue to exist in its rightful place,” Carmichael said. 

The next hearing date in front of TLAB is March 29. 

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