By Mike Anderson

Inclement weather, including high winds and blowing snow, didn’t stop hundreds of residents from participating in the Town of Georgina’s tree giveaway for Earth Day at the ROC on April 20.

Town staff handed out 2,000 trees in two-gallon pots with instructions on how to plant them. Each household, with proof of residency, was allowed two free trees.

Residents are encouraged to share a photo of their newly planted trees on social media with the hashtag #Georgina Grows. If they tag @TownofGeorgina on Instagram or Facebook, they can win one of three $50 Visa Gift Cards.

“They don’t care about the weather. They just love the idea of getting a couple of trees,” said Mayor Margaret Quirk, who braved the elements to greet residents in line.

“I’m encouraging people to take a picture and tag the Town. I’m telling them: ‘This is your tree. Nurture that tree, and watch that tree grow with you’.”

“Parents are really enthused about getting their kids involved, especially for Earth Day,” she added.

Six native tree varieties were available, including Red Maple, Red Oak, and Tulip. Most grow quickly—Red Maple, for instance, can grow between 12 and 18 inches a year.

While the event didn’t officially start until 10 a.m., the first vehicles were lined up at 8 a.m., with the line extending down Civic Centre Rd almost to Baseline Rd at one point. The steady flow of vehicles continued throughout the day until the last trees were given out just before 4 p.m.

“I think it’s fantastic. I wish they had 10,000 trees to give away,” said Sutton resident Hemmo Hakkarainen, who was waiting in his truck with a neighbour.

Hakkarainen, who owns a 1.5-acre property, says he’s had to take down 150 ash trees and is eager to replace them.

“It used to be this absolutely stunning canopy, and that’s why I bought the place back in 2006. Now, all of them are gone, and all I see is the sky.”

Hakkarainen also hoped to get a few trees for his neighbours who couldn’t make it to the ROC.

“We have a couple of elderly neighbours and a few with disabilities. So, yesterday, I phoned everybody. I said I’ll take your paperwork and bring back the trees for you. So, I’ve got five interested people. The more trees I can have around my property, the better.”

“We should be doing more to encourage tree planting,” added Carolyn Fuller, who lives in the south end of Keswick.

“Seeing all the trees getting torn down for all the new housing development makes us sad. So, at least what we can do is to help add some trees to our property.”

Fuller was hoping to get a tulip and London plane tree.

“The bark is gorgeous on a London plane, and once the tulip tree blooms, it’s quite pretty,” she said.

Mayor Quirk, Mark Cullen & Dave Neeson

The 2,000 trees were generously donated by Canadian Trees of Life, a national charity whose mission is to create a healthier, happier Canada by planting native trees where we live, work and play.

Canadian Trees for Life, whose founder and chair is gardening expert and author Mark Cullen, has been involved in several major reforestation projects in Ontario. Its most recent project involved working with the City of Guelph to help it achieve its goal of 40 percent leafy cover by planting 550 native trees last fall.

The donation will more than triple the number of trees planted this year, significantly increasing Georgina’s tree canopy.

In 2023, the Town planted 334 trees. This year, the forecast is for 1070 – a combination of town-funded (80%) and region-funded (20%) through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF).

Combined with the 2,000 donation, including a further community donation of 500, from Canadian Trees for Life, the total will be 3570.

According to York Region, the Town of Georgina’s estimated canopy cover (land area under tree canopy) is 44.4%, the highest of all York Region Municipalities.

The majority of the tree canopy (34.8%) is identified as woodland cover (land under heavily treed areas that are 0.2 hectares in size and greater). The recommended range for canopy cover is 46-47%, and for woodland cover, it is 30-40%.

Ward 4 Councillor Dave Neeson says he worked with Donna Cansfield, a former MPP and Canadian Trees of Life Board member, to arrange the donation. And he hopes this will lead to future collaborative projects with the non-profit.

“Any day that we can increase our urban rural cover is good news. This is something that Donna and I were able to put together very quickly, but it’s also the start of a partnership. We’re engaged in a larger discussion, reforestation efforts and something much larger to come. Any time you can bring in a partner like this, who can provide funding and expertise, it’s definitely a win-win,” Neeson told the Post.

“Trees disappear all the time, whether through development or the Emerald Ash Bore, which has devastated our ash trees. So we will continue to push for more tree plantings. Many rural lots, and even some the Town owns, could benefit from reforestation projects.”

“If you look at our Town logo, there’s a tree and the lake on it. They’re part of our brand, so they need to be protected and nurtured.”