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Memory Lane: It takes a community to plant a forest

Share your memories of helping to heal the landscape

The bright orange berries on the mountain ash trees around Sudbury were particularly vibrant and abundant this autumn. There is an Indigenous legend that an abundance of berries, which provide food for birds, forecasts a harsh winter.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Sudbury Tree Planting Committee planted mountain ash trees as well other deciduous trees, such as Norway maple, Chinese elm and Lombardy poplar, in central Sudbury.

Twenty years before the major tree planting operations on the blackened hills around Sudbury took place, city council appointed a "tree" committee as part of the Parks Commission to oversee the beautification of city streets.

Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, cadets and other young people joined community groups, including the Jaycees, on Arbor Day each spring to plant trees.

Planting trees is a very Sudbury thing. Starting in 1978, the sweat and toil of an army of people, young and old, with the assistance of industry, volunteer organizations such as Vegetation Technical Advisory Committee (VETAC) and government investment created a modern miracle: the beautifully green city we enjoy today. 

The estimated cost of this miracle is $33 million, and there is still work to do.

Sudbury.com would like to hear about your experiences planting trees in the 1960s, or in the years from 1978 to present. We would love to share your regreening before and after pictures.

Before the government enforced pollution measures in the 1970s, Sudbury was notorious for its bare, blackened rocks, scarred by almost a century of logging and mining activities.

According to the City of Greater Sudbury website, almost 10 million trees such as red, white and jack pine, were planted from 1978 to 2019, with 3,400 hectares of land limed and grassed and about 1,200 forest plots planted.

The city was presented the Ontario Shade Tree Council Award in 1989, the Government of Canada Environmental Achievement Award in 1990 and an award from the United Nations for its regreening efforts in 1992.

In 1994, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took part in a ceremony outside Garson Arena to celebrate the planting of the one-millionth seedling in the city’s regreening efforts.

This past August, a federal grant of $50,000 was announced to assist the city in planting another 50,000 trees as part of the government's goal of planting two billion trees in Canada over 10 years.

"Trees are created by God but must be protected by man, for without trees, erosion would set in and the earth would become a shifting desert without life," wrote Jim Gardner, Sudbury Parks commissioner in the Sudbury Tree Planting Committee's 1961 annual report.

The original tree planting committee had their work cut out for them. According to the annual report, trees often did not survive the winter or were vandalized by children and teens, often only days after they were planted.

"If they (children) would only realize that the trees they climb or hang their swings on were at one time that small, perhaps they would not be so destructive," Gardner told the local newspaper (Sudbury Star, April 28, 1961).

Send your memories and photos of tree planting with Sudbury.com readers. Send stories to mgentili@sudbury.com or vgilhula@gmail.com. Your memories will be part of a follow-up story on Nov. 24.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.