By Annemarie Reimer

Do you have a favourite tree, currently or from your childhood? On Friday afternoon, September 18th, a full capacity crowd of 100 gathered under one of musician Loreena McKennitt’s favourite trees to celebrate the launch of Stratford-Perth Tree Trust. It was a nearly 100-year-old silver maple on the grounds of the Falstaff Family Centre.

Marianne Van Den Heuvel, co-founder of Stratford-Perth Tree Trust, opened the  ceremony with a brief summary of the project. The goal is to identify and prune old legacy trees that store carbon equal to about 50% of their weight.

Tree Trust cares for trees located on private, industrial or institutional properties, not city or county. Funding is by local community donations. Carbon offsets can be purchased via the website,, which has a tool to calculate your air and auto travel footprint. Or you can make a donation to offset your lifestyle carbon footprint. Tax receipts will be issued, and donors will be informed about the location of the trees receiving treatment.

Marianne van den Heuvel

As a local climate change activist with a science background, Marianne had been working on several ideas for reducing carbon emissions in the Stratford area through native plants and trees.

One of those ideas blossomed when Bill James-Abra, another local activist, connected her to the Tree Trust program in Elora. Marianne was soon joined by Geoff Love, a local environmental consultant and bicycle transportation activist, and Jane Eligh-Feryn, a local landscape architect and climate activist, to create the Stratford-Perth chapter of Tree Trust. Seana Bailey contributed her website building and management skills.

Very pleased with the turnout at the launch, Geoff Love noted that they had to turn away a fair number of people. He reported that will be another tree treated this fall and also one in the spring.

Jane Eligh-Feryn feels that “trees are not only tremendously important for the natural environment but also for our own spiritual growth, and at this critical time on the earth, there isn’t a lot of time left for excuses. It’s an easy way to make a difference. We encourage the community to come on board with us because we will all become the beneficiaries.”

Jeffrey George, A Kettle Stoney Point First Nations artist, was the first speaker after Marianne’s introduction, and contributed haunting flute music and words as a tribute to the wonder of the natural world. He also presented Loreena McKennitt with one of his paintings at the ceremony’s conclusion.

“[T]rees are not only tremendously important for the natural environment but also for our own spiritual growth, and at this critical time on the earth, there isn’t a lot of time left for excuses.” ~ Jane Eligh-Feryn

Internationally renowned musician, and steward and owner of the Falstaff Family Centre, Loreena McKennitt, spoke eloquently about what had inspired her tree songs, “I like to think that in this new age of reckoning we’re in, we’re also on a road to recovery, a recovery that includes appreciation and preservation of our natural world, and of the beauty and importance of our trees, and of our planet’s immense interconnectedness.”

Loreena then performed traditional Irish folk song “Bonnie Portmoor”, the beauty of her voice floating out to the rapt audience spread across the lawn.

“All the birds in the forest, they bitterly weep,

Where shall we shelter, where shall we sleep.”

Toni Ellis, who created the initial Tree Trust Program in Elora, spoke and emphasized that urban trees need our help as old trees are the “underdogs”  and young trees the “understudies.” Toni also coordinated the Heritage Tree Program for Forests Ontario, is a founding board member of the Elora Environment Centre, and initiated Neighbourwoods, the Urban Forest Branch of the Elora Environment Centre. For decades she has helped plant, steward, inventory and advocate for trees.

Tree Trust is inviting people to share stories with them of beloved trees and Dean Robinson, well-known and prolific author and journalist, spoke at the launch as a storyteller. He educated the audience about the history of local trees, ending with a quote from Bryce Nelson: “People who will not sustain trees will live in a world that will not sustain people.”

Before, during, and after the launch proceedings, arborists were busy in some maple trees on the Falstaff Family Centre grounds. Tim Lott, certified arborist, from Tim’s Tree Care, explained some of the methods used to help older trees live long lives. Several of his employees then climbed a near 100-year-old triple-story tree using cables and trimmed branches. They also planted two young replacement trees nearby, so that the older tree can nurture them as they grow.

Erla Boyer, owner of Gallery Indigena in Stratford, concluded the launch event by reading a message from Maxine Noel, internationally recognized native visual artist, who poignantly referenced the terrible loss of life from the coronavirus — as a new reminder to appreciate life.

On the Stratford-Perth Tree Trust website there are many opportunities to get involved, make a difference and, if you wish, even submit a story about your favourite tree.