A local legend passed away July 19, and a bit of our heritage went with it. But, though we lost the original, we have a new generation to take its place, thanks to a couple of dedicated Beach gardeners.
The Maple Leaf Forever tree, a silver maple towering over Laing St. in neighbouring Leslieville, cracked and fell in the freak storm that struck that Friday. The tree stood in the front garden of tiny Maple Cottage, a historic 19th century worker’s cottage.
For generations, the old maple has been pointed out by local folks as the inspiration for the famous Canadian song, The Maple Leaf Forever. The story goes that local schoolmaster Alexander Muir was walking down Laing Avenue in the 1860s when a falling leaf sparked the idea for the song.
Cherished by many
When the old tree came down, tangled in power lines, people came from blocks around to honour it. As Hydro workers cut it apart, onlookers gathered leaves and chunks of wood to save as keepsakes.
Some cynics have said those bits will turn up for sale online soon, but that’s not what Chris Hazard has in mind.
“I don’t like that idea at all,” he says. Chris was lucky enough to score a two-foot by four-inch length of the maple. “I know a lot of woodcarvers and woodworkers, so I’m going to ask them for ideas on what to do with it.”
The tree has really been living on borrowed time, you could say. The cottage and surrounding property were slated for development in the early 1970s. Community outrage, however, persuaded the city to buy the property. Tree and cottage alike, however, seemed forgotten until the late ’90s.
Around then, the Friends of Maple Cottage was organized to work for the building’s repair. Sandra Bussin, city councillor at the time, helped promote the project. Dave Smith, now retired from Toronto Forestry, Parks & Recreation, organized a group of volunteers from the neighbourhood to plant and care for the adjacent garden. The old tree’s branches and forked trunk were cabled together to extend its lifetime.
The next generation grows on
Even better, a couple of foresighted Beachers, Carolyn Swadron and her husband, Bill Wrigley, took steps to ensure a new generation of the Maple Leaf Forever tree would live on.
“We planted 13 seeds from it in pots on our deck in 2000,” says Carolyn. “Some didn’t sprout and the squirrels got some, but one – number 13 – survived.” The baby tree was planted in their yard that first winter, where it grew happily until it became a 5-foot sapling (with a decided slant from growing in the shade of the resident red maple).
So Bill and Carolyn offered the young ’un to the city, to be planted near its celebrated parent. I’m happy to say I was there for the ceremony in 2007 that marked that event, complete with a memorable blessing from a First Nations Elder, and tea and cake in a party atmosphere.
The young tree has thrived since then, growing to twice its size over the past six years. Now in full sun, it’s straightened out as expected, with only a slight kink in its trunk as a memento of its early days. With the old tree now gone, Carolyn says “I’m so pleased we did that – but we had wanted to start some more.”
Linda Torney, one of the original Maple Garden volunteers, agrees. “It’s sad, but it would have been more of a tragedy if they hadn’t planted the sapling. That sort of feels good, it takes the edge off.”
Anyone for woodcarving?
At time of writing, most of the old Maple Leaf Forever tree’s trunk was in the city’s custody. How’s this for an idea: Carve it into some kind of sculpture, like the one that used to be in Kew Park, just north of the picnic tables. Anyone know a good woodcarver who’s up for something different?
Mary Fran McQuade is a hobby gardener and freelance writer