Bringing trees to communities and communities to trees

mai 27, 2019
Park People

“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

Forests are a lot like communities, each has an ecosystem all its own.

Our latest project with LEAF, Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) and the City of Toronto (Urban Forestry branch) reminded us that projects thrive when they are designed to fit within a unique community ecosystem. Just as you wouldn’t expect a cactus to grow in the south pole, you need to understand a community to develop an approach that fits if a program is to thrive.

As Janet McKay, Executive Director at LEAF says: “It is exciting to work with different participants and understand their needs.”  We simply couldn’t agree more.

Last week, we had the pleasure of celebrating the approximately 80 new trees planted by the City of Toronto and Cohen & Master that were planted in consultation with communities across three TCHC properties. LEAF’s expertise in trees and tree care, coupled with our understanding of communities proved to be a powerful combination.

In each community, our goals were to:

  • Engage the community in choosing the right native trees for their TCHC properties
  • Consult with residents to select the best locations for the trees on their TCHC property
  • Establish tree-care teams made up of TCHC residents who water the trees weekly and provide ongoing care, such as mulching, as needed

At this critical milestone, we’re delighted to take a step back and reflect on what’s made it possible for residents to be highly engaged in the program.

Scarlettwood Court: Working with Community Champions

Scarlettwood is a TCHC property set against the beautiful natural landscape of the Humber River in Etobicoke. Residents were eager to plant trees to beautify the community and to replace trees that were lost in order to improve sight lines and enhance residents’ sense of safety in their community.

This community has several highly engaged residents who play an active role in getting the community to participate in projects that enhance community pride. One of those residents is Sharon Glaves, a community leader at Scarlettwood Court, who was an early champion of the tree planting project.  Sharon not only encouraged others to get involved in tree consultations and tree care but was eager to get more plantings happening to beautify the community.

Having a community champion like Sharon helped Scarlettwood Court secure support from Park People as part of the Sparking Change program which funded a number of stewardship events that will help deepen the community’s engagement in the tree planting and care initiative and beautify the property, as well.

Scarlettwood Court is hosting three tree focused events, including:

  • Launching an adopt-a-tree program to care for the newly planted trees
  • A shrub planting and barbeque celebration and
  • Native plant gardening events

The tree program has helped pique the interest of residents, and there’s now a growing interest to explore the ravine and Humber River behind the buildings.

Historically, residents have been wary of exploring the mysterious ravine behind their homes. But now, the tree planting program has sparked their interest in exploring it through guided nature walks which will help the community deepen their link to the natural world around them.

Kendleton: Engaging Local Youth in Tree Care

Toronto Community Housing’s Kendleton community provides housing for many low-income seniors.

While residents were eager to have trees in their community, most had limited physical capacity to manage tree care on an ongoing basis. There was however a keen resident, Thomas Boehler who has lived at Kendleton for over 10 years and takes meticulous care of the grounds. He was willing to volunteer to take care of the trees with some help. Park People found the right kind of help from a neighbouring high school, West Humber Collegiate Institute, and a local social service agency, Delta Family Resource Centre. As a result, several youths will be working directly with Thomas and the community to water and care for the trees.  

The partnerships will not only help the trees thrive, but will provide great intergenerational programming that can help build meaningful connections between seniors and youth. As Tòmas, from Cohen & Masters, emphasized: “I’m looking forward to seeing the teenagers and adults work together on watering the trees.”

Amory Ngan, Project Manager in Urban Forestry at City of Toronto supports this approach:

“Just planting trees doesn’t get you success without people to look after the trees and appreciate them over the long term.”

In the case of Kendleton, this creative approach will ensure that the trees and community will be nurtured today, and into the future.

1901 Sheppard Avenue West: Working with TCHC’s Senior Program Leaders (SPLS)


At the 1901 Sheppard Avenue West TCHC property, the third tree planting site in Etobicoke, Park People went door-to-door with Senior Program Leaders from the Capital Engagement and Conservation Program (CECP) to help build awareness about why the trees are an important investment, what residents could expect, and how they could be more involved. They also invited residents to come out to a Community Tree Festival where they could enjoy music, a barbeque and games and activities for children. At the Festival they got to decide on the trees that would be planted. Some residents had a choice of planting a tree in their backyard while others gave input on the tree selection for the common areas on the property.

These SPLS continue to play a vital role in the program’s success in engaging residents in the tree planting project.

Our partners at LEAF have a powerful motto: “Right tree, right place, right care!” When it comes to getting it right on all three fronts, understanding the needs and dynamics of the community is essential.  

This project is supported by funds from Every Tree Counts, a partnership between Toronto  Parks and Trees Foundation and the City of Toronto.