By Helen Solmes and Charles Killin
A cold winter day in March seemed like an odd time to be out driving the back roads of Meaford looking for, of all things, cemeteries. Yet, all said and done, Pete Russell, who chairs the Meaford chapter of Tree Trust, committee member Charles Killin, and I approached it as an adventure in local history.
Our goal on that day was to locate as many of the 30 cemeteries as possible, and identify legacy trees on the properties that could be candidates for professional arborist care. The Municipality of Meaford website lists eight active cemeteries and 22 inactive. Of the eight active cemeteries, three are administered by the municipality: Lakeview, Duxbury on the 25th Sideroad, and St Matthew’s at the intersection of Gr 18 and Gr 29. The five others are administered by church or community governing bodies – Leith, Annan, St Michael’s on 4th Concession North, McLean south of Bognor on the Holland Sydenham Townline, and Storey on GR 112 near Strathnairn.
The 22 inactive cemeteries range in size from a single grave marker or a cluster of headstones. Six of the inactive cemeteries are within the boundaries of the Land Force Central Area Training Centre. The Canadian Armed Forces is entrusted with their maintenance.
We did locate most of the cemeteries we set out to find. Most of them were deep in rural Meaford, and our quiet reflection on the old headstones reminded us of the hard and often short lives our earliest residents must have had. We found a handful of trees on these beautiful properties that were suited to the work of Tree Trust.
Tree Trust is a not-for-profit charitable project managed by volunteers in six locations in Ontario: Meaford, Central Wellington, Stratford-Perth, Toronto Island Community, Town of the Blue Mountains, and Waterloo Region. The overriding mission of Tree Trust is to preserve legacy trees, those grand carbon capture giants that beautify our landscapes; offer shelter and food to wildlife; offer shade, inspiration and reflection; and on a more pressing note lately, play an important part in the fight against climate change.
The Meaford chapter of Tree Trust, officially launched last September, is committed to identifying and preserving giant old trees on public land. They find the funds needed to hire professional arborists who rejuvenate and extend the lives of these amazing trees, one by one.
The early community response to Tree Trust Meaford has been very encouraging, even despite the pandemic. It is apparent that Meaford residents have a deep attachment to some of the grand old trees in the municipality, particularly those in cemeteries. To date, five sugar maples at Lakeview Cemetery have received care and can now expect to live up to hundreds of years longer. Three of these five were restored thanks to donations from individuals in memory of a family member interred at Lakeview. One was attended to with financial support from the Rotary Club of Meaford. Two more are scheduled for attention in the spring.
The connection humans have to trees is hard to explain, though many have tried in various ways: in poetry, in song, in art, in historical accounts and anecdotes, and in terms of physical, spiritual, and mental health. In 2016, an exceptional craftsman, artist, and instructor, the late Stephen Hogbin, published The Extraordinaire Tree Project, A Celebration of the Natural and Cultural Value of Trees in Grey and Bruce. In his book, Hogbin compiled 56 tributes to extraordinary trees as submitted by property owners and county residents. The book includes the notes from a lecture series devoted to the topic of man’s relationship with trees. It is well worth a look as a way of addressing the question: Of what importance are trees?
To follow: The grand old English white oak of Leith
For more information on Tree Trust, go to treetrust.ca