Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Old Oak at Leith Church Cemetery

By Charles Killin and Helen Solmes

In last week’s issue of The Meaford Independent, Helen Solmes and I described our trek through the municipality in March with Tree Trust Meaford coordinator Pete Russell. (Cemetery Tour in Search of Carbon Sequestering Giants, April 14, 2022).

All local Tree Trust chapters in Ontario are connected in a registered not-for-profit organization. The mission is simple: to identify and analyze senior trees on public land worthy of arborist care, and to find donors to sponsor that care. Our day visiting cemeteries across Meaford showed us that there are many such trees across our municipality that could have their lives extended for possibly another century or more.

One current case illustrates the way Tree Trust works. Most people in Meaford know that Leith Church cemetery has a famous resident: Tom Thomson, the renowned Canadian painter. However, fewer Meafordites are aware of a second celebrated resident, a 117-year-old English (or White) Oak that was the first tree in Grey-Bruce to be recognized by Forests Ontario as a Heritage Tree.

The ‘Old Oak’ itself was planted by children of the church Bible School in 1905. In Canada, English Oak is an ornamental tree brought here from the warmer climates of Britain. One peculiarity of this type of oak is that it keeps most of its leaves through the winter. They turn brown and cling to the branches until spring, when they drop away and new green leaves grow in their place. While the sandy subsoil at the cemetery has helped the Old Oak to thrive, our harsh Canadian winters have actually stunted the tree’s growth by about a third of its potential.

Pete Russell was impressed by the Old Oak when he first saw it several years ago. “The tree is a huge presence on the property,” he stated, adding that he is concerned the tree may not be receiving arborist care to maximize its lifespan. Pete shared his concerns with Friends of Leith Church, the independent committee that manages the church property and organizes annual events. “I explained what Tree Trust is all about,” said Pete, “and they agreed to take the next step, which is an arborist assessment.”

That assessment was performed by Tobias Effinger, professional arborist and principal of Arboreal Tree Care. Tobias began with a full set of measurements: 59 feet tall and 52.5 feet wide, with a trunk 38 inches in diameter and almost 10 feet in circumference.

Without the limiting proximity of other trees around it, as in a forest setting, this tree had no competition for space, sunlight, or nutrients. That meant it could grow outward as easily as it could grow upward. Being almost as wide as it is tall, it acts like a sail to capture wind which puts additional stress on its large horizontal limbs.

Tobias recommended remedial care for the Old Oak in the form of:

  • Reduction of limbs outgrowing their holding potential

  • Removal of deadwood and stubs

  • Correction of limbs with torn out portions

  • Inspection for disease and the presence of pests

Each tree has its own distinct characteristics, and therefore a different set of factors in its optimal care. The Old Oak of Leith is but one of several grand old legacy trees in our municipality that are true heavyweights in the global fight for carbon reduction. One large, healthy mature tree has the carbon storage capability of 269 saplings, according to a report from Ohio State University. So, while planting trees is important for the environment, keeping our giants alive is just as important. To report a candidate tree or to become a Tree Trust supporter, contact Pete Russell at

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