Heritage Tree recognition a first in South Dundas

The Black Walnut Tree right of this St. Lawrence Street home was recently designated a Heritage Tree by Forests Ontario. Below, homeowners Normand Dessureault and Gisèle Mitrow are pictured in front of the tree with the certificate presented to them along with the heritage designation plaque. (The Leader/Comfort photo)

MORRISBURG – Anyone who has ever travelled along St. Lawrence Street in Morrisburg has no doubt noticed the grand Italianate mansion along the way.

What might have gone unnoticed is the grand black walnut tree that stands alongside it.

Present homeowners Gisèle Mitrow and Normand Dessureault want that to change so they undertook the process to have the 150 year-old tree recognized as a Heritage Tree by Forests Ontario. That process was recently completed, and a plaque recognizing that designation is now in place.

While pandemic regulations made it impossible to fully acknowledge the designation with a ceremony, Mitrow and Dessureault, welcomed The Leader to their property to share the news with the community and to raise awareness of this program.

Mitrow and Dessureault are both retired botanists who discussed the reason that the Heritage Tree designation was important to them.

“Our goal was to share the cultural and historical aspects of the residence of the first medical doctor in Morrisburg and highlight the value of trees,” said Mitrow. “This was possible through the Forests Ontario heritage tree program,” added Dessureault.

The Heritage Tree Program collects and tells the stories of Ontario’s diverse and unique trees. It was launched in 2009 in partnership between Forests Ontario and the Ontario Urban Forest Council to increase awareness of the social, cultural and ecological value of trees in our province. To be accepted into this program, nominated trees must be associated with a historic person or event, or be growing on land that is historically significant. To date, over 100 trees have been recognized through the Heritage Tree Program.

Dessureault said that the process to have the tree designated a Heritage Tree took about six months and that the designation requires it to be attached to a story of significance along with an on-site evaluation process whereby the age is estimated and the condition of the tree and its canopy are examined.

The evaluator found that this tree was in good health and well maintained, so along with its history made it an ideal candidate for the Heritage Tree designation.

In 1875 Dr. Asaph Bradley Sherman, the community’s first doctor, built this red-brick Italianate home in Morrisburg.

Next to his house, Dr. Sherman planted a Black Walnut tree.

According to Forests Ontario: “The Black Walnut is now about 150 years old and, at 21.5 metres in height with a canopy spread of more than five car lengths, dwarfs the house.”

Mitrow and Normand Dessureault bought the historic mansion three years and in living there discovered the marvellous foresight of the doctor.

In addition to the beauty of the tree, the family enjoys the plentiful shade the Black Walnut provides.

“That tree was perfectly, strategically planted to the south so that it would throw shade on the house,” Dessurault said. “In mid-summer when the sun is at its hottest at about 2 p.m., we are in full shade. We don’t need air conditioning. That tree gives a lot back.”

Sherman was born in Barre, Vermont in 1814 and moved to Ontario in 1848. Along with his medical practice, Sherman made important community contributions as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Morrisburg Grammar School and County Warden. When he died in 1890, the Black Walnut tree he planted was still too young to cast much shade. “He thought of others,” Mitrow said.

“Heritage trees are living, breathing testaments to our province’s past,” said Rob Keen, Registered Professional Forester and CEO of Forests Ontario. “Trees are not just beautiful landmarks and the heart of healthy ecosystems, but characters in the stories that form our history. The Heritage Tree Program recognizes this native tree as an important landmark that provides shelter and food for wildlife and enjoyment for the public.”

The Heritage Tree designation does not legally protect the designated trees without related bylaws in place as its care and maintenance remain the responsibility of the property owner.

“It’s amazing what this tree does for us,” said Mitrow. “We wanted the designation to raise awareness of the importance of this tree and trees like it. Publicly sharing the value of this tree and others like it might help protect them,” added Dessurault.

This is the first and only tree locally to be recognized as a Heritage Tree through Forests Ontario.

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