Waterloo Public Library, Main Library, Albert Street
Age: approximately 120-130 years old
Height: 23-24.5 m / 75-80 ft
Diameter at Breast Height: 127 cm / 50 in
“It’s got grandeur. . . .”
Sharon Woodley of the Uptown Tree Coalition is referring to a broadly-spreading, solitary oak next to the Albert Street parking lot at the Waterloo Public Library. The Coalition, which she and a few other Waterloo residents established in 2021 to champion the urban forest in the city core, has nominated it for Tree of the Year 2023. “We had to nominate it. Everyone in the neighbourhood loves it.” And Sharon should know, being an active community builder who moved into this neighbourhood more than 50 years ago.
The nomination is perhaps even more fitting for a tree of such exceptional qualities given its exceptional surroundings, which include the MacGregor-Albert Heritage Conservation District (HCD), Waterloo’s only HCD. The venerable oak takes its place in the streetscape among numerous buildings that are more or less its contemporaries, although the HCD boundary stops just short of the tree: across Albert Street, the handsome 1903 former Carnegie library lies within the protected district.
Heritage boundaries notwithstanding, the tree was once part of Waterloo’s original civic centre. Its immediate neighbours included the city hall (now the site of the Marsland Centre building), firehall (Marsland parking), and farmer’s market (the current library), in addition to the still-standing Carnegie building.
The oak has also outlasted the home of Peter and Mary [Zimmerman] Roos at 43 Albert St., which came down when the current library went up in the 1960s. Comparing old maps with modern aerial imagery, it appears that the tree was located on the Roos property. Town directories list Mary and Peter there on Albert as early as 1900, suggesting a plausible minimum age for the library oak, considering its impressive size today.
Bur oak is Ontario’s most common naturally-occurring oak species. Like the closely related white and swamp white oaks, it provides habitat and food for a wide range of wildlife, and is a long-lived, large-growing shade tree. It also adapts well to urban environments. Even so, locally it is not a particularly common street tree.
The volunteer Uptown Tree Coalition was founded on the understanding that the more our city trees can thrive, the healthier, more sustainable places to live our cities can be. And the Coalition knows we’re not doing enough to make that happen, so with representatives in four neighbourhoods, they are cultivating awareness of the critically important benefits of a flourishing urban forest by hosting events, distributing information, and writing letters. And they’re just getting started.
For its own part, the library oak is an excellent tree ambassador. Tall enough that a third of its crown arches high over power lines like a pole vaulter, big enough that it shades the sidewalk, lawn, public benches, and parking lot simultaneously, this is a tree perfectly suited to a bit of celebrity.
But whether it’s for a leafy giant oak or a newly planted sapling, Sharon and the other Coalition volunteers are committed to continuing their good efforts, for the good of everyone living in our cities, because, as she says, “We’ve got to start doing better. Much better.”
Thanks to Tree Trust and the Echo Foundation for making the “Tree of the Year” initiative possible. Tree Trust is a program started by the Elora Environment Centre, and delivered in Waterloo Region by Reep Green Solutions, with a mission to conserve legacy, mature trees for their significant environmental value. If you wish to contribute to the specialist care and protection of mature trees across the Waterloo Region, you can donate here by selecting ‘Tree Trust – Waterloo Region’ from the dropdown provided.