Tree of The Year 2023 Finalist: Wilmot

Bur Oak
Wilmot Township
Peel Street at Church Street, New Hamburg

Age: approximately 150 years old
Height: 27.5-30.5 m / 90-100 ft
Diameter at Breast Height: 136 cm / 53.5 in

“The tree speaks for itself.” 

Asked what he thinks of the big bur oak growing on his front lawn, Marcus Beu is deferential. Indeed, were the tree inclined to speak, it’s difficult to imagine anyone putting words in its mouth. It is so big, other mature trees are growing underneath it, with room to spare. It easily, entirely shades Marcus’s two-storey house. It is colossal.

As the main stewards of this oak, the Beus take their place in the longer, ongoing story of their tree, their house, their street, their town…

New Hamburg historian Marie Voisin’s research indicates there once were buildings where the tree now stands, until 1875, when they were torn down and the current house was built for Henry and Elizabeth [Schmidt] Brodrecht. The tree, then, might be contemporaneous with the house. Many of the buildings along Peel Street date from the nineteenth century. Fewer of the trees do, and it’s unlikely any of them rival the sheer bulk of this oak.

Bur oak is one of Ontario’s 11 native oaks. It belongs to the white oak group of species, known for their tendency to grow very old, and very big. This towering specimen is impossible to fully see while standing beneath it. To take it all in, one must first take a hike down the street, then turn back to look.

The Peel Street oak was nominated for Tree of the Year 2023 by Let’s Tree Wilmot (LTW), a relatively new volunteer group affiliated with the Wilmot Horticultural Society. The tree-championing LTW is already well into its essential work of planting thousands of trees in Wilmot Township. They host tree planting events, talks, and workshops, and share informative videos, all to encourage and empower the public to become active tree advocates. As for results, they take a long view: member Yvonne Zyma says, “I’m going to be dead and gone before these trees make a difference. . . . but they will make a difference.”

In 2022, LTW received funding from 2 Billion Trees (2BT), a Natural Resources Canada initiative. True to its name, 2BT aims to plant billions of trees—dozens, hundreds, thousands at a time. This is to be done with coordination and heavy lifting by local volunteer groups such as LTW, and with cooperation from organizations, businesses, and governments nationwide. 

Legacy trees like the great oak of Peel Street provide, by the ton, the necessities of life for countless wild creatures and multiple generations of people. They present an eloquently straightforward symbol of what can be achieved. They are an irrefutably solid, unavoidably large object lesson, demonstrating that nature’s solutions are, literally, scalable.

Lots of eyes are on this tree, with more joining the ranks. The extra attention can’t hurt: oak wilt fungus, new to Canada, is an emerging, potentially fatal threat. Thankfully, the oak has friends. The Beus are watching it closely. Their arborist has checked it out. A developing split, high up on the trunk, has been reinforced. As Yvonne of Let’s Tree Wilmot says, “We’re really, really fortunate that they value the tree!” 

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.

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