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Why, Minister McGarry, why?

In Anne Learn Sharpe - Angus
Jan 12th, 2018

MNRF Minister Kathryn McGarry

MNRF Minister Kathryn McGarry


It’s been months since the first shock of hearing that the Ontario Tree Seed Plant would close in September 2018. Our first stunned question then was Why? Now, after hearing the rationale from the MNRF at a public meeting, reading some of the letters addressed to your office about the impacts of the closure and listening to the comments of forestry experts, the question remains: Why?

The answer given in the MNRF presentation at Utopia Hall is money, the million dollars a year that it costs to keep the Tree Seed Plant open. For many, that is a narrow and inadequate answer. It has been pointed out that many government facilities cost much more and create much less value. The value generated by the Tree Seed Plant has been detailed by those who use its services: researchers depend on quality seed from a variety of often rare sources; nurseries need quality seed to supply clients with stock that is genetically adapted to local conditions; citizens of Ontario expect their government ministries to ensure that tree seed grown in this province will provide forests with the resilience to withstand the increasing threats of disease, insects and climate change.

The second part of the MNRF’s response is science. The ministry intends to focus on research on climate change and biodiversity, supported by a genetic archive. These are inarguably essential pursuits. But once tree seed production is entirely in private hands, the government will have no direct link with seed clients in Southern Ontario. Any new procedures arising from research will have to find their way through policy changes, monitoring and inspection of privately owned businesses, all this with constantly diminishing MNRF budgets. The possibility of a direct link and transfer of knowledge through the Ontario Tree Seed Plant to clients will no longer be available.

The timeline of closing the Ontario Tree Seed Plant in a year has caused chaos for forestry businesses and organizations. The other question raised by the MNRF’s decision is What’s the Rush? The only obvious time-sensitive issue is the election in June 2018. The 25-acre historic site of the Tree Seed Plant is a treasure among MNRF assets. No doubt developers are lining up their offers. The idea that a cash-strapped provincial government would ram through the closing of an irreplaceable facility to create improved pre-election financial figures should leave Ontario citizens thoroughly revolted.

Yet no other reasons have been offered for the great rush. Certainly no time has been allowed for public consultation or for entertaining other futures for the Seed Plant.

When the suggestion was made at the Utopia Hall meeting of using the extra space at the Seed Plant as an educational facility, the audience was told that education was not part of the MNRF mandate. Compare this response to the one given to the Boy Scout Association in the 1920s when they expressed interest in participating in the reforestation of Ontario.

Herbert Richardson, who had just supervised the building of the Tree Seed Plant, was given a free hand to create a program for the Scouts that became the basis for the Boy Scout Forestry Camp. Richardson taught some of the early programs himself and the Scouts went on to plant many millions of trees.

Something invaluable has been lost along the road to the situation we find ourselves in today. More than ever we need creativity—partnerships between and within government ministries. The crisis of climate change is too multifaceted for a single approach to work. What if, Minister McGarry, we moved beyond government mandates and reinvented a valuable legacy instead of tossing it away.

Here’s my suggestion: Section 4.4 of the Climate Change Action Plan states: “The number of trees to be planted within the boundaries of urban municipalities will be doubled from one million to two million, with funding for irrigation where appropriate.”

Southern Ontario is highly urbanized, yet municipal land is available in parks, boulevards, school yards, roadsides, public works facilities, libraries etc. Many small municipalities do not have the budget to have an arborist on staff to help with design and choosing tree species. The 25-acre Ontario Tree Seed Facility would be an ideal location for an Urban Forestry Centre that would provide seed production for tough species that could withstand urban conditions, education for municipalities and the public on tree maintenance, invasive species, tree inventories, sample designs for roadsides, parks and even suburban yards. Organizations involved in urban forestry would partner with the Tree Seed Facility.

Perhaps you would consider it. What if, Minister McGarry?

Letters sent to MNRF 

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6 Responses to “Why, Minister McGarry, why?”

  1. Well spoken… to lose this facility is a step in the wrong direction.

  2. Margaret Learn says:

    The Ontario government is definitely being short-sighted with their decision to close the seed facility, a surprising move that conflicts with their commendable focus on climate change initiatives. The idea to expand the facility into an urban forestry centre with a strong education mission is a good one.

  3. Kathryn DeFauw says:

    Well said Ann!! Over the last thirty years we have seen the demise of the reforestry facilities down near St Williams when our children were little we would take them to this awesome place and Jerry would teach them the names of all the saplings growing in the tree nursery to my family we looked forward every spring to visit here talk to the people working here and get great advice about our own trees. Now it is like a ghost town so sad and empty!! Why haven’t they learned from past mistakes that privatizing doesn’t work it just costs so much more and in the end destroys our resources!

  4. Joel Perron says:

    I brought some seeds to the Utopia Hall Seed Exchange this month and found AWARE’S table! I did sign the petition to save the Tree Seed Facility but also wondered about what other arguments might be persuasive. Your idea of an enhanced educational mandate chimes with my own intuitions but I don’t think enough emphasis is being made on the merit of the old buildings themselves…if I may be so bold, their historic, cultural and aesthetic capital could showcase a legacy and a vision for the future. I’m thinking in terms of a living or real life, functioning GREEN MUSEUM. Surely, coupling a museum function with education and new forestry initiatives could honor its past. Projects like Toronto’s Brick Works is just one example of just such an inspiring story.

    • Anne Learn Sharpe says:

      Joel, thank you for your comment. At least one of the buildings on the Tree Seed Plant site is a designated heritage building. It was moved from Base Borden after the First World War. It would take some research to find out dates for some of the other buildings. The main office was built in 2005 to LEEDS standards. The Tree Seed Plant is the only remaining site that was part of the Ontario government reforestation initiative in the early twentieth century. St. Williams Forestry Station is owned privately and Midhurst Nurseries are no longer in operation. I contacted the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport a few months ago and received a reply but have had no reply to a second email. If you have any ideas about how to pursue this, please let us know: aware.essa@gmail.com Or you’re welcome to join us at Utopia Hall next Saturday morning for our meeting.

      • Joel Perron says:

        Thank you for your quick reply with the information. We may have already met since I did attend a tour of the seed plant with Eileen Sweeney a year or so ago…loved it! I don’t have much experience with this cause but I am willing to try. Let’s see if I can make it to your next meeting at Utopia Hall.


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