Treeing Harbord Village


HVRA knows the value of our trees, and we show our love by producing, updating, and applying knowledge about them. In 2007-8 we led the way by creating a formal inventory of all the trees in our area. In 2017-18 we repeated the study to gain more insights into current needs. Now once again, we need to act on the information gathered.

Condemned treeOur 2017-18 inventory found an alarming decline in Harbord Village’s urban forest. We have lost about 30% of our trees over the last ten years. Our canopy cover is only 21.95%, a stark contrast to the City’s call for a 40% canopy cover to counteract climate change, manage stormwater, reduce the heat-island effects of paved surfaces, and improve health and the natural environment. The City’s 2018 Tree Canopy Study confirms that Harbord Village is one of the worst-hit areas of the city. Climate change, an aging cohort of large trees, and local construction activity are all factors.

Building on our knowledge of local conditions, and with the support of residents and the City, Harbord Village is starting the slow climb back to restore our trees.  We are already generating plans and gathering resources to start the process.

  • A Fall 2019 report by University of Toronto Master of Forest Conservation students recommends a pilot project: Reaching 40% Canopy Cover in Harbord Village: Establishing the Basis for a Pilot Project. The report was authored by Mamta Goyal, Mariaelena Guarrasi, Johnpaul Loiacono, Yichao Zhou, working along with HVRA members Sue Dexter, Carolee Orme and Robert Stambula. Professor Danijela Puric-Mladenovic provided comment and direction. You can download the report here, also a separate graphic identifying planting opportunities.
  • Treeplanting to reduce CO2 is both a City climate emergency goal and a federal government policy. In late 2019, Councillor Layton led Council in requesting tree planting assistance from federal funding.
  • In January 2020, Toronto Council directed the Urban Forestry department to “prepare and implement area specific action plans to enhance the tree canopy for neighbourhoods that showed significant loss of tree canopy.” Harbord Village is designated as one of those areas.
  • We are already in discussions with City staff on creating a treed boulevard on a Harbord Village street, along with additional bumpouts at four intersections. We have supported the creation of treed patios on City-owned flanking spaces in our neighbourhood. As part of our commitment to the city’s NetZero plan, we will encourage tree-planting along with home retrofitting and use of new technologies to reduce energy costs.

HVRA Tree Inventories

Our two multi-stage inventories have given us considerable knowledge local conditions. We have an interesting and valuable urban forest, but it’s challenged by troubling trends.

student and poster for 2018 HVRA Tree InventoryTHE 2017-18 INVENTORY

The most current inventory is based on data-gathering by teams of U of T students during the summers of 2017 and 2018, supported in part by donations from HVRA members. Leah Ritcey-Thorpe (supervised by U of T Forestry Professor Sandy Smith) completed the work in Fall 2018. The results are shocking, with more than a quarter of our tree canopy lost in the last ten years.

You can browse the full inventory as an Excel file. It’s in “protected” format because the data is so valuable for further study and analysis. You can’t edit the file; please do not copy from it. However, you can use the Find  / Find All functions to look for specific items such as the trees on your property, or to get a list of all the trees on a street or of a specific species. To make viewing easier, you can also zoom the view, or resize columns and rows by pulling across the header cell margins.

Just seeing the number of red-font rows (“removed”) will be a shock. If you search for “dead” you will grieve too. The columns on tree condition are also sad, predicting many more losses from diseased or weakened trees. Let’s keep working to maintain the blue (“present”) and green (“added”) rows!

At a December 2018 meeting on tree health sponsored by the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA) and HVRA, Leah Ritcey-Thorpe gave a fascinating talk comparing the results from  2007-8 and 2017-18. (A video of the meeting is available here; Leah’s talk starts around minute 28.) The figures are sobering. In 2008, Harbord Village had 6386 trees; in 2018, only 4552, a loss of almost 30%. Many of those lost were large mature trees. There is a clear tendency to replace large trees with smaller ones—also noted by the ARA speaker. One factor noted is the increase in hard surfaces, with both front and back yards increasingly paved rather than gardened. The 20% incidence of yellow or weak foliage suggests that more losses are imminent.

Leah has given us a written report outlining the data gathered in 2017-18. It’s full of fascinating visuals  along with worrying insights. Here’s a selection:

  • Maples are the most common species, but Harbord Village also has 2 dawn redwoods (among other rare species) and 343 fruit trees. Ash trees are still here in spite of the Emerald Ash Borer.
  • Our largest tree is a Manitoba maple. Its location may surprise you.
  • One quarter of our trees are surrounded by more than 50% hard surface; 12% are surrounded by 90% hard surface. Those are bad conditions!
  • Newly-planted trees tend to be small or medium ornamentals rather than the large maples and horse chestnuts that now overarch our streets.
  • However, many “plantable spaces” have room for large and extra-large trees. Leah also notes that columnar varieties of tall trees would be suitable for smaller spots.

We need to replace our lost trees and care for those we still have! Some resources are available for individual tree-owners.

  • The City will prune your front-yard tree if needed, or plant a new one on request: call 311, or visit the City’s Tree webpage to find out more. These services are free of charge.
  • In 2019, the City-supported agency Tree For Me offered all HVRA residents (including tenants) free trees and shrubs to plant in back yards or patio containers. Over 120 trees and shrubs were pre-ordered online and picked up at the Harbord Village Tree Fair on Sun. June 2, 1-3 pm. Brief training on tree-planting and tree care was included,
  • Funding for Tree For Me has since been transferred to the Urban Forestry division of the City department of Parks, Forestry, and Recreation: see as a starting point for advice and information on ongoing programs.
  • Encourage your neighbours to take advantage of these opportunities too so we can all enjoy a re-greened neighbourhood!


THE 2007-8 INVENTORYAndy Kenney instructing HVRA volunteers

The Harbord Village tree project started with a big group of volunteers and has become a research achievement. In spring 2007, over 50 enthusiastic residents were trained by Professor Andy Kenney of the U of T Faculty of Forestry (seen at left) to use his Neighbourwoods system for itemizing tree characteristics. Its multi-column checklist focusses on growing conditions and tree health.

2007, Trainees analysing a treeOver the summers of 2007 and 2008, these trained volunteers worked in teams coordinated by Forestry graduate students to collect data on nearly 4000 trees. The resulting information was recorded in a large Excel file, which you can download and search or filter to see the condition of individual trees in 2007-8, or find locations of  specific tree species, or investigate whatever else interests you.

The graduate students produced extensive analysis of this data as part of their coursework. Their documents are available in PDF form:

  • Julie Keller’s 2007 report, based on data collected the first summer, set out a detailed Management Plan urging us to care for existing trees as well as plant new ones; her Appendices provided further information about trees suitable for our growing conditions.
  • Louise Potts completed the data collection in the summer of 2008 and submitted a Final Report.


When the Emerald Ash Borer hit trees in the Toronto area, the existing inventory helped us identify the locations of Harbord Village ash trees and move quickly to treat them. In 2012, U of T Forestry students Sarah Melamed and Yin Zhou wrote a detailed account of the problem and presented us with an Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan. Some trees died, but with prompt treatment many have survived.

3 students with equipment for conducting tree inventory2014 FOLLOWUP

In 2014, a team of students from Ryerson University updated the 2007-8 data for 2000 of our trees and conducted a detailed analysis of 800 or so, comparing their results to those of our earlier inventory. (The photo here shows James Steenberg with his research assistants Amber Grant at left and Claire Stevenson-Blythe at right. Photo by Ryerson University.) James incorporated this work into his Ph.D. dissertation at Ryerson University.

  • His article in our Fall 2016 HVRA Newsletter (pages 18-19) outlines the changes he found in our tree canopy. Many large old trees were lost in the six-year interim, almost always because of renovation work and paving over of green space. He also notes that the new trees planted are often smaller ornamental species, and he urges us to value even gnarly old “weed” trees like Tree of Heaven and Manitoba Maple even if they aren’t ornamental or neat.
  • In another online article for a research group focussing on government-citizen interactions, James uses the HVRA Tree Inventory as an example of the value of open data for urban planning.


summer students 2017
Nicole Pinto and Christian Rempe, 2017

summer students 2018
Christian Rempe, Zhuoran Gong, and Leah Ritcey-Thorpe, 2018

In Summers 2017 and 2018, HVRA sponsored a repeat inventory to get an updated picture of our tree canopy. In the first summer, under the supervision of the U of T Forestry Department, two students (top photo at left) measured trees and evaluated their health. In spite of the rainy weather, they made substantial progress. A new team of three students (bottom photo) finished the work in Summer 2018. The teams used a version of the Neighbourwoods Inventory to provide comparability with the original 2007-8 data.

Two federal summer-job grants, research funds from U of T Forestry, and residual funds from the HVRA Tree Inventory account supported their work. Donations collected from local residents also helped!

Tree Planting, ongoing

HVRA’s efforts to replant and care for trees forms a string of stories that need to be repeated in various forms. Here are some of them:

  • In 2019, HVRA joined with the Tree For Me program to give residents (including tenants) access to free trees and shrubs for planting on their private property, meaning mainly back yards but also in containers when suitable. Our role as neighbourhood partners was to mount a tree pickup and training event on Sun. June 2, 1-3pm, 25 Brunswick (south patio of Kensington Gardens). See our unfolding sidebar story about this initiative, including the closing of Tree For Me as a City initiative.
  • In Spring 2018, even before the new inventory had been completed, HVRA wrote our local Councillor proposing a further initiative to preserve and enhance our tree canopy, noting that we could draw on our long experience in tree analysis and planting. Such an initiative would help the City fulfil its stated aims of increasing canopy coverage. See the letter here.
  • In 2008-10, HVRA followed up needs identified in the 2007-8 inventory by acquiring trees for back yards and making them available to residents at a discount. This initiative supplemented the City’s offer of free trees for front yards. The Toronto Parks and Trees Foundations subsidized the purchases, with residents who requested trees contributing a modest fee. Teams of volunteers did the actual planting. HVRA also worked with neighbouring residents’ associations to facilitate more tree-planting. Over 100 backyard trees were planted.
  • In the summer of 2009, residents’ donations were used to buy and plant trees on the grounds of Central Technical School, with students joining the volunteer planting teams.
  • The HVRA’s December 2009 report to the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation details the backyard planting done in this period and outlines residents’ contributions in money and time. The photos below also show some of the action from this period.

  • We also celebrate our trees, and help neighbours enjoy them. Click on the images below to see larger versions of photos indicating the beauty and interest of our canopy.