Treeing Harbord Village


HVRA knows the value of trees in our neighbourhood, 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.

The original inventory increased volunteers’ appreciation of our urban forest and led to the planting of over 100 new backyard trees. It also underpinned further tree-related projects, such as the saving of ash trees from the scourge of the Emerald Ash Borer. The re-done inventory of 2017-18 provides current information and also measures changes in the tree canopy, The news isn’t entirely good. Watch for further initiatives for tree care and renewal.

HVRA Tree Inventories

Our multi-stage inventories depict an interesting and valuable urban forest, but indicate some troubling trends.

student and poster for 2018 HVRA Tree Inventory


The most current inventory is based on data-gathering by teams of U of T students during the summers of 2017 and 2018. Leah Ritcey-Thorpe (supervised by U of T Forestry Professor Sandy Smith) completed the work in Fall 2018.

At a December 2018 meeting on tree health sponsored by the Annex Residents’ Association and HVRA, Leah gave a fascinating talk comparinig 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 were large mature trees. There is a clear tendency to replace large trees with smaller ones—also noted by the ARA speaker. Harbord Village has also seen an increase in hard surfaces. 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 plentiful 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.

U of T is preparing an interactive map to show the locations of every tree in the inventory. Each will have a popup information box with measurements and scores for condition. One of Sandy Smith’s future Forestry classes will analyse the inventory data further to draft an updated Tree Management Plan. We can expect a call for concerted action to maintain and renew our tree canopy.


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 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 this 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 from local residents also helped! Our Donations page makes it easy to give online, or you can follow the method below to receive a tax receipt:

The Lions Club of Toronto has offered to issue tax receipts for donations over $30. Please make out a cheque to Lions Club of Toronto Central, with HVRA Tree Inventory” in the memo line. Then mail it to PO Box 68522, 360A Bloor St. W., Toronto ON M5S 1X1.

Tree Planting, ongoing

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 and outlines residents’ contributions in money and time. The photos below also show some of the action.

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.

Click on the images below to see larger versions of photos indicating the beauty and interest of our canopy.