Edmonton Heritage Trees, Silver Maple in Westmount

Researching Edmonton Heritage Trees

Supported by the Edmonton Heritage Council

On the edge of downtown Edmonton, on the river valley slopes, grows a wild patch of goji berries, descended from seeds imported and tended by Edmonton’s early Chinese community. A few blocks West, surrounded by asphalt, the chestnut seed Walter Holowach collected in Vienna stands forty feet tall, casting shade and life onto a back alley parking lot.

Edmonton Heritage Trees, Silver Maple in Westmount
Westmount Silver Maples are the Oldest Trees in the City of Edmonton’s Tree Inventory

Living History

Edmonton’s Heritage Trees are living artifacts with stories about early Edmonton and the community that cultivated them. Trees are intergenerational messengers and the products of our shared cultural values, geography, and climate. Thus, the City’s urban forest is the product of who we were. We are living in the future they hoped to grow.

Collecting Edmonton Heritage Tree Stories

I’m fascinated by Edmonton’s heritage trees and have personally visited many of them, dabbled in mapping their locations, and hosted walking tours for the John Walter Museum. And still, there are many unanswered questions: What gives a plant heritage value, and who decides? Where are Edmonton’s heritage trees most often located? How do old trees escape development and damage from disease and carelessness? Can we draw connections between trees and Edmontonians’ cultural backgrounds? Do we have any examples of indigenous heritage trees?

Mapping Edmonton Heritage Trees

With support from the Edmonton Heritage Council and a Project Accelerator Grant, I am exploring the question of “what makes a heritage plant?” by researching the history, background, placement, and defining characteristics of known trees. As I locate, map, photograph, and collect narratives and samples, I will contribute to a growing inventory of heritage trees and plants. Through this process, I will create a digital herbarium on this website and a pressed herbarium of public access.

Edmonton Heritage Council, Logo
Edmonton Heritage Trees project Supported by the Edmonton Heritage Council.

What Gives a Plant “Heritage”?

In the project’s second phase, I will identify patterns within the inventory to develop a heritage plant profile to identify new plants. With this updated inventory, I will create and publish self-guided walking tours and host public events to share the findings from the project.

Growing Tomorrow’s Heritage Plants

In the project’s final phase, I will focus on the future of Edmonton’s heritage plants and create a “How to Grow a Heritage Plant” guide. This guide will take lessons from the first two phases and provide practical recommendations on how best to plant and preserve a tree for the future. In addition to the guide, I will work with the City of Edmonton administration to identify opportunities to protect our living heritage resources and develop policies to increase survivability and knowledge of our growing heritage plant inventory.

Edmonton Heritage Tree, the Holowach Horsechestnut, Downtown Edmonton
The Holowach Horsechestnut, Downtown Edmonton

Project Timeline and Outcomes

The Past (June – October 2019)

  • Curate a list of existing trees identified as having heritage value.
  • Research history and gather personal and cultural narratives behind individual plants
  • Photograph, map locations, and gather samples for a pressed herbarium.
  • Create an online herbarium to profile individual plants similar to “Faces of Edmonton.”
  • Create a pressed herbarium of heritage plants for long-term storage and identification.
  • Share online herbarium via social media, newsletters, and traditional media.

The Present (September 2019 – January 2020)

  • Host a public talk on Edmonton’s heritage trees.
  • (Completed) September 21, 2019, Riverdale Harvest Festival hosted by Riverdale Community League and Sustainable Food Edmonton
  • (Proposed) April 2020, Edmonton Resilience Festival
  • Host heritage-tree walking tours.
  • (Completed) August 27, 2019, Edmonton Chinese Garden Society, Goji Berry Tour,
  • (Completed) September 9, 2019, Edmonton Horticultural Society, Univerisity of Alberta Campus Tree Tour
  • Compare and contrast heritage trees to find commonalities and create a heritage tree and Plant Profile Tool.
  • (Completed) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 1: Time
  • (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 2: Novelty
  • (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 3: Narrative
  • Use the Profile Tool to work with the community to identify unidentified heritage plants to research and add to the heritage plant inventory.
  • (Completed) Create Nominate an Edmonton Heritage Tree Form
  • Use the Profile Tool to identify gaps in the catalogue.
  • Add newly identified plants to an online and offline herbarium collection
  • Create a series of self-guided walking tours of Edmonton heritage plants for print or download; explore audio or podcast options.

The Future (January – July 2020)

  • Create a “How to Plant a Heritage Tree” guide with best practices for landscapers and citizens.
  • Perform a policy review of how various municipalities treat and protect heritage trees and compare and contrast these strategies with the City of Edmonton.
  • (Completed) Development and the Future of Urban Forests
  • Work with City of Edmonton Heritage planners to formally recognize plants as heritage resources and create a heritage resource Application to Amend that considers plant material.
  • Work with City administration to look for possible strategies to protect existing and future heritage plants; City Plan, Breathe Strategy, Zoning Bylaw Review.
  • (Ongoing) Consulting with the City of Edmonton on Corporate Tree Management Policy and Draft Tree Bylaw

Heritage Plants of Edmonton in the Media