Rare Chatham elm among nominees for provincial heritage designation

Randall Van Wagner, manager of conservation lands and services with the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority, stands in front of an American White Elm tree on Queen Street in Chatham. The tree has a genetic resistance that helped it survive Dutch Elm disease. Ellwood Shreve/Postmedia Network

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The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority’s manager of conservation lands says there’s a tourism benefit to be gained by identifying and promoting some of Chatham-Kent’s more impressive trees.

Randall Van Wagner has nominated 10 local trees for recognition through Forests Ontario’s heritage tree program.

“It’s any tree that’s significant, culturally or ecologically,” he said.

He said physical dimensions, including diameter and height, can also qualify a tree under this program.

One of the nominated trees is an American Dutch elm on Queen Street in Chatham, across from the Entegrus building.

He said the tree has already been recognized by the University of Guelph for showing a resistance to the deadly Dutch elm disease that ravaged the species across North America many decades ago.

“This was one of the most common street trees back in the day,” said Van Wagner, adding the drooping canopy on the local elm tree is a sign of its health.

As part of his role with the conservation authority, Van Wagner said he’s planted more than 50 seedlings grafted from the tree to get that “good genetics” into the community.

Another trees of note, he said, is a massive cottonwood tree on a private property along the Thames River outside of Chatham that’s the largest deciduous tree in Ontario.

“There’s a huge circumference on it,” Van Wagner said.

A Shumard oak, which is a species at risk, located in Tecumesh Park, next to the McGregor Creek bridge, is another tree he nominated for heritage status.

The trees don’t have to be native to be considered for heritage status, Van Wagner said.

There’s a large copper beech tree on the lawn of a Victoria Avenue home in Chatham that has been nominated. Just down the road, there are two large ginkgo trees on the grounds of Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church at the corner Forest Street and Victoria Avenue.

Van Wagner said he contacted church officials and learned a businessman from Chatham travelled to China in the 1800s and brought back the seeds for these ginkgo trees.

He added another one is planted at the Chatham Cultural Centre.

Ultimately, Van Wagner said he would like to come up with a map that shows these impressive trees as a way to promote tourism.

He pointed to the widespread popularity of birding and said he believes there would be a similar interest in trees.

“To me, the whole heritage tree thing is neat because it’s educating people about these trees,” Van Wagner said. “They are interesting. They are part of our history and our past, and anytime we can let people know about trees and their significance, it’s an educational piece.”

If anyone has a tree they believe has heritage value, he can be contacted at 519-354-7310 ext. 230.

 

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