From Malley’s to Maples: Collingwood’s Urban Forest Management Plan

Michael Rosen

Michael is President of Tree Canada. Michael est le président d’Arbres Canada.

One of my first experiences “away from home without parents” was a ski trip to Collingwood. On the advice of one of my friends’ parents, three of us were put on a Greyhound bus, ski equipment and all, to go to (what was then) a small town in central Ontario, called Collingwood. Collingwood was the place for Toronto-area skiers with established centres like “Blue Mountain” and “Georgian Peaks” (with elevations of 220 m – the words “mountain” and “peaks” were relative to the flatness of Toronto). After about two hours, the bus arrived at night at a store along Hurontario Street, the main street of Collingwood, which, as its name suggests, goes from Collingwood on Georgian Bay (Lake “Huron”) to Mississauga (Lake “Ontario”). The store consisted of “Malley’s Cigar Store” in which “confectionary items” were sold, along with a restaurant and the bus stop for Collingwood.

Greeting us at the stop was Mary Malley, a down-home lady with a warm hello. Following a meal at the restaurant, she drove us three blocks in her station wagon to the family home, also on Hurontario Street. With memories of many ski runs, Mrs. Malley’s home cooking and an interesting Saturday night watching Dave Dudley & Tom T. Hall perform “Day Drinkin’” on the Tommy Hunter Show on the TV in the attic, we arrived back in Toronto exhausted late Sunday. For three brats from downtown Toronto, it was a very memorable weekend.

Today, Collingwood may have those same roots, but it is not the same place. That mixture of a smaller town surrounded by farms and woodlots is changing. With every census period, it seems to be growing by another 10%. By 2031, it is predicted to have over 33,000 people. Most of these people originate from the Greater Toronto Area, fleeing the high housing prices and urbanization of Canada’s largest city.

With the closing of the shipbuilding industry in 1986, most of the vestiges of the old economy have left, so now the major mainstay of the Town has changed. A University of Waterloo Master of Arts thesis, Small Towns in Transitions, an Exploratory Study in Collingwood, Ontario, characterized the present economy as featuring, “a growth in tourism, real estate, creative industries and retirement living”. This growth is placing new pressures on the remaining trees and woodlots. Sushi restaurants and yoga spas have replaced the Malley’s Cigar Stores of yesteryear. The Town has changed, and the citizenry is asking for more from its urban forests – hence the urban forest management plan.

Little did I know that 49 years later I would find myself back in Collingwood, now a growing town of 21,000+ people, trying to help communicate (of all things) the virtues and main concepts of an urban forest management plan. Thanks to support from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Town of Collingwood received a sizeable grant to develop and implement such a plan. The municipality sent out a Request for Proposals and the successful consultants, Williams & Associates Forestry Consulting, invited Tree Canada to be part of their proposal. Tree Canada’s role was to provide leadership for the Town of Collingwood’s Urban Forest Management Plan’s public information sessions, which involved delivering presentations for two communications sessions, attending and presenting on the benefits of the urban forest to the Town of Collingwood and facilitating discussions during the sessions on such subjects as the vision for the municipality’s urban forests. It was an eye-opener for sure.

Tree Canada was part of the communications team, while the technical aspects of the plan were taken care of by others, including John McNeil, Peter Kuntz and Peter Williams, all of whom are Registered Professional Foresters with years of urban forestry experience. A preliminary report on Collingwood’s municipal tree inventory was done, a canopy cover figure was calculated and a resumé of existing information, from the Official Plan, the Community Based Strategic Plan and the Urban Design Manual, was presented. Interestingly, a tree bylaw, as well as a canopy cover study, were created in 2012, albeit with a different set of parameters than is presently used. A Vision, Guiding Principles and Goals for the management plan was also developed by the planning team and Town and was presented and articulated on April 24 in a community room in Collingwood’s Central Park Arena.

One communication session was made up of three separate information events, one for staff, one for external stakeholders (e.g. hydro, the County of Simcoe, conservation authorities, interest groups, such as local arborists, community groups and the development community), and one for the public, all of which occurred on the same day. Attendance grew at each event with the public open house attracting over 60 people. Citizens in attendance included long-time residents and recently established newcomers.

The session left me with two key observations:
• How far urban forestry has come when a town of 21,000 is intensely interested in managing its urban forests and,
• The keenness of the citizenry in seeing better management and preservation of trees on municipal AND private land.

During the public information sessions, people poured over maps, documents and literature, offered input on the plan and expressed concerns about the urban forest. The challenge for the municipality will be in finding balance: budgetary balance in managing the municipal trees to the standards asked for by its citizenry and balance in regulation. Many citizens were concerned over the rate of development in the area and the associated disturbances to local forests and the changes to the community. The most vocal citizens at the meeting were asking for greater controls on the development industry.

In the fall, there will be more public information sessions and the finalization of the planning and recommendation process. After that, who knows, maybe the corner of Second and Hurontario will finally see a maple where Malley’s Cigar Store once stood!

Michael Rosen, R.P.F.


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