The pandemic that swept across the country last March forced us, like many other non-profits or businesses, to rethink our operations. We had to scale back, postpone and in some cases cancel many of our live events, to keep safe the partners and thousands of Canadians who normally plant trees with us every year.
Yet thanks to our dedicated supporters and partners, we turned these challenges into a good news story. Despite it all, we were still able to plant over 550,000 trees in 2020 – 60% more trees than in 2019!
Our teams adapted on the fly and when rule changes prevented in-person plantings, some of our sponsors redirected their support to our National Greening Program, through which we planted seedlings across Canada.
Donations and support grew as Canadians, forced to stay home during lockdowns, saw the need in their neighbourhoods to increase tree cover and experienced first-hand how important our urban trees and greenspaces were for respite. To that effect, we planted trees in 140 communities and on the grounds of over 40 schools, across all provinces. We were even able to launch a new Community Tree Grant, Treemendous Communities, which will provide funding to municipalities, Indigenous communities, business improvement associations, non-profit and community groups to plant trees in 2021, which may not have been eligible through our other programs.
Corporate sponsors continued to join us. Three years ago, Tree Canada had 60 corporate partners. By 2020, more than 200 companies had teamed up with us. We also worked hard to improve communication and strengthen our ties with Indigenous communities across the country.
On September 23, we celebrated National Tree Day. While our in-person community events had to be cancelled, we still managed to hold three ceremonial plantings – all at a distance and upholding public health regulations – in Port Coquitlam, BC, Mississauga, ON., and Boucherville, QC with our sponsors Staples Business Advantage and TELUS, rerouted funds to 25 schools to plant trees and put over 750 trees in the ground.
Although the dominance of the pandemic might have overshadowed the forward momentum of climate change efforts, our Operation ReLeaf, remained as vital as ever. In B.C., with support from CN, Staples Business Advantage and U-Haul, and in cooperation with the Government of British Columbia, we helped 15 landowners affected by the 2017 fires replant 30,000 seedlings in areas that are not otherwise supported. Through the generous continued support of many organizations, including CN, we continued our work in Fort McMurray for a fourth year, partnering with the municipality to plant more than 11,000 FireSmart trees, while residents planted over 2,000 trees, despite hardships including a spring flood, the pandemic, and the oil price crash. In Nova Scotia, we launched Operation ReLeaf Nova Scotia, sponsored by Home Hardware, to replace trees lost to Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
Lastly in 2020, we brought our expertise in urban forestry to a think tank at Natural Resources Canada, to help develop a national urban forest strategy. Our experts also joined a task force of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to examine the merits of developing a standard to certify urban forests.
When we add it all up, the pandemic has made our cause stronger and more relevant than ever. Health and climate challenges have reminded Canadians of the urgent need for trees and the benefits they provide us on an individual, community and global level. Our team here at Tree Canada thank you for recognizing that need and helping us continue to grow better places to live, one community, and one tree at a time.