This year’s National Tree Day falls on Wednesday, September 26th and it will be a particularly important one for me and for Canada. This year will be the first National Tree Day without Royal Galipeau, the Member of Parliament who founded the day.

Back in 2010, the former M.P. for Ottawa-Orléans presented a private member’s motion and together, we thought up the idea of declaring a “National Tree Day” to serve as a celebration for all Canadians to appreciate the great benefits that trees provide us. After much work, on March 2, 2011, the House of Commons passed Motion 575 to declare the Wednesday of National Forest Week as National Tree Day. On that day, there were only three dissenting votes to the motion – all of whom who ended up either being defeated in the next election or retiring from politics. Royal would humorously allude to this in subsequent speeches, stating, “The lesson in this my friends,” he would begin, “is to never vote against the trees!”.

Royal, my friend and fellow “tree-hugger”, passed away on January 27 of this year at the age of 71. His love of trees came from his youth in eastern Ontario, where, by his reckoning, he planted 52,000 trees on various properties and an additional 23,000 with his family.

His love of the Jewish people came from a friend, Carl Rosen (no relation), whom he greatly respected. Given Royal’s quick mind and propensity for learning, he acquired many Yiddish expressions, and adopted many Jewish holidays and other aspects of Jewish culture. He used the number “18” (the spiritual number in Judaism) on his license plate and phone numbers among other things.  I last saw Royal on January 5th, his 71st birthday, at the Ottawa Hospital where he was being treated for cancer. It was far from a joyous occasion, but I do remember him grabbing my arm and saying, “Michael, it’s 2018 you know…2018!”.

Like Royal, most of us are aware of the benefits of trees – they provide shade from the sun’s rays, they offer shelter and habitat for birds and wildlife, they purify the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen, and so on. Less well-known though is the fact that trees make us healthier, both physically and mentally. They help combat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a condition that is becoming more and more prevalent among children today. Trees block out unattractive views and noise while adding beauty to urban landscapes, while also reducing heating and cooling costs by providing shade to homes and buildings in the summer, and by buffering wind, ice, and snow in the winter.

Since that day back in 2011, Tree Canada has become the stewards of National Tree Day – a day by which Canadians can recognize something that makes Canada unique in the world – its abundance of trees! As Canadians, we tie much of our national identity to nature, so it is a day worth celebrating and it is also a day worth reflecting. As we all come to live the effects of climate change every day and as forest cover in Canadian cities has been declining over the past 20 years, we must recognize the importance of our trees and our urban forests.  Considering that 80-plus percent of our population now lives in urban areas — four out of every five people – what would we do without our trees?

This year, being that special year, we invite you to join us as we celebrate National Tree Day.  We are greening communities across our nation and planting trees in Montreal, QC, St. John’s, NL, Markham, ON, Winnipeg, MB and Coquitlam, BC.  Each of the five sites has been carefully selected to provide ecological benefits to the community and allows for easy access to get in there, plant trees and get your hands dirty!

If you cannot make it to one of our tree plantings, please organize your own, visit your favourite forest or tree or write a tree poem – celebrate the good trees give us!

So, I ask you – what better way to celebrate trees and Royal’s legacy than by planting and being among the trees yourself?

Michael Rosen, R.P.F.
President, Tree Canada