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Compendium of Best Urban Forest Management Practices

Chapter 2. Brief History of Canadian Urban Forests


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Brief History of Canadian Urban Forests

The history of Canada and the history of its forests are very much intertwined: from the use of the forest by First Nations, the colonization by Europeans, the era of logging white pine for the British navy, the expansion of land clearing in the 1800s, to the birth of the conservation movement at the turn of the last century. It was during this last era that Canadian urban forests began.

The development of the major park systems in Canada often incorporated forest elements:

  • • Stanley Park in Vancouver (created in 1888),
  • • High Park in Toronto (1873),
  • • Mont-Royal Park in Montreal (1876) and
  • • Point Pleasant Park in Halifax (1866).

All prominently featured aspects of the Coast, Deciduous, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence and Acadian forest regions. However, aside from roadside planting projects and the most rudimentary protection of natural forests within the scenario of a suburbanizing Canada, no major efforts to develop urban forest programs in Canada were developed until the 1960s, when Dutch Elm Disease struck. Here, the effects of invasive pathogens and monoculture plantings came to roost, as thousands of kilometres of roadsides were effectively denuded as a result of the effects of the disease. This resulted in a chain of events which quickly developed urban forestry, including:

  • • The term “urban forests” by Erik Jorgensen and the creation of an urban forest program at the University of Toronto in the 1970s;
  • • The support from 1972-1979, by the Canadian Forest Service of the urban forest program “A Forest for Man”;
  • • The International Urban Forestry Conference at Laval University in 1979 (Canada’s first);
  • • The rapid expansion in the 1980s of municipal forestry departments throughout Canada;
  • • The 1st Canadian Urban Forest Conference in Winnipeg in 1993;
  • • The first definition of urban forests in legislation in Ontario’s Professional Foresters Act 2000;
  • • The formation of the Canadian Urban Forest Network (CUFN) Listser for urban foresters as a result of the 5th Canadian Urban Forest Conference in 2003;
  • • The integration of urban forests in Canada’s National Forest Strategy 2003-2008;
  • • The formation of the Canadian Urban Forest Network in 2004;
  • • The collaborative launch of the Ontario Heritage Tree inventory program by the Ontario Urban Forest Council and Forests Ontario (2009);
  • • The development of an urban forest program at Fleming College and the University of New Brunswick;
  • • The first Urban Forestry Conference that integrated social sciences and artistic interventions, Urban Forests and Political Ecologies: Celebrating Transdisciplinarity (2013);
  • • The development of Canada’s first Bachelor of Urban Forestry program at the University of British Columbia in 2015; and
  • • A general expansion of urban forestry and arboricultural programs throughout Canada.

Further reading:

Jorgensen, E. (1974). Towards an urban forestry concept. Proceedings of the 10th Commonwealth Forestry Conference. Ottawa, Canada; Forestry Service.

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