The oldest tree in Newmarket is in the back yard of a house at 438 Botsford Street but it may not be with us much longer.
The old White Oak was designated as a heritage tree in 2005 and is at least 214 years old, possibly as much as 314 years old. It is huge.
Think about it. Astonishingly, it was there during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
And the old tree was standing during the Rebellion of 1837. It is a fabled part of our Town’s history.
438 Botsford Street (or Liberty Hall) was the home of James B. Caldwell, a rebel sympathiser. The tree became known as Liberty Tree.
"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"
It sits smack bang up against the property line with a neighbouring house on Timothy Street whose owners, despite the tree’s heritage designation, paved over the entire back yard to provide additional parking for their new apartment building. About 35% of the tree’s root system is buried under 8 inches of impervious asphalt.
As a result, the old tree could be starved of the vital nutrients it needs. It doesn’t get the constant drip of nourishing rainwater. And construction of the Timothy Street building saw huge piles of earth being heaped on top of the tree’s root system by heavy construction equipment. Fifty per cent of a tree’s root system is in the top one foot of soil and 90% is in the top three feet. Heavy machinery can do real damage but it is hidden and can take years to manifest. For the moment, the tree looks good for its great age but that could change overnight.
"It's a piece of our history"
Victor Woodhouse was on the Council back in 2007 when the Council was considering making a $750 grant “to invest in the well-being of the tree”. At the time he said:
“It is the only designated tree in Town. This is a piece of our history. It’s too bad it’s not more visible to the public so everyone could enjoy it.”
So, what needs to be done? The Town should immediately commission an expert arborist to check the tree for signs of distress and to report on its overall condition. If the paving has to be dug up to save the tree then that should happen. No question.
But how was it possible for the Liberty Tree’s root system to be paved over, apparently without a second thought?
Who is policing the Town’s designated heritage properties and its other features of historic value?
Trees need us
The Town is currently looking at its policies on trees and not before time. For years, developers have been buying up and clear-cutting building lots before putting in applications to the Town to demolish old houses and redeveloping with much bigger ones. Profit is the priority and trees get in the way.
That mind-set needs to change. Trees need us. And we need them.
What a terrible indictment of the Town of Newmarket and its stewardship if, by inaction, indifference or neglect, it allows the old Liberty Tree to wither and die, its roots suffocating under a parking lot.
Update on 16 August 2019: And here is how Newmarket Today covered the story.