May 12, 2019

Screen shot 2019-05-12 at 2.02.12 PMIn season, during the morning rush hour, a clump of bicycles tends to form on the west side of Bathurst St., in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in what’s known as Portugal Square. The cyclists wait for the light to change on Bathurst so they can jump onto the west end of the separated bike path, heading east into downtown.

That’s where I bumped into Gus. Gus and I coached our sons in soccer with the Toronto Soccer Club a few years ago. After an undefeated season we lost a heartbreaker 1-0 in the final.

Gus is a tough, compact guy who grew up in Little Portugal, a place where the kids often graduate from a low-slung Honda Civic with tinted windows to a Ford F150 pickup truck. I never expected to see Gus on a bicycle.

The bike path isn’t a great place for conversation. It’s actually incredibly competitive; it feels a bit like the 401 for cyclists. We chatted as best we could. The World According to Gus ended up helping me to look at my cycling self in the mirror, and admit to myself that I am not always the most thoughtful cyclist. Gus, you see, is a bit of self-loathing cycist. Continue reading

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

May 5, 2019


IMG_0429-1024x768The University of Toronto is in the final stages of a plan to get rid of its Faculty of Forestry and move forestry staff, faculty, students and programs into the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of July this year. A news release from the university says that, “The proposal would go through the governance process beginning on May 9.”

The abolition of the Faculty of Forestry as a standalone faculty is one of the worst ideas in the long history of the University of Toronto. In an era of climate change, forests are the key to sustaining life on earth. Forests sequester carbon, emit oxygen, filter precipitation, absorb rain and protect ecosystems from erosion. We need forests. The U of T should show pride in its Faculty of Forestry, and invest in it.

The Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto has a proud history. The faculty opened its doors in 1907, making it the oldest forestry faculty in Canada. Plaques displayed in the Earth Sciences Centre attest to the men of the faculty who gave their lives in World War I and World War II. Continue reading

Sayonara, ES4001

April 5, 2019

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 8.13.11 AMIt’s 4:25 p.m. on a sunny Thursday and I am listening to Julien talk about altitudinal tree line shifts. I can see the sun on the university rooftops, out the big circular windows  that look south. I see the top of the Earth Sciences library and beyond it, the CN Tower.

I am in the last half-hour of my 20 month stint as a candidate for a Master of Forest Conservation. Will I miss this? Young women in front of me discussed, at the break, the relative merits of Uggs and Blundstones ( in Forestry, all the women, and most of the men, wear Blundstones). I have spent a lot of time on the hard blue plastic chairs with stainless steel tube frames in Earth Sciences room 4001. I have wondered over time why we can’t have wooden chairs and wooden tables in the frickin’ Faculty of Forestry. Is that too much to ask? Continue reading

Ode to spring in Canada (Vive le printemps)

March 25, 2019

Screen shot 2019-03-25 at 8.31.17 AMWill spring ever come?

I am not sure that spring is late this year, actually. It’s probably right on time. Perhaps with global warming we’ve become conditioned to the arrival of spring earlier than it should. Anyway, we’ve had a crisp month of March.

Probably I am just impatient because I am slightly obsessed with my primitive yet enthusiastic effort to boil some maple syrup at our little sugar bush near Madoc, Ont., about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa.

Is it too much to ask to just have a week or so of cold nights and warm days, so that, when I arrive at my sugar bush the buckets are brimming with sap? Apparently, yes.

Continue reading

Snow job

January 29, 2019

Screen shot 2019-01-29 at 9.00.00 PMToronto is a nice place in the snow.

The storm that hit Toronto Monday was epic by Toronto standards, and by morning about 30 centimetres had fallen. Torontonians are an entitled lot, zipping around as they do in their Lexus and BMW and Mercedes cars and SUVs, but a big old wallop of snow renders a lot of these people pretty helpless. It slows them down, and evens things out a bit.

We live on a corner lot; municipal bylaws require homeowners to shovel their sidewalk, and so we end up with about 40 metres of sidewalk to clear off. My son and I started shoveling in the evening, and shoveled about every two hours, but the snow quickly erased our work. By morning I had to shovel it all over again.

But before I started I noticed a young man who parks his white delivery van by the neighbour’s house across the street. He backed up, trying to leave for the day, and lodged his truck in deep snow. His wheels spun helplessly. He got out a long pole with a squeegee blade and started trying to dig himself out, and I just felt bad so I went over, and then Frits came out as well, and we lent the truck driver a third shovel, and we dug him out. Continue reading

The Treasure Chest

January 7, 2019

Screen shot 2019-01-07 at 5.55.00 PMA few years ago the National Post published my five-part series about my childhood and my father’s stint in state prison in California. I could not have written the stories without a remarkable trove of correspondence that my father let me read, not just letter to him but also letters from him in prison and out; letters that somehow ended up back in his hands. I started imagining what else might lie in his “archives;” specifically, I wondered what records he kept of the early 1970s, when he acted as a minor svengali/messiah, or perhaps the metaphor I seek is pied piper, enticing droves of young people to join him on first one farm and then another in the Ottawa valley for two summer craft faire hippie communes that he called “the Renaissance Faire.” I spent the summer of 1972 and the summer of 1973 at these farms. Continue reading

Finders keepers

December 4, 2018

Screen shot 2018-12-04 at 8.32.14 AMHe knelt in the muddy grass, digging intently. My mind being on forestry these days, at first I thought maybe he was gathering soil samples. But that seemed a random thing to be doing on a cold Saturday morning in Dufferin Grove Park.
Then I noticed a black metal detector lying next to him.
I threw the frisbee for Coco and then the gentleman stood up. He’d heard a ping from his metal detector and was digging for coins. But he gave up on that hole.
“Water pipe,” he said.
He was wiry, with a lined, strong face, lots of teeth, and wore construction knee pads over his dirty jeans. Along with the 2-metre metal detector he wore a small orange portable detector, the length of a serving spoon, in a sheath on his belt, and dug with a thin sharp garden trowel. Alex, his name was, and he said he’d made a hobby of metal detection for many years. He spoke with a thick accent which at first I guessed was Russian. Continue reading

Forestry teamwork

November 8, 2018

rashidA gaggle of Master of Forest Conservation students from the Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, gathered at Sunnybrook hospital Thursday morning to plant some trees.

The hospital in October had welcomed a team from a large national corporation, whom we shall not name here, to plant trees on the hospital grounds. Sunnybrook takes trees seriously and has worked in the past few years to enhance its tree canopy.

Back in October, the aforementioned corporate team of 15 didn’t do so hot at planting trees. Presumably these staffers converged at Sunnybrook for some team-building, but did more team-building than tree planting; after four hours they’d managed to plant 60 trees. These are not big trees; they are saplings, maybe a metre or so high, in about 5-litre pots. Continue reading

Tall wood on the horizon

October 27, 2018

Screen shot 2018-10-27 at 1.45.24 PMGrace Jeffers, an artist and “wood sourcing expert” from Chicago, uncorked a pretty good line the other day at the Wood at Work conference at the faculty of architecture, University of Toronto.
Architects need to learn more about where wood comes from, so that they can move away from specifying in their drawings cliché species imported from unsustainable clearcuts in the rainforest, such as ipe, she said.
If architects were better informed about the provenance of wood, said Jeffers, “Rem Koolhaus would never have done the Prada shop in zebrawood.”
There is a lot packed into that statement. Mixing a starchitect with a coveted brand and an exotic wood (and a shop in New York’s SoHo district) neatly encapsulates the debate about how Canada might gain respect as a forestry superpower. Conference organizers, in my understanding, were trying to jumpstart the conversation about how Canada might begin to show off the natural spendour of our copious wood resources in the buildings that we erect. Continue reading

Tree guy Tony tees off on poor innocent students on the mean streets of Toronto

October 15, 2018

Screen shot 2018-10-15 at 10.00.36 AMOn a sidewalk just east of downtown Toronto, a large clump of students stood huddled around a young street tree on a sidewalk, shivering against the October wind. If you looked closely at the students you could see they formed two distinct groups, one on each side of the tree: one group wore windbreakers and jeans and Bluntstones or hiking boots; in the other group one could spot wool designer coats and a tall guy with a poney tail. A big guy in an untucked shirt and a longshoreman’s cap stood yelling at them.

“The trees were brought here at 100 or 110 centimetres diameter,” thundered the man. “They developed for the conditions in the nursery where they were initially planted. This is a problem. It’s the rush to the ribbon-cutting. And then they all die.”

Tony Lucey is supervisor of commercial trees for the forestry department at the City of Toronto. He said he “oversees all hard-surface infrastructure in the city.” City rules require builders to design spots for new trees in front of new buildings in Toronto, plant the trees, and provide initial care. Continue reading