Seeing the trees

By Denise Deby –

Kids and adults celebrated their neighbourhood and some very special trees on September 25, National Tree Day, thanks to Champlain Park community members who’ve taken an interest in the area’s bur oaks. About 70 students in Grades 2 and 6 at St. George School came out in the morning to Champlain Park to learn about the distinctive oak trees. In the evening, around 50 neighbours turned up to hear tales of the trees.

Dennis Van Staalduinen with St. George students
Dennis Van Staalduinen with St. George students

The bur oaks were once part of an ancient oak forest along the Ottawa River, say volunteers with the Champlain Oaks Project, the group that organized the event. They estimate that some of the giant trees are more than 150 years old. The group is trying to save the old-growth oaks that are threatened by infill development, and they’re planting and nurturing new oaks grown from older trees’ acorns.

“They’re very old genes that are adapted to this environment,” explains project co-founder Daniel Buckles, “so we’re using the local genes to replant rather than bringing in trees that come from elsewhere.”

The students planted a bur oak seedling in the park and visited two trees on Northwestern Avenue that some of them helped plant a year ago.

Jennifer Neate of Champlain Park and her homeschooled daughters Helene and Eden joined in the fun. “It’s an amazing opportunity for home-schooled kids to have this kind of natural education in their own neighbourhood, and also to have the inspiration of other residents who really care about these sorts of things,” says Neate.

Participants examined a cross-section of a massive bur oak trunk, touched fuzzy acorns and heard about the trees and their benefits from the Champlain Oaks Project, the Society of Ontario Nut Growers’ Eastern Chapter and Hidden Harvest Ottawa. Champlain Oaks advocate Dennis Van Staalduinen connected the area’s history, from Algonquin peoples through Samuel de Champlain’s arrival 400 years ago to recent times, to the lifespan of one bur oak.

The celebration also demonstrated what a few people can achieve in their communities with research, action and determination. “You really have to ask questions and be curious. That’s what we did,” Van Staalduinen told the kids.

The group is working with the city and councillor’s office to establish an interpretive display about the oaks at the park’s field house. They’ve also proposed that 10 of the bur oaks be included in the city’s heritage register.

For more information about the Champlain Oaks Project, go to

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