What is a tree? Let alone 80 of them

By Caroline Murphy –

A tree offers respite. It comes from a seed that grows into a magnificent, strong, tall symbol of what can be overcome. It is home to wildlife, a safe haven for migratory and city-dwelling birds. It gives shade from heat, shelter under its canopy in rain and a root system that protects streets.

Trees are vital to urban design, giving us much-needed relief from the concrete jungle. They have crucial environmental benefits that city dwellers need. They are the lungs of our city; they clean our air, help mitigate climate change, and protect us from flooding. They offer a place to relax and are good for everyone’s mental health and well-being.

They are also symbolic of what a bit of love and care can grow into. They have borne witness to the evolution of our city, built with sustainability and inclusivity.

What a tree is not is an impediment to progress or something expendable when progress is required.

In the past month, invaluable and irreplaceable trees at Moss Park were ripped from the earth. At Osgoode Hall, a struggle to save 11 more trees from meeting the same fate failed. Other areas of the city have had their environment irreversibly altered and damaged. All in the name of progress and building a transit system.

Shame on our supposed leaders and all involved for your lack of vision and ingenuity. There were alternate solutions to this mass destruction, if only you had worked with and listened to us.

Felled trees at Moss Park. Photo: Caroline Murphy

Metrolinx is a Crown agency for the Government of Ontario. Given the precious job of working for and leading us – ALL of us and Toronto ‘s city council – you can and must do better, no matter the powers of the province. Empty letters and press releases will not deliver a Toronto we all want. You must stand as tall and strong as those majestic trees once did. The government is our representative, and we need you to be our voice.

We have learned that our government does not value trees, and does not want the ideas of our communities. Empty words about building sustainability, solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable transit system (sorely needed) are just soundbites.

We also realize there is a glaring disconnect between our neighbourhoods and influence. Consultation is a word not requiring action; resident concerns can be ignored.

There’s a glaring disparity in how varying neighbourhoods are treated. But it doesn’t have to be us-vs-them, environment vs progress. And it most certainly doesn’t have to be tree vs transit and city progress.

This is not about NIMBYism or stopping progress, and it is not about saving our trees at all costs. This is about community, history, legacy, the future, engagement and innovation. We say Toronto is a world-class city – so now, we need to act like it. Our government won’t get us there, but social inclusion and cohesion will. Consultation will get us there, and most important,  making our voices heard will get us there.  

But the fickleness of who is in charge drives what Toronto really is and  will become. On the whims of a minority, we are destroying the very soul of what we should be and where we should go. Remember this at is election time. Remember it now as we hold a mayoral byelection, and in the 2026 provincial and municipal elections.

Elected leaders need to be bold and brave, to recognize and understand who they work for. They must have vision and solve problems creatively, not follow the same old, same old. They must have the strength to deliver for us.

We need relationship builders, we need people willing to listen and bring all of us together towards common goals built on respect, collaboration and communication. We need critical thinkers capable of making decisions for sustainable communities and having financial acumen to understand the impacts of their budget decisions. We need actual leaders, leaders for all, not people interested only in themselves and a select few.

It is not too late. This is a call to action, a call for us to come together and a call for what we want as our legacy and our city. Our leaders must be held to account.

Let the devasting loss of magnificent trees be our symbol of strength. Let’s say enough is enough, you work for us, and we demand to be listened to – irrespective of neighbourhood. Let this mass destruction of perfectly healthy, majestic trees not be for nothing – let it be our rallying call.

Together, we can make a Toronto for the future, not a Toronto for a few.