Canada's Most Cherished Maple Tree Grows in Toronto


Photo: B. Alter

Canada's unofficial national anthem is The Maple Leaf Forever. It was written in 1867, the year of Confederation, by Alexander Muir.

He was inspired by the glorious tree in front of his house, Maple Cottage. And here they are folks, both still standing.


Photo: B. Alter

Muir was the principal of a near-by school and he was inspired by the "falling leaves of this sturdy maple tree". There is some question about this story. Despite the plaque, some believe that Muir didn't live in the cottage and was merely walking by, when a leaf hit his arm and his friend suggested that he use it as a theme for a Canadian poem.


Photo: B. Alter

It's a tall silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and was almost lost to history until a doughty group of local residents and heritage volunteers worked to save it. The tree itself is so old that its soaring branches have been secured and stabilized with wires. Also planted on the site, as a hedge against the inevitable, are seedlings from the original tree.


Photo: B. Alter

In the past five years the area around the cottage has been turned into a delightful Victorian style garden, to match the age of the worker's cottage where Muir lived. It was created through a collaboration of government and volunteer organizations.

The flowers are inspired by the Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) style, which fits with the Victorian theme.

Step through the pergola arch and you find a lovely perennial garden, designed for low maintenance, with a beautiful assortment of semi-shade plants. Phlox, bergenia, some roses and lady's mantle all add a casual, country feel to the garden. There is a variety of shrubs and a nice sitting-out area to the rear.

Here are the original words of The Maple Leaf Forever:

In days of yore, from Britain's shore,
Wolfe, the dauntless hero, came
And planted firm Britannia's flag
On Canada's fair domain.
Here may it wave, our boast our pride
And, joined in love together,
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwine
The Maple Leaf forever!

Chorus:
The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear,
The Maple Leaf forever!
God save our Queen and Heaven bless
The Maple Leaf forever!

Over the years the words have been tinkered with many times, beginning with Muir himself, who published an alternative set of lyrics in 1894. To counter anti-French sentiment, he changed the first verse to: "Here may it wave, our boast, our pride, and join in love together / The Lily, Thistle, Shamrock, Rose, the Maple Leaf forever". He added the lily, a French symbol, to the list.

Bonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0 August, 2013

NEWS UPDATE

As a result of a summer storm on July 19, 2013, the historic tree has now been felled. Sadly it crashed, "like a firecracker" and is no longer standing in front of the house. However, thirteen years ago a neighbour planted some maple keys from the tree and one grew to become a healthy sapling. In 2007 it was replanted in a park adjacent to the original. The Maple Leaf lives on.

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Tags: Architects | Canada