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Dundurn News

Let’s Plant Some Trees!

Two Billion Trees

The Environment. Those two words introduce a topic of debate that will probably become (if it isn’t already) the most important debate that will encompass the world this century. And with Canada seeing one of its warmest winters on record this year, it is certainly an issue that is garnering more attention.

John Bacher’s book, Two Billion Trees and Counting,  talks about Edmund Zavitz, the “Father of Reforestation.” Due to Zavitz’s knowledge of forestry, vision, diligence, and perseverance in the face of opposition, Ontario was rescued from the ravages of environmental disasters. To date more than two billion trees have been planted, with more to come.

Stories like Edmund Zavitz’s need to be told because it helps us start to realized that while the environment is quickly becoming one of this century’s main problems, it has been a problem for quite a long time.

Since the last 2 weeks of March at Dundurn are what we’re calling “Biography Weeks” we asked author John Bacher to answer the question, “What was your greatest surprise you had while writing your book?”

John: In writing Two Billion Trees and Counting, the  surprise  was the extent of desertification in Ontario  and how this was reversed by the work of Edmund Zavitz and his relatives and friends. In 1900, deserts were on the march in Ontario impacting vulnerable Great Lakes shores and ecologically fragile moraines. These wastelands  were in healthy  forest cover before native people became a minority in Ontario after the War of 1812.

There had been debate since the 1860s among a small scientifically literate group of farmers and lumbermen  about the problems of deforestation in southern Ontario. Despite much study, nobody  had tried to restore barren sand dunes in the province. Although  reclamation began in Oka, Quebec under the leadership of the Sulpician priest, Daniel Lefebvre,  nothing was done here. Reforestation was limited to a few plots of walnut orchards on good soil  and the rehabilitation of a former gravel pit at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). By 1900 all that had been accomplished was stopping deforestation on the rocky Canadian Shield  by the creation of Algonquin Provincial Park and  a few  Forest Reserves.

After decades of inactivity, in 1905 Edmund Zavitz reforested with predominately coniferous seedlings a sand barrens corner of the Oak Ridges Moraine farm originally tilled by his grandfather, Edmund Prout.  Since this was a test plot careful records were kept. Using techniques honed from his first planting Edmund Zavitz was able to conquer Ontario’s marching deserts by the time of his death in 1968.


If you want to help contribute to the planting of trees, you can either ask your government to plant one for you on your front lawn, or if you’re looking for an adventure, you can go and spend a summer planting trees in one of our provinces. Perhaps one day soon we’ll publish Five Billion Trees and Counting!

About the author

The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.


2 comments for “Let’s Plant Some Trees!”

  1. Without Zavitz’s vision, leadership and timing, it’s frightening how closely we came to having a Great Lakes desert. The efforts of this one man are truly inspirational.

    Posted by The Local Scoop | March 23, 2012, 1:00 pm
  2. In 2010 the Environmental Commissoner of Ontario issue a report calling for bringing up Southern Ontario’s forest cover to 30 per cent from its current level of 21 per cent. This is to deal with new threats posed by global warming and the growing Lake Erie dead zone from phosophorous loading. It involves the planting of another billion trees- comparable to what Zavitz did in his lifetime. Is our generation up to this challenge?

    Posted by John Bacher | March 23, 2012, 10:18 pm

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