Nearly six weeks have passed since “Ice Storm 2013” and today was the first time I walked on a somewhat cleared path. The “Polar Vortex” that immediately followed didn’t help the cleanup efforts. That massive cold front froze everyone and everything in its tracks with bone chilling -30C temperatures, and worse with wind chill, for many weeks. It immobilized trains, planes and automobiles, as well as causing frostbite in mere minutes. Those two simple words will forever send chills up and down our spines.
We have become spoiled as society has forgotten what a true Canadian winter is. On Facebook, I laugh at fellow citizens who proudly post whimsical anecdotes of romping in deep snow banks in T-shirts and shorts, slurping slurpees and BBQing. Ironically, alongside these posts, we are quick to declare the City’s incompetence at clearing fallen trees and icy sidewalks.
Shawn Patille of Wildthing Naturescapes recapped for me what happened six weeks ago. “We had a warm air front passing over an area that had a cold spill that slid in underneath it. As precipitation occurred in the upper area, by the time it fell through that lower layer of colder air, it got ‘super cold.’ Now remember, the ground had been cold for some period of time. So, as the warm rain hit the cold trees and ground, it had no where to go but to build up.” This explains why on the morning of Sunday, December 22nd, we woke to branches encapsulated in ice and tree devastation that resembled a tornado aftermath. Though the Ice Storm travelled along the 401 corridor, it seemed to have hovered longer and more intensely over the Brampton area.
The ice was thicker than ice cubes. In some areas of Brampton, the accumulation on trees measured close to 2.5” – considerable when you recall that a natural ice surface is considered safe for skating at 3 to 4 inches. “… a significant difference from the ½ to 1 inch average that most areas in the Greater Toronto Area were hit with,” reminds Shawn. No wonder it’s taking over a month to start melting.
Aside from the weight the limbs needed to bear, there were years of neglect that weighed even heavier. Most of the trees affected during Ice Storm 2013 were “City assumed” trees that line our boulevards, streets and trails.
It’s the City’s responsibility– their trees!
“It is what it is,” says 40-year Primrose resident Gayle Avery who has lived in her Heart Lake home from its construction back in the late 70s. She is saddened by the loss of her streetscape as she remembers when the trees were initially planted. “These were 35-year-old trees!” Though they looked like majestic pillars of the community, they crumbled like a deck of cards. “I am just grateful no one was hurt, and no serious damage. It’s a minor miracle there weren’t more problems!”
As people complained about the City’s slowness in cleanup efforts, Gayle assured me they were on Primrose quickly. Bulldozers spent hours clearing the streets, making it safe for vehicular traffic and emergency services.
For Amelia Higgins, a 23-year-old resident on Primrose, she headed out to explore the damage with intent interest. As an aspiring photographer, she documented the devastation. “I’m not surprised the trees came tumbling down,” Amelia explained how everyone on the street received notices back in May 2013 from the City, informing them that the ash trees along their street were slated to come down by 2016. The Emerald Ash Borer had already started its reign of terror. The streetscape was scheduled to come down, but Mother Nature decided to do it a little more dramatically, and in one swift motion.
Mono culture plantings as well as the introduction of hybrid varietals have been part of municipal subdivision planning for decades, not isolated in Brampton, but all around the world. Over the years, residents as well as the City have not been taking care of these trees. Gayle remembers when these trees were initially planted; people would be out watering and taking care of them as though they were their own. Nowadays, you see new trees in new subdivisions being neglected as homeowners quickly label boulevard trees as “City assumed” and not their own; residents can be fined or penalized if they touch them.
“The health of these trees has been compromised,” explains Shawn, as he describes how a neighbour had a boulevard tree which he never watered or maintained, and he watched it die. The City replaced it last year, but Shawn fears this tree will die a similar death via homeowner neglect.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not taking sides, but this is nature – we are all responsible. At the end of the day the City is a business, hence the word “corporation” is included in its legal name. There are bylaws regarding trees, and we all know we can’t cut them down, whether City assumed or privately planted.
For the next little while, there is more devastation to come. Once the weather warms up again, City workers will be out executing cleanup efforts slated to last 16 weeks. When you count it on a calendar, that takes us to Victoria Day, near the end of May. To restore our trails and parks, it may take an additional 18 months to 5 years.
This is a time for citizens and the City to bond, and work together to bring back Brampton’s naturescape.