In A Brief History of Trees, Peter Unwin provides readers with the
interesting details they never heard in school when studying the timber
trade and which would have made history class so much more fun.
Who ever heard in class that the Military Settling Department in 1822
listed ‘killed by tree’ among the three leading causes of death?
Initially, it sounds bizarre but, even today, motorists and pedestrians
are killed by trees felled by the wind. According to Unwin, the
most-frequent injury in Canadian medical history is the hatchet wound,
which may not be as common today as it once was but it, too, still
Still on the death by tree theme, Unwin provides a fascinating
description of death by trees in the form of fire. No Canadian
will be surprised to read that there have been massive forest fires –
they happen every year - but he may be surprised to read that a fire
north of Lake Superior in 1948 darkened the skies in Texas at noon so
that the streetlights came on, or that smoke from Canadian forest fires
has reached England.
A wealth of data is provided about trees. For instance, there are
about 130 species of trees in North America. Apple trees were
exported to the west and Father Charles Pandosy, an Oblate missionary,
planted the first apple tree in the Okanagan Valley (an important
fruit-growing region) in 1862. Apple trees did not flourish at
first because of the cold; Saunder’s Hybrid was the first apple
developed to withstand the Canadian winter.
Some of Canada’s trees were – and, less frequently now, are – so huge
that extraordinary means are needed to fell and handle them. For
instance, in pioneer days, the beech trees on Christian Island, Ontario
had to be brought down with dynamite stuffed in holes drilled into the
trunk. Even now, the Sitka – a spruce tree which grows up to
eighty metres tall in British Columbia – is sometimes flown out by
helicopter one tree at a time.
Although many of the anecdotes and quotations are humorous, Unwin is
serious when he describes the deforestation of Canada by greedy lumber
barons. At one time, Canada’s forests seemed inexhaustible, but
by 1860, southern Ontario was nearly empty of trees. From 1870 to
1910, half the men in Canada were at work cutting down trees,
especially pine. By 1925, the great pine forests of eastern
Canada had been destroyed.
Greedy entrepreneurs aside, Canadians love their trees, and there is
lots of room to plant them. This is a history that every
tree-lover should read and is guaranteed to enjoy.