Trees removed at Kingston City Hall to be replaced this fall

Those travelling along Ontario Street in downtown Kingston late last week may have noticed something different about the familiar streetscape.

Kingston City Hall from Ontario Street after the removal of the Globe Norway Maples from the large planters along the sidewalk. Photo by Cody Stafford-Arenburg.

On Thursday, May 5, 2022, pedestrians and motorists were struck by what they saw at City Hall – or rather, what they didn’t see. The medium-sized trees that once lined the sidewalk in front of the building on the west side of Ontario Street had been removed, prompting questions: Were the trees simply cut down? Could they not have been re-planted elsewhere? Why were they removed in the first place?

Coincidentally, the removal of the trees came the same week that Kingston City Council spent a large percentage of their regular meeting discussing the need for trees within the urban boundaries of the city in the face of climate change. And while many observers suggested the current restoration projects occurring at City Hall as a possible reason behind the removal of the trees, that too is coincidental, the City of Kingston explained.

“In recent years, the health and form of the eight Globe Norway Maples… located in front of City Hall in the planters [have] been declining, and [the trees have now] reached a point where their replacement is required,” said Neal Unsworth, Manager of Parks and Shorelines with the City of Kingston’s Engineering Department. “Three of them are dead or dying, and the removal of the remaining ones [is] required because they’re exhibiting symptoms of girdling, which is where the roots kind of spiral around and strangle [the tree].”

Unsworth said that the declining health of the trees is “due to the habitat of the tree.” While all Globe Norway Maples exhibit some form of girdling, the age of the trees and the amount of space available for root growth in the square, concrete planters that surround City Hall have led to the demise of the maples, he explained.

“It’s the age and the space… in the planter that’s causing them to essentially decline and lose their form,” said Unsworth.

The planters themselves are “probably from the early 80s,” Unsworth speculated. And while not all of the trees within them are necessarily 40 years old, some of them are, he said. Some of the Globe Norway Maples had already been removed and replaced – the smaller trees and particularly those on the corners of the City Hall block – “probably” for the same reason, “because they died,” Unsworth said.

Unsworth pointed out that of the trees that had stood around City Hall up until Thursday, May 5, 2022, only some were actually cut down; others were simply pulled out, “like big plugs.” However, “all the roots had to be cut in order to get them out of the planters,” he said.

The trees remaining in the concrete planters around City Hall will be removed in the coming weeks, Unsworth said, noting that he suspects the City will, “do a horticulture display during the summer” in the planters, “so that they look attractive.”

But filling the planters with ornamental plants is just the interim plan, Unsworth said. The trees will be replaced; however, that won’t happen until the fall when planting trees is more efficient and conducive to the growing process.

“In the meantime, [the City] will fill the planters back up with special soil structure that will support trees in the sizes and shapes of [the] planters,” he said, and then the horticulture displays, “will be replaced with new trees in the fall.”

What species of tree will be planted has yet to be determined, but “I don’t think it will be Globe Maples again,” Unsworth said. Despite Globe Norway Maples being hearty, durable trees, the girdling habit of the species doesn’t make them a viable option for planting in the existing planters.

“But the trees will definitely be replaced,” he concluded.

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