NPCA says it is taking measures to preserve the tree
A Pelham icon is deteriorating badly, and suffering from neglect at the hands of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), asserts a Niagara man.
Kevin Rhodes lives in St. Catharines, but his family lived in Pelham for over a century.
“My great-grandfather, Harold Abel, was the mayor or reeve of Pelham back in the 1930s or 1940s, said Rhodes. “My family — both sides — has been here since the 1880s. My grandparents lived in Fonthill their entire lives. My grandfather just passed away a few years ago. He was the last link for my family in the area. But I’ve always known of the Comfort Maple.”
Rhodes pointed out the pothole-filled laneway leading to the massive tree, which a visitor likewise attested, will bottom-out a vehicle’s suspension unless one proceeds at a snail’s pace.
“I called the NPCA last year about it, and they said that farmers have access to their fields via the road, and their machinery digs it up. It’s brutal. They said they throw more stone down, and that’s pretty much all they can do.”
Rhodes is also frustrated with the Town of Pelham, even though he understands that the Town has no jurisdiction over the site. “It just doesn’t seem like anybody is really concerned that the tree may not survive for future generations to enjoy,” he said. “But at the rate that tree is declining, it won’t last the next five years. The NPCA told me they get out every year to check on the tree, but even a layman can see that it’s in rough shape. Why register the tree as a heritage site and not maintain it?”
A large gap exists within the trunk of the giant maple, and many heavy overhanging branches are supported by thick cables attached to the tree.
“Anyone can see how the water sitting in the centre cavity of the tree will freeze and contract in the winter, such that the tree will crack right down the centre,” said Rhodes.
The tree, located at 640 Metler Road, in Fenwick, is widely believed to be the oldest sugar maple tree in Canada, and was designated a heritage tree in June 2000 under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Ontario Forestry Association, in 1975, estimated the tree to be 400 to 500 years old. The Comfort Maple towers some 24 metres high, with a trunk circumference of six metres.
Originally located in an area of hardwood forest that was cleared for agricultural purposes, the half-acre site conservation site on which the tree sits was part of land purchased by the Comfort family in 1816, and later entrusted to the NPCA due to its historical and biological significance.
NPCA CEO Chandra Sharma commented in an email to the Voice that “the NPCA maintains the Comfort Maple for the enjoyment and appreciation of the watershed community, and serves to preserve this natural heritage feature.”
She noted that in an August report, certified arborists with Urban Forest Innovations Inc. determined that the tree was in fair structural condition and health.
“The tree is in a state of slow decline, consistent with the tree’s advanced age, and is manageable for continued retention,” Sharma wrote, and added that the report made several recommendations in order to further preserve the tree, which the NPCA and Urban Forest Innovations Inc. are undertaking through contractors.
As far as the roadway leading to the Comfort Maple is concerned, Sharma noted that the narrow lane has seen an increase in use over the past few months, and that considerable precipitation has also impacted the quality of the surface. She assured the Voice that in the coming days the NPCA will be conducting repair work on the laneway to address issues such as potholes.
“The NPCA carries out this work several times each season at the Comfort Maple, and has repaired the roadway several times already within the 2021 season,” she wrote.
NPCA Communications Specialist Erika Navarro said that community members with questions may always reach out to the Authority directly.
“We always take citizens’ concerns seriously, and diligently follow up as necessary,” Navarro said.
Questions, comments, or concerns may be conveyed by telephone at 905-788-3135, or by email at [email protected]