Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A history of Calgary's trees

Over 100 years ago Calgary’s early landscape was completely void of trees. In fact, our current urban forest is a remarkable achievement, given the city is located in an arid prairie climate that doesn’t naturally grow many trees.

So how did we become the “City of Trees” we are today?

William Pearce Estate, c 1890s 
Glenbow Archives NA-3898-5
Early Years

Starting in the 1880s, during the European settlement of North America, trees in Calgary were planted for practicality, especially as wind breaks against our strong gusty weather.

Civic leaders at the time dreamed that the Calgary landscape could be transformed into a “City of Trees.” Once the Town of Calgary was incorporated in May 1884 it started to distribute spruce trees to taxpayers for a small fee – you could call it the original ReTree YYC.

William Pearce 

Calgary owes much of the early beginnings of its urban forest to William Pearce. He envisioned Calgary as a city with grand boulevards connecting a series of park spaces. In 1884, Pearce used his position as an inspector for the Dominion Land Agencies in Ottawa to reserve land along the north side of the Bow River. Today it is the city’s landmark boulevard — Memorial Drive, and Pearce has his lasting patch of green in our city – at Pearce Estate Park near Inglewood.

William Reader

In 1913 William Reader became Calgary’s third Superintendant of Parks and Cemeteries. One of his first priorities was the development of the new civic nursery, located at the bottom of Union Cemetery hill.

From 1932 – 1942, Reader planted trees in all areas of the city, including Bowness, Mount Royal, Centre Street and Memorial Drive. Many of these trees today are on the “Heritage Tree Foundation of Canada” list –over 73 in Calgary!

Reader noted: “I very much doubt if any other public improvement will tend to create and foster a civic pride in Calgary to the same extent as the making of boulevards, and planting of trees on our streets.”

Olympic Plaza trees
Olympic Plaza

Today the urban forest consists of over 1.5 million trees in manicured parks, green spaces, natural areas, boulevards, and private trees.

Do your part to help ReTree YYC: Autumn is one of the best times to plant a tree, as the tree puts energy into establishing roots, rather than leaves. Plus, we’re offering free mulch at landfills from September 1 – 30 to help insulate your trees over winter. 

For more information on how you can contribute to Calgary’s legacy of planting and caring for trees, visit calgary.ca/trees.

Submitted by Erin Smith, Parks


  1. The problem now is the city charges so much for water and matching sewage equal to the water draw that it is costing to much to water the big Trees and they are being taken over by disease because of dropping watering .

    1. So true. Even my drought loving Russian Olive is dying off because I can't afford to water it.

  2. And i water all the new trees every day....

  3. This is awesome. I didn't know the history of Pearce Estates, but it's one of my favorite places to go.i love all the trees and green spaces Calgary has, including Prince's Island and the downtown core. Good blog! Thanks!

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  5. Has Parks considered planting tree seedlings along our major roadways? Large areas of land are barren along Deerfoot, Stoney, Crowchild, etc. Look to Edmonton's Whitemud Drive as an example. It would not only provide more beauty to the city, but would also stabilize the soil, reduce flooding, and reduce carbon dioxide.

    1. Calgary has a long term goal of increasing its urban tree canopy to 20%. Presently we are reviewing where additional trees can be planted, some of these areas will include major roadways and connectors.

  6. Can you please explain to us why our sewer bills increase with the added water consumption in the summer when obviously the increase is due to outside watering that has nothing to do with sewer service. Seems to me that averaging the winter bills would be a more accurate/fair way to bill.

  7. I too, was outraged when I received my July water bill. My water consumption increased by $60. I was fine with that. I watered my trees a lot. BUT my water removal (sewer/sanitation) was marked at $120.00. That made me mad. I was watering my grass and trees, not washing more clothing or taking more showers.