This 6-year-old girl is raising funds to save a majestic Toronto oak tree

The red oak on a residential property in North York is older than the city itself

Maria, Sophia and Giuseppe Maiolo outside the home of the red oak tree on Coral Gable Drive in North York. Six-year-old Sophia has raised $735 from friends, classmates and family to help the city purchase the property and preserve the tree. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

When Sophia Maiolo saw a television news report saying one of Toronto’s oldest trees might be cut down, she couldn’t sit around and do nothing.

The six-year-old lives near the North York neighbourhood where the massive red oak is located, and loves visiting it on walks with her family.

“We have always taught Sophia to love nature and respect nature,” said Maria Maiolo, Sophia’s mother.

“She fell in love with this tree.”

Her mother taught her what a donation is and Sophia decided: that’s what she needed to do.

Sophia started soliciting donations from friends, classmates and family members and has raised $735. She plans to donate the money to a GoFundMe campaign or to an official fund to help the city purchase the home where the tree is situated and turn it into a small park.

“It’s one of a kind; it’s special; it’s rare and it should be protected,” said Maria Maiolo.

Too big to fall

The tree, believed to be up to 350 years old, sits in the backyard of a home on Coral Gable Drive near Weston Road and Sheppard Avenue West. It’s now so large that it is threatening the structural integrity of the house.

CBC Toronto reported in April that the current owner was thinking about cutting the tree down.

Council voted in December 2015 to explore the possibility of the city establishing a fund to purchase of the property and the city approached the Parks and Trees Foundation about leading the fundraising effort.

Waleed Khaled Elsayed, the real estate agent who represents the current property owner, says his client is in talks about potentially selling the land to the city.

“The property owner wants to preserve the tree and is talking with the city to raise new funds in order do that,” said Elsayed.

The red oak tree on Coral Gable Drive is designated as a heritage tree by Forests Ontario. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

But Phyllis Berck from the Toronto Office of Partnerships, which is coordinating the city’s efforts, said the owner has not responded to multiple attempts by the city to get in touch with him about an asking price. The inability to set a financial target has delayed the fundraising campaign, according to Berck.

In the meantime, other community members have stepped forward.

Crowdfunding campaign underway

Celebrity gardener Mark Cullen recently pledged to donate $100,000 to help the city purchase the property.

“It represents our history, the history of our city and of the Indigenous community that existed here before Europeans arrived,” said Cullen.

Cullen’s pledge is conditional on the city putting up half the money required to buy the property. He hopes his donation will spur Toronto residents to take out their wallets and contribute to the campaign.

“Every Torontonian, if they were to put a dollar in the pot, then we’d have over two million dollars,” said Cullen. “And maybe we could save the second and third oldest trees as well.”

In addition, the provincial Liberal candidate for the riding of Humber River-Black Creek, Deanna Sgro, has set up a GoFundMe campaign. So far, her campaign has raised $2,045 out of a total goal of $750,000.

Arborist Ken Lund, president of Four Seasons Tree Care, said he is willing to chip in free labour to care for the tree. He was hired by the previous owner to look after the tree for almost 20 years, until it changed hands in 2015.

The pledges of support come after Mayor John Tory publicly backed a crowdfunding campaign to save the tree in April.

“I am quite prepared to consider the use of city funds to preserve and protect this historic tree,” said Tory in a statement. “But as I have said all along, I would prefer that be done in partnership with the community.”

Tory said he will consider asking the city for funds to pay for the purchase only after gauging public support.

City spokesperson Jane Arbour said in an emailed statement the city is working to confirm details with the property owner and will formally establish a fund with the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation once these details are confirmed.

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