Throughout our battle with COVID-19, the expansive, colourful and fragrant Aurora Community Arboretum has been a haven for people looking to get outdoors in a social, yet safe way.
The volunteers who planted the initial roots of the Arboretum couldn’t have foreseen a global pandemic bringing new nature lovers to the space, but that is just what has happened as the greenspace celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.
Spanning from John West Way and Wellington Street East in the south and Industrial Parkway North and St. John’s Sideroad to the north, the Aurora Community Arboretum was just a kernel of a dream when first envisioned by Ken Smith and a small group of supporters.
From that initial dream, those first kernels were planted in 1996, growing and strengthening with each passing year.
“A place for memorial trees and benches, trails and enjoyment of nature, it has become a reality, an urban oasis in the heart of Aurora, from Wellington Street, the Town Hall, all along the East Holland River Valley to St. John’s Sideroad – 100 acres of Town park,” say supporters of the Arboretum. “It has diverse areas from the specimen tree and commemorative tree areas in the south to the meadow in the north, with forests and shelter belts of trees along the way.
“The Aurora Arboretum is still growing, planting trees every year – though severely limited this year and last due to COVOD constraints! – growing the forest and adding daffodil bulbs to the Field of Gold for the last nine years.”
A small, dedicated group of volunteers keep the Arboretum going – and growing! – working closely with the Town’s Parks staff to make it happen.
Its biggest supporters and longest-standing volunteers dub it Aurora’s Urban Oasis and this foundational principle has never been truer than in these challenging times.
“It is amazing to see how it has grown in 25 years and to see how much work has been done and see the trees that are now 30 feet tall – it is incredibly rewarding,” says Irene Clement, a long-time volunteer with the Aurora Community Arboretum who now heads their efforts. “We get a lot of compliments from people coming through and they are just so appreciative.”
Adds fellow volunteer John Clement: “One of the things that has really struck us is how this place has resonated with the people of Aurora last year and this year. We found the number of people responding to taking the time on the trails has only multiplied. We stop and talk with them and they say they can’t believe they just discovered this and it was here all along!”
As much as any milestone anniversary is about looking at how far they have come, the Aurora Community Arboretum is also looking firmly towards the future.
Volunteer Gordon Barnes says he is looking forward to work on a wading stream for migrating shore birds, while other projects currently underway include a viewing platform/observational shelter at the large stormwater pond just off Hollandview Trail, which is often a nesting area for trumpeter swans, and, by the time the Arboretum reaches the half-century mark in 2046, a canopy walk when branches on either side of the area meet overhead.
But, of course, that will still take every one of those 25 extra years to become a reality unless, in the tongue-in-cheek words of John, “the trees are going to have to get bigger or the people a lot smaller!”
For more information on the Aurora Community Arboretum, how to become involved, join their 300-strong volunteer list, or take part in any number of virtual and in-person events they host throughout the year, visit auroraarboretum.ca.
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran