Estela Thomson's picture
Posted by Estela Thomson /
Ash out of Quarantine
By now you are well aware of the fate of our ash trees. Since 2002 the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect imported from Asia has killed millions of ash trees in Southern Ontario and Michigan. Nearly all of Toronto’s ash, an estimated 860,000, will be gone by 2017. A few local artists are realizing the opportunity to create whimsical pieces out of the chaos and put them on display for the public.



Brothers Dressler, a local material-based design team, is using their woodworking mastery to transform Toronto’s dying ash trees into beautifully carved designs. Wood otherwise bound for landfills is salvaged, and treated to avoid the spread of EAB into surroundings. The pieces they’ve created to showcase at The Junction’s Articulations are stunning, including the main window installation that mimics a sapling in spring, a blooming reincarnation of the ash tree.


Ash out of quarantine


Inside, an informative, hand-drawn wall of data on the ash and the EAB opens the door to practical pieces including lamps, stools, and a symmetrical table top that utilize the natural patterns and textures of the wood. Heather Phillips, the show’s curator, tells me the installation and subsequent pieces that will be created for sale by the Brothers are meant not only to salvage wood that has long been thought of a “secondary,” but also to instil awareness of the plight of the region’s urban forest.


Emerald Ash Borer Facts


In Toronto, many of the ash trees on city property are broken down and repurposed as mulch - used in public gardens, around newly planted trees and at stewardship sites through successful partnerships. However, as has been mentioned here before, a majority of ash are found on private property. Homeowners are responsible (at their own expense) for their treatment or removal – and most private tree care companies will just take the chipped wood to a landfill.


Could upcycling  - milling “waste wood” into functional items like furniture, planks, boards…or even baseball bats – be a better option? Even following the city’s lead and chipping the wood into your own locally sourced mulch reduces potential removal costs, helps slow the spread of the pest to less affected areas and reduces your carbon footprint by keeping everything in your yard rather than trucking it all over the city. In this way, it transforms the waste into a healthy, weed-suppressing cover for your gardens, and nutrients for your shrubs and other trees. 


When it comes to cost recovery, a story out of Ottawa last summer pointed to the potential profit – an estimated $7.5 million – that our capital city had sitting in a landfill. That is if the felled ash were harvested to make use of their unaffected interior wood. Could this be a feasible solution? The EAB’s spread across North America is a tragedy – but looking for the silver linings like this may make it more bearable.   


Brothers Dressler Ash design


The Brothers hope to take this exhibit across Ontario. On a smaller scale, their work remains an example of a growing effort to promote sustainability and the reduction of waste. The title, "Ash out of Quarantine," also refers to the CFIA's designation of Toronto and the surrounding regions as an ash quarantine zone, and the usual connotations of the term - as something to be avoided. 


Ash out of quarantine exhibit


Meanwhile, homeowners and entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to find more creative ways of dealing with felled trees that have succumbed to disease and infestations. With that in mind, the show changes the common themes of doom and gloom to a more hopeful question of “what could my tree become?”


Ash Out of Quarantine runs until February 17th. 2928 Dundas Street West. 


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.