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Posted by Tooba Shakeel /
Helen Godfrey
A defender of Toronto’s urban forest, Helen Godfrey, has helped mobilize citizens of Toronto to bring much needed attention to pressing issues while providing a large, echoing voice to trees in the city.
 

Helen Godfrey became part of LEAF’s community when she took our Tree Tenders course in 2008 and has been an active volunteer since. She started the Bayview Buckets Project with LEAF and inspired over 20 businesses to commit to watering their street trees from spring to fall. She also uses her talents as a writer to write tree blogs and recently contributed a beautiful piece, “Out on a limb”, to the Globe and Mail. Her actions and words have inspired many people to get involved in their own communities and learn more about trees and tree care. As our first Urban Forest Champion of 2017, Helen reflects on her work and shares inspiring words to other. Enjoy her story below!

 

Tooba: How did you first become interested in the urban forest?

Helen: Living in a city surrounded by cement and asphalt makes me crave greenery and the natural environment. I have always loved trees, hence my interest in the urban forest.

A little-leaf linden tree, one of the trees part of Helen’s Bayview Buckets project

A little-leaf linden tree, one of the trees part of Helen’s Bayview Buckets project

 

Tooba: How did you first find out about LEAF? How have you been involved since?

Helen: I read about LEAF in the media and their involvement with the city in promoting the urban canopy.  This was exactly what interested me, so I volunteered to work with them. Over the past five or six years, I have helped in the planting and maintenance of a subway 'learning garden' and recently assisted the Danforth group in their adopt-a-street-tree program.  And I have volunteered for one of kind projects whenever possible. 

Helen (third from right) and other volunteers prepare to recruit tree adopters along the Danforth East in summer of 2015

Helen (third from right) and other volunteers prepare to recruit tree adopters along the Danforth East in summer of 2015

Tooba: Did you ever experience an “ah-ha” moment while volunteering/working with LEAF?

Helen: Taking LEAF's tree tenders course gave me the confidence to attempt a project in my own area.  In 2012, with mentoring from LEAF, I started an adopt-a-street-tree initiative on our neighbourhood commercial strip which is three or four blocks long.  I canvassed merchants persuading them to care for the street tree fronting their store.  It was an on-going project with some success. Each spring I renewed my contact with the business people, becoming known as 'that tree lady' (not sure if it was a compliment!).

In 2015 the retailers voted in a BIA and this has led to an expansion of my original idea.  We no longer ask merchants to look after their trees.  A number of us who live in the area volunteer to care for the trees and the streetscape on an 'as needed' basis (usually once a week).  We've been active since February 2016 and it has been a success.  Our hope is that other groups, not necessarily BIA's will decide to follow along across the city.

American basswood tree adopted as part of Bayview Buckets

American basswood tree adopted as part of Bayview Buckets

Tooba: Why is the urban forest important to you and what message would you like to share with others to encourage them to become involved?

Helen: The urban forest has always been important.  The trees clean our air, soak up storm runoff, provide us with beauty and shade and are becoming increasingly important as climate change impacts the planet.  I am not an assertive person, more of a worker bee than an organizer bee.  But if you feel strongly enough about something, then it gives you the courage of your convictions - and it does take courage - to join in or start a venture of your own.  After the recent proclamations from Washington on climate change, it is almost imperative that we do whatever we can for the planet.  So what if we are just a leaf in the planetary forest - our LEAF in our (urban) forest.

 

Photographs taken by Erin MacDonald, Sarah Michelle Rafols, and Susan Byford 

 

Helen Godfrey is retired, a senior who has been lived in her community for some 33 years.  She enjoys the city and all the pleasures it has on offer, but the natural environment takes precedence.  She regrets not having become a tree advocate years ago.  Presently knitting a pink hat. 

 

Tooba Shakeel is LEAF’s Education and Outreach Coordinator

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