"And flourish green o'er freedom's home"

…Or so the song goes. But what can you make out of the leaves and branches once they’ve flourished green for the last time? This was the question put to four talented designers. And we were impressed by what they came back with for our exhibit in the Toronto Design Offsite Festival. Brothers Dressler, Dystil, The National Design Collective and Paus + Grün all donated their time to LEAF and our work for the urban forest. And with it they each brought a unique perspective on design, repurposing salvaged wood and the symbolism of the Maple Leaf Forever tree.


As many of you know, the historic tree fell in a storm last July. It was crucial to use the smaller branches and leaves promptly, as they would have rapidly deteriorated or been damaged had they been left in storage with the rest of the wood. The City of Toronto supplied this material to local designers who were selected from the juried group of the 2013 IIDEX woodshop exhibition. This is the first of many projects – large and small – that will make use of the fallen wood. And we eagerly await the spring to see if the trunk, still standing in Leslieville, will sprout again, giving new life to the famous tree in a more organic way.


For decades Oh, Canada has been the anthem chorused at hockey games and in classrooms across the true North. But it was The Maple Leaf Forever, a song written for Confederation, which inspired many generations before mine – and this song was inspired by the same wood that I helped to display on the walls of a Junction neighbourhood coffee shop last week! And that is kind of amazing to think about. The Canadian identity is always a bit awkward to discuss, but there is always something historic and transcendent about the maple leaf.


At LEAF we look at the full life cycle of trees in the urban forest. Years ago, the organization grew from a fledgling seedling distribution project to a backyard tree planting program which aimed to get the right tree in the right place and ensure they had the best possible chance at survival. Over the years, LEAF has grown and now encompasses many other activities like education programs, public demonstration gardens and adopt-a-tree projects aimed at improving the quality of life in our cities.


With the threats posed by the Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Long-horned Beetle, ice storms and an aging canopy, we are now thinking about the end of that life cycle too. When a tree falls in the woods, it’s best to let it lie. But when the urban forest gives you a broken branch, you make furniture. Here’s what the designers made with the wood that inspired our nation’s original anthem:



The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined (2014), Brothers Dressler


 Brothers Dressler

Maple branches, hardware, E26 socket, 14W cold cathode dimable CFL

Rough fallen branches, common and abundant, entwined with each other and imbued with their own history giving this material new form while illuminating its potential. Hand crafted in Toronto from urban wood to continue its story and highlight the possibilities of locally sourced materials.


Brothers Dressler



Witch’s broom (2014), Miles Keller/ Dystil



 Maple branches, leaves, soil, polyester resin & cement

Witches broom is a cross section through the cycle of growth and decay in the forest floor; from earth to the canopy of branches overhead. A flood lamp positioned in the base shines up through the branches and projects their shadows on the surrounding walls. The result is both controlled and random; a sort of virtual urban forest that speaks to our complex relationship with the natural world.





Maple Leaf Forever Headphones (2014), The National Design Collective


The National Design Collective

Maple branches wood, felt

The Maple Leaf Forever Headphones commemorates the musical history behind the legendary tree that stood for well over a hundred years. The portable and ubiquitous nature of the headphones allows for the once historical landmark to become mobile and brought to a greater audience.


The National Design Collective



Rustle (2014), Paus+Grün



Maple branches, paper (maple leaves, recycled paper pulp), led lights

The paper in this piece was made using the leaves from the historic and beloved maple tree. By filling the spaces between the branches with this paper, fastening the leaves back on to the tree, a part of it has been both renewed and remade.




Matthew Higginson is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at LEAF. The Maple Leaf Forever items will be sold or auctioned in support of LEAF’s planting, education and stewardship projects which aim to protect and improve one of our most valuable assets. The wood for this project was supplied by the City of Toronto – Economic Development and Culture. The exhibit was part of the TO DO Festival, which just celebrated its fourth year. Special thanks to Agora Café for hosting the exhibit, and for their ongoing support of LEAF and other sustainable initiatives.