“Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees,
On this glad day.
Bless Thou each student band
O’er all our happy land:
Teach them Thy love’s command,
Great God, we pray.”
-"Class Day Tree" 
By 1850, almost all Southern Ontario forests had been cleared, largely as a result of agricultural expansion and timber exploitation by new settlers. Upper Canadian homesteaders had to burn the underbrush of their land, cut down trees, and remove rotten stumps to make way for productive farmland. Southern Ontario's landscape, once lush with forest vegetation, was forever changed. Today, further changes are ongoing. Land is being paved over for housing, strip malls, and parking lots. These changes make it hard to imagine what it would have looked like 200 years or more ago: large forests thick with trees and teeming with animals. In the late nineteenth century, some settlers began to take issue with the vast changes to the landscape. Many began to consider ideas of civic beautification and initiatives to plant trees, flowers, and shrubs in an effort to recapture some of the lost beauty. One such initiative was Arbor Day.
Arbor Day was established in Nebraska in 1872. Very shortly after it became popular in other states as well as in Canadian provinces. In 1884, citizens of New Brunswick organized a campaign on Arbor Day, where they landscaped five original town squares in Charlottetown. Quebec began celebrating Arbor Day in 1883. In 1885, Ontario's Education Minister declared Arbor Day a school holiday, so that the time could be devoted to improving and beautifying school grounds through planting flowers, trees, and shrubs. He stated that "the condition of the school grounds throughout the Province is anything but complimentary to our taste and tidiness as a people."
Each year school children throughout Ontario had one day off in May to help their teachers beautify school grounds. One teacher, who penned her name as "Girl with the Apron" wrote into the Globe in 1912, detailing how her class spent the holiday. She asked students to bring seeds into class; the response was overwhelming. They spent the day planting nasturtiums, dahlias, hollyhock, gourds, morning glories, asters, poppies, and sweet Williams. She stated, perhaps in a tongue-in-cheek manner: "the arrangements, I'm afraid is utterly contrary to the Ladies Home Journal's ideas of proper color massing. But we'll hope the violent contrasts aren't in blossom at the same time." At the end of the day her class accompanied her on a walk through a nearby forest. Arbor Day concluded with a homework assignment that involved writing an essay on "a ramble in the woods with our teacher."
Many people over the years wrote to the Globe arguing about the holiday's importance. Several people took philosophical views, namely that cultivating beautiful things can make for better people. One author, in his 1903 article, expressed that, "what is wanted more than almost anything else is the humanizing and civilizing influence of the beautiful." In 1918, another author asked his readers what could be done to beautify villages and small towns. He then eloquently declared that, "the answers would fill a book, but meanwhile the words 'Arbor Day' float down from somewhere among the gorgeous foliage of the maple trees and write themselves upon the paper and upon the brain and upon the heart." He went on to explain that the maple tree was much more than just a beautiful tree; it was also a meaningful Canadian symbol that instilled patriotic pride. He wrote this during wartime and explained that "in thousands of letters that are crossing the ocean at this moment its leaves are enclosed as symbols of infinite solicitude and affection, carrying messages to sons and brothers and fathers and lovers with an eloquence and pathos that no words could command." Thus, Arbour Day was not just about civic beautification and teaching children about gardening; it also instilled a pride of place in Canadian citizens.
Several other writers discussed the importance of Arbor Day through a conservation lens. People were witnessing the disappearance of forests and animals. The landscape was changing before their eyes, and they wanted to preserve and encourage the growth of trees, not just for the aesthetic and educational benefits they could instill, but because tree planting was a means of stewarding the environment. Springs had shrunken and small streams had disappeared as a result of the disappearance of trees. Deforested areas were also subject to cold winter winds, with one writer explaining that farmers feared the effects of this wind every season on crops and orchards. After discussing the negative environmental effects that deforestation had caused, the author explained that "the spirit of Arbor Day should pervade this year . Children should be taught to value trees and regard them, whether in the school grounds or by the wayside, as silent teachers and companions."
In 1915, another author wrote that "the idea of developing trees for the gratification of a future generation is a useful lesson in altruism, and the self-sacrifice involved should be thoroughly understood by those who make it." He felt that planting trees was good for producing shade and improving the climate, and that the removal of trees had contributed to the climate's aridity, injuring plants and animals through a lack of moisture in the soil and air.
These writers' statements show that people at the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were thinking about the repercussions of deforestation and saw initiatives like Arbor Day as important ways to get youth to understand the importance of trees and forests in the natural landscape.
Beginning in the 1930s people began to write into newspapers expressing their disappointment that Arbor Day was becoming a thing of the past. Concurrently in 1934 the city of Toronto began to record the numbers of tree cutting and plantings. In a later study, City workers uncovered that by the end of 1952, 47,673 trees were removed from streets and parks. During the first seven years of the study 10,640 trees were planted. There were no records of any plantings before 1941, except for a few trees dotting University Avenue and Jarvis Street.  A 1953 Globe and Mail article stated that, because of these figures, there was a need for the government to better inform the younger generation of the meaning of conservation, explaining that "it could start in the backyards and on the streets of the city itself." 
In the past several decades there has been a resurgence in tree planting, perhaps not for some of the poetic sentiments expressed above, but because of links between nature, conservation, and mental health. There has been a burgeoning number of studies and articles linking nature to better physical and mental states. As rampant development continues, Canadians are noticing severe changes to their environment, few of them positive. This development, coupled with increased hours spent in front of screens, takes its toll on our ability to connect with nature. People are beginning to notice an emptiness; many are starting to see the importance of green space and nature's beauty in their own lives. These revelations, along with things such as a celebration of locally produced foods, arts and crafts, etc., have led to an increase in beautification initiatives and nature education.
Every September, Canadians now celebrate National Forestry Week. The Wednesday of this week was declared National Tree Day (Maple Leaf Day) in 2011. On this day Canadians are encouraged to plant trees in their communities. Tree Canada, an organization that dedicated efforts to organize the holiday, states that the day serves "as a celebration for all Canadians to appreciate the great benefits that trees provide us - clean air, wildlife habitat, reducing energy demand and connecting with nature."  Ontario also celebrates Arbor Week in April/May, Prince Edward Island celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday in May, and Calgary celebrates the holiday on the first Thursday in May.
There are several organizations which support backyard and school yard tree planting and education. Here are a few to check out:
Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) | Forests Ontario | Planting for Change (P4C) initiative by the Association for Canadian Educational Resources (ACER) | One Million Trees Mississauga | Think Trees Manitoba Forestry Association | Tree Canada
Get out there and get planting!
 The "Class Day Tree" was first published in the New York Arbor Day Circular. I found it in an article written by M.A. Bryant entitled "An Arbor Day Exercise" in the April 1896 volume of the Popular Educator.
 Ron Williams, Landscape Architecture in Canada (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's Press, 2014), 93-94.
 Ibid., 162.
 Legislative Assembly of the Province of Quebec. Arbor Day: A Few Advices to Farmers on the Planting of Forest and Ornamental Trees (Eusebe Senecal & Fils, 1884)
 The Globe, April 17, 1885.
 Arbor Day at School, The Globe, August 3, 1912.
 Arbor Day, The Globe, March 31, 1903.
 Arbor Day, The Globe, October 5, 1918.
 Arbor Day, The Globe, March 25, 1893.
 The Significance of Arbor Day, The Globe, April 28, 1915.
 Toronto's Vanishing Trees, The Globe and Mail, June 6, 1953.
 Tree Canada. "National Tree Day," https://treecanada.ca/engagement-research/national-tree-day/ (accessed February 12, 2019)
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