Excessively pruned spruces in Unionville prompts neighbours to demand more action from city

It took years for trees to grow up, but only minutes to cut down.

Eighty per cent of two 40-foot spruce trees’ branches were cut down by a homeowner and contractor in Unionville, according to neighbour Lester Wong, who claimed the underlying intention is to injure and eventually kill the two trees — so they can then be removed.

Wong is not the only one who believes the trees were over pruned. Tim Cheung, who has lived in the neighbourhood for almost 30 years and also serves as the captain of the neighbourhood watch committee, is aware of the tree trimming as well.

“I can't speculate on their intentions,” Cheung said, “but the pruned trees are really ugly.”

The City of Markham is not able to provide more details on specific properties due to privacy issues.

“In general, when a violation has been identified, staff issue a bylaw order with corrective actions where required,” comments Christopher Bullen, manager of bylaw services, bylaw enforcement and regulatory services. “Order conditions may vary based on type of infraction, such as illegal removal of trees and injury without permit.”

He encourages the residents of Markham to reach out to tree preservation staff if they have any questions about tree removal or tree pruning on their property.

Coun. Reid McAlpine from Ward 3, Unionville, verifies the city received complaints regarding the same property in 2021, and no further pruning was observed after that. Since the two trees remained alive, a fine of $300 per tree to plant six new trees was placed and the owner complied.

McAlpine says anyone contravening the tree preservation bylaw and found guilty of an offence will be subject to penalties.

But Wong insisted the fine is not enough, and considers the penalty an encouragement rather than a sufficient deterrent. He believes a couple of hundred dollars is nothing compared to the benefits homeowners can get after redeveloping the properties for much higher values. “This happens far too often,” he said.

Cheung agrees with Wong that much more needs to be done to prevent such things from happening, and the first priority is education on how to prune a tree properly.

“A lot of property owners choose to deal with the trees by contractors rather than by professional arborists due to lack of knowledge and understanding,” explains Mike Watson, certified arborist from Shady Lane Expert Tree Care Ltd. in Stouffville.

For a city tree, permission to prune is granted only to a qualified arborist. For trees on private property, owners may hire whomever they want, but Watson adds, “I don't hire an electrician to do my plumbing.”

McAlpine points out a lot trees get damaged, not because people are trying to kill the tree, but they give the job to somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing.

“The city is in the process to revise its tree protection bylaw,” says the councillor. “I will be pushing forward licensing the arborists, just like we’ve licensed people who pave driveways. I think anybody who is working on trees in Markham should be licensed.”

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun