University of Guelph's Arboretum awarded for conserving Ontario's natural history

The University of Guelph's Arboretum is the 2024 recipient of Ontario Nature's Natural History Award, with the director calling it "a real honour and recognition of the work that's happened" at the beloved community and research landmark.

Justine Richardson said the 50-year-old arboretum, located "right in the middle of the city," serves to connect people to nature through nature teaching to both campus classes, students, community youth, kids in schools and also to conserve biodiversity.

"That the arboretum is here at 50 years is really significant and it's more important now than ever," Richardson told CBC News.

"It really is a result of many, many individual people, organizations, community partners, staff, donors [and] volunteers. I'm honoured to accept the award on behalf of the many people who love the arboretum and have contributed to it over time."

U of G Arboretum team at Nature Reserve
U of G Arboretum team at Nature Reserve (University of Guelph)

Ontario Nature's Natural History Award honours individuals and groups that have made a significant impact toward protecting nature in Ontario and promoting conservation biology.

"As we look at the urgencies of climate change, biodiversity loss, our obligation to Indigenous communities and the mental and physical well-being and connection to nature for our people, I believe the arboretum has a role to play in today's major issues," Richardson said.

Nature Guelph nominated arboretum for award

The arboretum was nominated by Nature Guelph, a local charity focused on environmental education and community conservation initiatives.

"There are many organizations in Ontario with broadly similar goals of engaging the public with nature, but the arboretum stands out for the variety, depth and reach of its activities," the organization said in its nomination.

The arboretum was officially established in 1970, serving as a "living laboratory" for research, education, outreach and biodiversity conservation, according to a release sent out by the university on Tuesday.

The university says the arboretum encompasses 400 acres, and is one of the most visited parts of campus, with 100,000 visitors annually.

More than 30 species of threatened or endangered woody plants are archived in the arboretum's grounds and gene banks, the university says.

"Generations of decision-makers have supported the space," Richardson said. "My hope is that the arboretum continues to grow and to provide a healthy space for the trees and wildlife and the people who access it."