Mississauga’s urban growth confronts a tree canopy first protected by the people who gave the city its name
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)

Mississauga’s urban growth confronts a tree canopy first protected by the people who gave the city its name

First enjoyed by the Mississaugas some three hundred years ago, the awesome tree cover that provided natural and spiritual benefits has since fallen victim to wide scale deforestation. 

Some Ojibwe, whose homelands spread to the easternmost area of the Anishinaabe people, migrated south to the banks of the Great Lake now called Ontario, around the early 1700s. They came to be known as the Mississaugas.   

Framing what are now known as Etobicoke Creek and the Credit River, the mouths where these flowing water bodies met one of the “five freshwater seas” (as described by the Anishinaabe) were surrounded by towering White Pines, Sugar Maples, Poplars and White Cedars.


(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


As Europeans settled along the shores of the Great Lakes, where shipping routes carried the lumber of millions of felled trees to feed the ongoing colonial expansion, farmers cut down those that surrounded their early outposts. 

What we now know as Mississauga, which means "those at the great river mouth" in Anishinaabe, was transformed in a blink of an eye. The giant firs and pines and poplars revered by the Ojibwe who took on the name Mississaugas, were cut down. Farms eventually gave way to pavement. Subdivisions began popping up in the ‘70s, and new trees were planted. 


Top: Square One Shopping Mall in the ‘70s surrounded by farm fields, where forests had once stood (City of Mississauga)

Bottom: Mississauga’s Credit River Valley near Lake Ontario has one of the city’s most verdant tree canopies, surrounded by downtown to the northeast and subdivisions on other sides.

(Wiki Commons)  


But now, a new phase of growth is threatening the urban canopy across Mississauga, as the importance of trees in a warming, increasingly polluted ecosystem becomes more and more clear.

As the City of Mississauga finds it has no more space to grow, the importance of protecting its trees amid rapacious development has become a focus of those who recognize what the area’s original stewards knew hundreds of years ago.

For its work in 2023, the City of Mississauga was awarded its fourth consecutive Tree Cities of the World Designation for its commitment to urban and community forestry. In order to be recognized the City had to meet the five criteria including establishing responsibility for the care of trees, setting rules for managing them, updating a local tree resources inventory, allocating resources for future management and celebrating achievements for the protection of trees.

“Trees are essential in fighting climate change and making Mississauga a livable city,” a City press release highlighting the recognition described. “They help improve air quality, reduce stormwater runoff, lower urban temperatures, clean water and provide habitats for wildlife.”

Mississauga is warming at twice the rate of the global average, putting more demand on its existing tree canopy which provides carbon sequestration and temperature-moderating shade.

While tree planting is often heralded as a critical way to ward off the effects of climate change, a study published in 2021 by Nature United found only five percent of mitigated GHG emissions due to tree cover come from restoration efforts, while simply leaving our greenspaces as is can reduce emissions by 30 megatonnes—or 40 percent of the identified reductions.

Standing on the 14th floor of one of the new Brightwater condos in Port Credit, looking northeast, Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko, who is running for the vacant mayor’s seat, commented that Mississauga is much more green than one might expect. A sea of early spring leaves drown out low-rise residential blocks with a few taller buildings poking out from the impressive canopy. 

But the expanse of Port Credit, with its tree-covered river valley, cannot overshadow areas of Mississauga that have a severe deficit of greenspace. According to the Mississauga Parks Plan published in 2022, the neighbourhoods of Streetsville (0.7 hectares per 1,000 residents), Clarkson Village (0.6 hectares per 1,000 residents) and Sheridan (0 hectares per 1,000 residents) are all severely lacking in tree coverage. 

“A healthy and resilient urban forest is critical to fighting climate change and to sustaining a healthy and vibrant community for future generations,” a staff report from the City’s forestry division reminds readers.


Trees, especially mature ones, provide ecological benefits by capturing carbon and helping manage stormwater, while also providing shade and healthy air for communities.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


A study from the University of Waterloo even went as far as to quantify the benefits of urban greenspaces on mental health — for example after looking at an urban lake for just two to three minutes, scores on a validated anxiousness scale decreased by nine percent, contrasted with an anxiousness score that increased 13 percent when standing in a busy downtown street for the same amount of time. 

But while the City has recognized the multitude of benefits of having a healthy and vibrant urban tree canopy, the forestry division is currently experiencing a significant backlog in work orders which resulted in increased service requests throughout 2022 and 2023. As a result, the City is in a catch up period which has amplified costs and position requirements for 2024.

According to a recent staff report, in the past 10 years the City has seen a 16 percent increase in service requests and 144 percent increase in work orders. Since 2021, the request for tree permit applications has increased 694 percent.

“Mississauga is growing and the demand for forestry service is growing right along with that” Amory Ngan, Manager of Forestry at the City, told council members on Wednesday. “And our mandate is to protect, enhance, restore, and expand Mississauga's urban forests, and natural heritage systems.”

Currently there are over two million trees in Mississauga which are protected through the City’s Natural Heritage & Urban Forest Strategy, Urban Forest Management Plan and Invasive Species Management Plan and Implementation Strategy. In 2013, the City pledged to add an additional one million trees to the urban canopy by 2032 to restore and enhance open spaces for the benefit of current and future generations.

The initiative puts Mississauga in line with other municipalities which have committed to increase their tree canopy. Last year, the City of St. Catharines pledged to plant an additional 100,000 trees over the next 10 years, in an effort to increase its urban tree canopy to 30 percent, a six percent increase from most recent estimates.

These municipal initiatives have been adapted from a federal commitment made in 2022 that would see partner organizations planting two billion trees over a ten-year period ending in 2031. The Liberals promised a $3.2 billion investment over this timeframe to support provinces, territories, third party organizations and Indigenous groups in their efforts to plant trees. 

The commitment would require Natural Resources Canada to oversee the planting of 200 million trees per year, a target that in the two years since the commitment was made, has been way out of reach. 

A 2023 report released by the Auditor General of Canada found that while Natural Resources Canada nearly met its first-year target of 30 million trees in 2021, it is “unlikely” it will be able to meet its long-term target of 2 billion trees “unless significant changes are made”. The report found in the first two years of the program, only 2.3 percent of the trees required to meet the goal were planted.  

In light of the challenges on the federal stage, in order for Mississauga to meet its target, it must first address the significant backlog in service requests to contribute to a sustainable forestry system. Efficiently addressing this backlog will enhance the health of the urban canopy, as increasing threats to trees emerge due to climate change, rapid urbanization and the spread of invasive species

The emerald ash borer is a species of wood boring beetle native to Asia that arrived here likely through the packaging in shipping containers. Adult beetles feed on foliage, decemating ash tree populations. The beetles have been known to kill 99 percent of the ash trees in their path making them a huge concern for municipalities and conservation authorities. 

In the 2023 budget, the City allocated over $4 million for an emerald ash borer management program but due to the hardiness of the species, the threat continues to persist. 

This year, the City has allocated another $4.5 million on top of a generalized $700,000 for invasive species management which includes other species that cause harm to trees like the LDD moth.

Over six months, the forestry department worked to catch up on the stumping backlog that has increased over the past few years.

(City of Mississauga)


The forestry backlog has also placed a significant strain on staffing resources which must be increased to catch up. Ngan told councillors that currently the forestry division is undertaking the single largest stumping operations the City has seen. This includes 15 individual crews working full time to address the backlog. Previously, the largest operation used five crews, after the 2013 flood.

Between July 2023 and January 2024, forestry services cleared 3,573 work orders, equivalent to two years of backlog. 

“Now that we've addressed the stumping backlog, we are able to have those trees replanted this spring and this fall. But the next phase involves addressing the backlog of tree removals and tree pruning requests,” Ngan explained.

“The fact that you have reduced this stumping backlog, that's absolutely amazing. But at the same time, the contract that is going to be put in place, when there is a request, shrinking the timelines down from removal of the stump, to the replacement of the tree, is also something that we need to spread,” Councillor Chris Fonseca responded.

This new contract for tree maintenance services is expected to be awarded in spring 2024, according to the staff report, to provide “the necessary capacity to address the current backlog of tree removals and pruning, and to meet future demand for tree pruning, removals, and stumping work”. 


The City of Mississauga hopes to enhance its urban tree canopy.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


In establishing an entire service that is more efficient and sustainable, the forestry division is adopting a proactive tree maintenance approach that will work on a seven-year cycle consistent with arboricultural best practices and neighbouring municipalities. 

Proactive measures — invasive species management, regular pruning — have a myriad of benefits for the health of trees while increasing their lifespan and providing economic benefit. A study from TD Economics found that every dollar invested in urban canopy maintenance returned $1.35 to $3.20 in benefits and cost savings each year.

“This approach will not only lower maintenance costs and result in fewer requests over time, it will lead to a healthier and more resilient urban forest as well,” Ngan said.

A user facing interactive tree map will provide community members with details on any outstanding work orders. Dashboards will provide more mapping to deploy resources in times of high demand for tree services such as when an extreme weather event strikes. 

Ngan told councillors the department is currently putting together some initial communications that will be shared with them in the coming weeks before going community-wide.



Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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