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Monument Trees

Building Conservation Networks: An ecological approach to city building

The City of Hamilton is located in one of the world's richest and most biodiverse ecosystems, with 24% of Canada's biodiversity found in Hamilton alone. As cities become increasingly dense, pressure on urban habitat is growing. Protecting forests is key to our future. Monument Trees highlights ancient trees growing on Hamilton's heritage properties, and celebrates the wider cultural significance of old trees as living artifacts that are critical in the ecological function of our city.

The Cultural Landscape

Before the buildings and streets emerged in the early days of Hamilton's history, the landscape was made up of tall native grasses and large Oak trees spotted across an open plain. Nestled between the protective escarpment and the rich habitat in the Hamilton Bay, the ancient trees that grew here were enriched from moisture rising off the Lake. Part of this landscape once included open savanna that was made up of large Oaks and open grassland.

Today many North American cities like Hamilton are built within these former savannas. These lands were flat, and easy to build upon, as they were regularly burnt through natural phenomena and as a form of ecological practice by local Indigenous members of society to promote healthy ecology. These are early examples of cultural landscapes and create context for urban life in our region that predates the City of Hamilton.

In some parts of the city, such as at Dundurn National Historic Site and Auchmar Manor House, trees from this early period can still be found standing. These are our elder trees that stand as living monuments to our natural heritage.


Monument Trees in Hamilton Citywide

Hamilton has a rich history of heritage properties that include buildings, parks, and stone monuments. As icons of our natural heritage, Monument Trees also stand as living reminders of our region's natural history. Click on the map to learn about Monument Trees on heritage properties in Hamilton.

Ontario Heritage Act

What is the Ontario Heritage Act?
Under the Ontario Heritage Act, municipalities can pass bylaws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest. Formal designation of heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging a property's heritage value to a community.  Many protection and designation programs, such as the Ontario Heritage Act, focus on highlighting architectural legacies that are associated with the founding of nations. Yet, ancient trees in Hamilton are older than confederation. How might we protect these living historical assets?

A Tree's Right to Life

Significant heritage properties are usually designated through association with a historical person. What are the limits of this type of heritage designation? If we consider trees as autonomous beings, like people, would this change the way we protect them?

New Criteria for Designation

The exhibition Monument Trees raises questions about a tree's right to life and the processes of designation that limit heritage status to a historic person, event, or a building. As an entry point for discussion, this exhibition provides suggestions for new criteria to recognize old-growth urban trees as a new type of living monument. This criteria frames a tree's role in the urban ecosystem, cultural history, and inherent value based on the five core principles of human rights as declared by the UN: dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.

  • species
  • diameter
  • canopy size
  • health
  • location near a surface or submerged water body (climate mitigation)
  • cultural significance
  • ecological role (matriarch)
  • carbon capacity

A Call to Action

Register your heritage tree. Do you have a Monument Tree growing on your property or in your neighbourhood? Get in touch and put your tree on the map.

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Get Involved

Become a Neighbourhood Forest Steward.

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Visit Auchmar Manor House to learn about the history of the trees that have called the grounds home for 200 years.

  Explore the trees >


Dundurn National Historic Site is a popular gathering place in Hamilton, but did you know that Dundurn Park is also home to several significant Monument Trees?

Explore the trees  >

Confederation Park

Monument Trees, like the ancient Oaks in Confederation Park, stand as living witnesses to historical events. These trees, akin to memorials, symbolize the passage of time, narrating stories of conflicts, nature's decline, and the enduring legacy of human history.

Explore the trees  >

Museum of Steam & Technology

From the historic Waterworks to the contemporary fountains like Gore Park and Gage Park, Hamilton's urban design celebrates the synergy of nature and civic engineering. Monument Trees play a pivotal role, acting as nature's large-scale pumps that contribute to the city's water balance and climate regulation.

Explore the trees  >


Monument Trees prompts reflection on the nature of monuments, challenging traditional notions by questioning if living entities like trees can embody monumentality. As Battlefield Park conserves history, it inadvertently preserves green spaces like Battlefield Creek, advocating for the role of urban trees in enhancing city livability and serving as monuments to natural history.

Explore the trees  >


The museum archives the Farmer family's history, much like the rings of a tree, while the site itself boasts a unique woodland landscape with a rich regional legacy.

Explore the trees  >

Trees Talking

Opening at the Visitor Experience Centre January 2024, this immersive exhibition expands on Monument Trees. Talking Trees will be open to the public at no cost during the centre's regular hours - Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am-4pm.

Join us at 28 James St N to take in this exciting new exhibition by Lesia Mokrycke.

Details coming soon.

For more information: [email protected]

Learn + Take Action

Climate change is a global issue that affects all of our communities. In this exhibit you can learn more about this issue and explore ways you can act to mitigate the impacts of climate change impacts on Hamilton. The Learn and Take Action section of this site includes learning resources for teachers, students and families.


Seed School - How to Grow a Forest 

How do trees propagate? In the city it is easy to forget about the important role seeds play in the forest. Seeds are our quiet companions in the city. We rake them up, drop maple keys and watch them spin and pull them from cracks in the sidewalk when they become a nuisance.

Environmental art can serve as an intermediary space between the landscape and the classroom. Through the arts, children can share their stories and learn about the urban forest. Learning to care for tree seeds is an important part of teaching forest stewardship practices to the next generation.

As part of Tropos' wider research, the studio has developed a strategy for restoration that addresses urban forest conservation at a range of scales.This work includes a public resource within The Urban Forest Lab that highlights key aspects of our database.You can find more information about the environmental artworks, and learning resources associated with this work at the link below.

More learning resources:                                     


Tropos is a multidiscplinary studio that was founded by Lesia Mokrycke in 2021 as a space for generating new and innovative approaches to conservation in urban areas. At the Urban Forest Lab, Tropos' research explores human connection to the land through the arts. Through working across disciplines, the studio fosters new approaches to creative engagement, ecology, and social practice that can enhance the urban forest.

Landscape architects have long investigated links between people, health, and nature. As an interdisciplinary initiative, the studio's research builds on issues of landscape practice to bridge art and science. Tropos works from this understanding to reimagine how the arts connect people to place. From an urban design perspective, the studio's research investigates developing underutilized urban landscapes into robust environments that can support wider ecosystems.

Building Conservation Networks is a creative urban design and public art project conceived by Lesia Mokrycke in 2018 that identifies historic, monumental trees as key anchors in the ecological and cultural life of the city. This large-scale art and urban design project presents a strategy for restoration that re-imagines conservation as a series of networks to enhance the urban forest. These landmark, Monument trees contain hidden information in their roots that give us clues about times past and can nurture new saplings to foster stronger and more resilient urban forests. Through mapping the location of these pre-settlement trees across the city, The Urban Forest Lab is laying the groundwork to create ecological infrastructure that can withstand coming changes in the climate.


Author and Artist - Lesia Mokrycke                                         

Sponsor - We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts / Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien

Community Partner and Indigenous Specialist - Paul General, Former Head of Six Nations Eco-Centre

Studio Assistants - Mae Garcia, Alex Li, Elizabeth Ward, Sophie Williams

Special Thanks - Cathy Plotz at Hamilton Conservation Authority; Kathy Renwald with CBC Hamilton; City of Hamilton Culture and Heritage Department; Hamilton Culture & Tourism / Hamilton Civic Museums; McMaster University, Dept of History; CFMU; CityLAB; University of Toronto, Dept of Environment; Rebecca Rathbone; Hamilton City Magazine; Downtown AM Rotary Club of Hamilton; Our Forest; Downtown Sparrow; Justin Chandler at TVO; Hamilton Naturalists Club; Education department at RBG; and each member of the Hamilton community who has contributed a tree to this project.

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