and their stories /5
The Oak Tree Grove, next to the lagoon, is a quiet, largely overlooked, area in Westmount Park
By Michael Walsh
First published September 10, 2016
The lofty oak from a small acorn grows.
Lewis Duncombe 1711-1730
There is a quiet, largely overlooked, area in Westmount Park where one can enjoy a tranquil moment. It’s an area that at one time was bustling with shuffle board players and people sitting on benches playing chess and checkers on oversized boards embedded on the ground.
Fading vestiges of these game boards still exist; however, today, it’s a quiet place comprising rambling bushes where a variety of birds make their summer home.
Within that area, next to the lagoon are five massive Oaks, their huge girth suggesting that they were saplings when the original Glen stream coursed through the park. Looking closely, one can notice their longevity is due in part to a concrete-like substance, applied decades ago, to fill large cracks that developed in their trunks.
Next to the lagoon are five massive Oaks, their huge girth suggesting that they were saplings when the original Glen stream coursed through the park.
This type of treatment adds to the trees’ structural integrity preventing damage due to storms and pathogens. In addition, one of the trees has developed two trunks and a metal wire prevents either from breaking during strong winds or heavy snow or ice storms.
As a child in Ireland, recognizing (and drawing) oak leaves begins at a very early stage. I suspect six to seven-year-olds from the Emerald Isle can recognize the tree’s different species more easily than their North American counterparts.
For example, a primary school teachers’ book published by the Meath County Council, in Ireland (Wild Things at School) has a lesson plan for first class students (in Canada this is grade one) that includes the oak – along with the Primrose, Fox and the Woodlouse. Children were instructed to “draw outlines of the leaves so that they will learn their characteristic shape”.
Children were also taught that the tree’s Irish name is “dair” and is the origin of many Irish place names: “Counties Kildare and Derry are called after the oak as are all the place names starting with Derry such as Derrynaflan and Derrynane”.
‘The word oak can be traced to “ac” in Old English, a strongly Germanized language.’
There is an oak in Westmount Park that bears the species’ largest leaves and acorns. It is known as the Bur Oak or by its Latin name Quercus macrocarpa (large seed oak). It is also known as the Mossycup Oak for the wooly fringe around the acorns – this has been described as a wooly cap pulled over the seeds.
The leaves can grow up to 12 inches long and contain multiple lobes – called “sinuses” – those in the middle are deep and appear to touch the veins’ midrib – sometimes described as fiddle shaped. Native to North America, the Bur Oak ranges from New Brunswick to the Central States and then North East where it grows as a small shrub. The tree’s slow growth contributes to its longevity which can exceeded 300 years. Everything about the tree is massive: its girth, bark (which is fire resistant), branches and acorns that can grow to over 2 inches! In fact, even the tree’s root system is massive and, by weight, exceeds the portion above ground.
Finally, did you know why window blinds have a toggle shaped like an acorn? This was from the (mistaken) belief that lightening never struck oak trees.
Next time you walk through Westmount Park, spend a few minutes in this quiet corner, and appreciate these massive oaks while thinking of the changes they have witnessed.
Images : Michael WalshRead also: other articles by Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident. He is happily retired from nearly four decades in the field of higher education technology. A “professional student” by nature, his academic training, and publishing, included statistical methodology, mycology and animal psychology. During this period, he was also an officer in the Canadian Forces. Prior to moving to Montreal, he was contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Education evaluating bilingual primary and secondary school programs. Today, he enjoys spending time with his (huge) Saint Bernard while discovering the city’s past and sharing stories of the majestic trees that grace the parks and streets. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog Westmount Overlooked