What secrets does this 340-year-old oak hold?

He was a mighty giant who grew stronger every year.

For 340 years, the oak stood about 100 yards from the banks of the Thames.

When it was only a sapling, it may have been adopted by members of the native Anishnabek nations as they set up a seasonal fishing camp, or perhaps later in its life provided shade for a hunting camp.

It was part of the vast forest visited by the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

By the time John Graves Simcoe fell on the Forks of the Thames in 1793, she was already 115 years old.

The 12-foot-tall tree has seen students late for exams, professors rushing to class, and countless shinny games on the outdoor rink that sits in its shadow, just around the curve of Lambton Drive.
The tree will be air-dried for three years before being transformed into custom furniture or other wooden creations that will be incorporated into the buildings of Western University. (Kate Dubinski / CBC News)

At the end of last year, the tree – a bur oak or a white oak – had to be felled. It had dropped branches for a while and about a quarter of its trunk had rotted. Either it would fall naturally and cause damage, or it would be taken apart and turned into something useful.

Chris McKaskell is the carpenter and craftsman overseeing the tree grinding this week. He also counted the 340 rings that show the age of the tree.

“It’s a wonderful situation where a tree has had the opportunity to live its entire life in a wonderful environment, serving a wonderful purpose in the community,” McKaskell said.
Carpenter Chris McKaskell counts tree rings, which determine a tree’s age. (Kate Dubinski / CBC News)

“With everything that is done with this tree, there will be a wonderful story.”

McKaskell and his team will cut the three large logs – they are 120cm in diameter – into flat pieces that will take three years to air dry.

There is no rush for this job, McKaskell said, and therefore no kiln drying. Everything is done to preserve the wood as much as possible.

Eventually, it will be used to make art as well as custom furniture or other wood creations that will be incorporated into the buildings of Western University.

Some smaller rooms have already been used in the renovation of the University College, which is expected to be completed this summer.

“As we renovate buildings, especially our main historic buildings, we try to incorporate furniture into those buildings,” said Mike Lunau, director of landscape services at the university.

Mike Lunau, left, and Chris McKaskell with the 340 year old oak tree. McKaskell said it was an honor to work with such a historic specimen. “It predates anything we see here,” he said. (Kate Dubinski / CBC News)

The tree, although a significant part of the campus, has lived without much fanfare.

The university was unable to find clear images of the tree. It appears in several Google Street View snapshots, but it’s a bit hidden in the background.

McKaskell said it was an honor to work with such a historic tree.

“This predates anything we see here,” he said. “It would have been a very mature oak tree and he would have lived a wonderful life. The story is all here.”

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