A new journey

First off … here’s what happened last summer as I cycled 500km across Ontario’s Greenbelt Route. A one-minute summary 🙂

So after a lengthy time away … I’ve found some new inspiration. I’ve retired Sidetracked & Wandering as I’m spending more time working on a collaborative project with my friend Serena draw.post.repeat. At the same time, I’m consolidating what I’ve written and drawn (and continue to do!) while outdoors with stuff that I’m beginning to write about minimalism and random musings or observations.

Between studying and learning new skills for my work — I also spend a lot of time reading about and pondering life in urban environments, the way we choose to live, and the things that influence our decisions. So expect a mishmash of different areas of interest that I am exploring and if you choose to follow along, I hope you enjoy the journey (and pardon the work-in-progress as I build out this new site).

Driving towards a sunrise

Another response, re: Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

I received another email from the City of Toronto, except this one seemed less empathetic to the problems concerning allergies and simply providing me with facts.  Interesting and good to know although I think I prefer better understanding what they are striving towards in terms of accommodating allergy-sufferers in the long-term.

Hello Ehren;

response to your question regarding the planting of female and male
trees and the links you have included I provide the following

The urban forest in Toronto is expansive and includes approximately 10.2 million trees, covering an area of approximately 18,000 hectares. Of this area, it should be noted that more than 6,000 hectares is forest canopy within natural areas, primarily of native forest communities, such as oak woodlands.

For natural areas under City management we advocate a diversity of native species which are adapted to the local conditions, as well as a diversity of individuals within each species to promote resiliency. Monoecious and dioecious tree species are reflected in our tree population. Monoecious tree species have both male flowers and female flowers on the same tree. Dioecious tree species have the male and female flowers on separate individuals of the same species.

More than half of Toronto’s trees 54.1% are estimated to originate from natural regeneration. The remainder 45.9% are planted. The following link will take you to our street tree planting brochure.


the City’s objective of managing the urban forest in a sustainable
manner involves planting both female and male specimens
of dioecious trees in order to ensure natural regeneration. Increasing
species diversity to improve overall forest health and reduce
vulnerability to pests and disease and planting tree species that are
native to the Toronto area, is also an objective towards
a healthy sustainable urban forest.

60% of land in the City is privately owned and we have no control over
the tree planting activities on private lands.
Residual pollen from private trees and its associated health issues are
beyond our control.

City of Toronto is also committed to improving air quality and
recognizes the role that trees play in achieving this objective
by providing a constant source of oxygen and filtering harmful
pollutants from the air we breathe. The direct benefits derived from a
healthy urban forest include air pollution uptake, reduction of the
urban heat island effect and provision of protective shade,
climate change mitigation, reduction in storm water runoff, conserving
energy use, habitat provision and enriching local biodiversity.

re:  Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

So after my email last week to the City of Toronto, I was happy to get a number of responses back.  Initially just informing me that they were going to provide me with a proper answer … which was nice, and then eventually the actual answer.

I always knew that this would be a complicated issue and I imagine it is still a complicated issue given that cities are dominated by male trees and you have private property and natural areas to consider as well.  Ultimately, there is no real immediate solution but it is fascinating (and terrifying, not to mention painful) to me the impact a simple decision had on people so many years later.

I’m not one to demand immediate action because I don’t want to see trees cut down but I do appreciate that allergy-sufferers are now being considered in tree-planting policy.  Perhaps in the future, we can hope for fewer allergy sufferers and maybe one day someone like me can enjoy spring without shedding so many tears 🙂

I’m part of the City of Toronto’s tree planting
team (to use the non-technical term). The issue of urban trees and
allergies has been on our radar more and more, and we are developing
strategies to accommodate people who have issues with
pollen. To be clear, or goal is to increase the City’s tree canopy by
putting the right tree in the right place, and part of that is
understanding the needs of the City’s residents.

A small amount of background concerning urban tree
planting: In the 1940s it became increasingly common for cities in North
America to plant male trees as they were considered to be less “messy”
in that they produced little or no fruit
or nut debris which could clutter walkways, etc. Growers began focusing
on male tree stock to fulfill this requirement. As a result, over 60
years later, many cities have a tree population which leans heavily on
the male side. More municipalities are now realizing
the allergy-factor in this type of planting. Added to this,
privately-owned trees and those in naturalized areas are a mixed bag.

There are competing views as to how to tackle this
issue, but a popular theory suggests trees with perfect flowers (as
opposed to dioecious and monecious) are better for people with allergies
as the pollen is potentially more isolated within
the flowers and not wind-carried. For example, a Tuliptree (perfect
flowers) has pollen but it mainly stays within the flower unless
transferred by insects, while an Oak (monecious) relies on the wind to
disperse pollen over a wider distance. At the moment
the only tree widely available that does not produce pollen is Red
Maple ‘Autumn Glory,’ which we plant to accommodate homeowner requests
for allergy reduction.

I hope this answers some questions for you on this
large topic, and indicates that the City is trying to be sensitive to
the needs of allergy sufferers while increasing and diversifying
Toronto’s valuable tree canopy.

Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

I love trees, but I don’t like allergies.

I’ll state upfront that I don’t know all the facts about trees nor allergies.  I just know that I am an allergy sufferer.  I get allergies year-round but every Spring, it is like going through hell.  It feels like it gets worse over time, even with medication.  This could be due to a number of factors but an interesting city-based policy on tree-planting may have more impact than we might think, and I’m curious.

I live in the city of Toronto, and I decided to write to the department responsible for tree planting and the department responsible for health to see what they have to say.  Here’s my email to them:

To:  parks@toronto.ca, publichealth@toronto.ca

Hi there,

I’m emailing both the
departments responsible for Forestry and Health in the city because I
would like to inquire if and what the plan is around the planting of
trees across the city of Toronto.

As someone who suffers
from year-round allergies, with the changes in climate – I’ve noticed
my allergies and the allergic responses of other allergy sufferers have
gotten worse over time as I’ve lived in Toronto for over 30 years.  Also
something discussed in National Geographic last year:


like to inquire if the City of Toronto is planting female trees and if
not – will there be consideration to begin the planting of female trees
and changing the policy of only planting male trees?  Given that
according to an article from 2013 in the Hamilton Spectator, male trees
in the City of Toronto represented 96% of the tree population – this is
a both a tree-planting policy and health issue for Torontonians who are
allergy sufferers or have asthma.


that the City of Toronto is intending on increasing the number of trees
planted in the city, I think this is a concern that should be taken
into consideration.   As this CBC article points out, whether it is
climate change or not – there is an increasing number of people
experiencing allergies.


appreciate the work that is being done by all parties to improve the
city, but I am hoping to learn more on what the City of Toronto is doing
(if anything) to address this growing issue.  If someone could please
inform me about what the City of Toronto is doing about this – or
direct me to the right person to speak with about these issues, that’d
be very much appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

~ Ehren

Trying a New Route

So my friend and I had been bouncing this idea back and forth about how I should bike to her house for a visit and then we’d go check out this bakery in the vicinity.  Tricky thing is that she and her family live in Scarborough near Lake Ontario and I currently live in North York (no lakes but we got streams and rivers).  For those who aren’t familiar with the city of Toronto — North York and Scarborough are different parts of the city.

As I was mapping routes out, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of bike trails that could take me from North York into eastern Scarborough.  Everything in North York ran north-south.  This meant I had a choice to either ride along main avenues (big no-no for me) or find small residential streets and ride through those until I could make my way into the networks of trail paths in Scarborough.

Awesome multi-purpose trail path near Brimley in Scarborough.
Awesome multi-purpose trail path near Brimley in Scarborough.

I have to admit some trepidation on my part because despite having grown up and lived in Toronto — there are a lot of areas of the city I’m not familiar with.  Funny how that is isn’t it?  We sometimes know parts of other cities we travel to more than we know our own.

Anyhow, with some help from the popular RidewithGPS.com, I managed to create a route down to the Port Union area where the waterfront trail has been in development.  The waterfront trail in the downtown core and the Beach area really should be connected to this Port Union area but I’m guessing there’s a lot more work to be done and that’s a story for another time.

I managed to export this route and upload it to the new Garmin GPS that I had picked up.  This would serve as my guide to get to my friend’s place.  This was my test run.

Stopping for a break
Stopping for a break

I’ve been enjoying the new tires.  They are definitely making my ride a little easier and smoother.  According to the GPS, I manage to get to a speed of approximately 23 to 25km so far — sometimes faster if I’m going downhill but I have my doubts whether I’ll be able to go significantly faster on a consistent basis — not with the mountain bike frame and the relatively fatter tires.  My goal really here is just to manage energy more efficiently in the long-term when I’m going to tackle the Greenbelt Route.

Unfortunately as I make my way further south, I end up taking some wrong turns.  It is rather tricky trying to read the directions on the GPS and bike at the same time.  To top it off, the route that I had mapped out apparently took me on to a hiking trail and I found myself carrying the bike down some stairways.  Ah, the consequences of using Google Maps.  Still good enough.

Bridge over Bridge
Bridge over Bridge

The route took me further into a more elaborate network of paths which were amazing ride through.  Some were a part of a larger park, others were nice manicured gardens or extended backyards that led into a ravine area.  The diversity was amazing and I was grateful that such a network of multipurpose paths and trails were developed within the city.  To some extent, I wish the part of North York I lived in had more of these.  I followed these trails south until I hit the lake and it was a happy sight.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to drop by my friend’s place in time because I kept getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

After I stopped by my friend’s place (it was fun and her son was hilarious and inspiring) — I took the same route back home.  It was practically all uphill most of the way.  To make it even tougher, the wind was blowing at me the entire way back.  Good training opportunity for future reference, but quite the challenge.  Thank goodness it was a beautiful day and it wasn’t too hot or humid.

Made it to the lake and Port Union
Made it to the lake and Port Union