Saskatoon’s Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area (325 acres) and George Genereux Urban Regional Park (148 acres) began as part of an ambitious, far-sighted afforestation greenbelt plan undertaken by the city in 1972. The plan proposed 3 categories: 1. Forest in perpetuity (660 acres), 2. Long-term planting (2200 acres), 3. Future public reserve areas (100 acres). The afforestation plan was linked with the Green Survival Program promoted by tree nurseries across North America at the time.
The 660 acres under the category “Forest in perpetuity” were planted in 1972 and 1973 on City-owned land that had been previously leased to farmers. The intent on inception was that these greenspaces become mature urban regional parks in future subdivisions when the city grew out in this direction.
Bare-root seedlings were obtained from the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration Tree Nursery at Indian Head, Saskatchewan. The species used were: American and Siberian elm, Manitoba maple, green ash, poplar, willow, caragana, Colorado spruce and Scotch pine.
The seedlings were planted with a tree planter in rows weaving in and out as much as 40 feet from the centre line. This produced a natural forest effect.
Now, coming on 50 years, the man-made forest provides a unique greenspace due in part to the boreal forest like feel produced by the succession to mature spruce and pine in many parts of the afforestation area. These species are continually expanding as their cones seed wider areas and successfully grow in. To find natural areas of spruce and pine one has to travel about 100 km NE of Saskatoon where the transition to the boreal forest zone begins.
Unfortunately, the full afforestation plan was never completed and these two areas remained neglected until Saskatoon’s rapid growth spurt began in 2008. The area where these parks exist is now part of a larger sector plan still in the works.
The Friends of the Saskatoon Afforestation Areas (Friends) , a non-profit charity, was established to advocate for the protection and enhancement of these laboratories of ecological succession with their unique biodiversity.
A 100 k grant from the Department of the Environment (“Environment and Climate Change Canada” or “ECCC”) is allowing the Friends to install protective barriers in areas where illegal vehicle entry has occurred and also to place signage. The Friends are also promoting educational environmental protection, climate action and wellness nature-based activities in these greenspaces.
Two heritage documentaries are being produced which will have an international reach. The first will celebrate the extraordinary humanitarian legacy of the forester Richard St. Barbe Baker, who has been called the first global conservationist. His lifelong work to protect forests, including the Redwood forests in California, and promote tree planting for habitat restoration, including research for and promotion of plans to reclaim the Sahara Desert is legendary. He had a deep understanding of forest ecology and was a climate change activist beginning in the 1930s. He was bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Laws at the University of Saskatchewan in 1971 by John Diefenbaker. The International Tree Foundation inaugurated by Baker in 1922 is commemorating its centenary in 2022.
The second heritage documentary film is focused on the 50th anniversary of the original planting (1972-2022) and the visionary ideals of the City of Saskatoon in initiating this project. During this era of climate change, it is valuable to highlight the paramount importance of nature based solutions to climate change, such as afforestation.
These films and associated celebrations will draw public attention to these local semi-wilderness habitats which are still relatively unknown. Public awareness about Saskatoon’s man-made forest is especially important at this moment when extensive discussions are taking place to make decisions on the management of parks and ecosystems in Saskatoon. These forests tie in well with Saskatoon’s strategic goals of environmental leadership and quality of life.
Please Come to the Wildwoods of Saskatoon.
The 326 acre Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area is located in the City of Saskatoon at GPS 52.1006191,-106.753599 [off of Cedar Villa Road – Tsp Rd 362A]
The 148 acre George Genereux Urban Regional Park is also located in the City of Saskatoon at GPS 52.1132971,-106.7861112 [near Sk Highway 7]