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The Trees of the McGill Campus

When James McGill died in 1813, he left a bequest to the Royal Institute for the Advancement of Learning that his Montreal estate, then little more than a few buildings dotting a parcel of land stripped near-bare by grazing cattle, be used to create a university.
Today, thanks to a “greening” tradition started by Sir William Dawson, world-renowned geologist, paleobotanist and McGill principal (1855 to 1893), the campus is now home to nearly 1,000 trees representing more than 60 species.
Many people from the university have stewarded Dawson’s vision into the 21st century, planting and nurturing flora that both promotes diversity and celebrates the University’s place in the St. Lawrence Valley ecosystem.
In addition to the annual planting programs, McGill University applies a landscaping policy that plans for the replacement of trees killed by disease or storms or moved during construction work. Exotic species are left aside and the emphasis is placed on indigenous trees or those acclimatized that find their natural habitat on the southwest side of Mount Royal.

Sources: McGill University

To learn more:

  • To get a taste of the wide range of tree species and gardens situated on campus, the internet site offers a Green tour of McGill University’s downtown campus.
  • The Redpath Museum organizes guided tours of the trees on campus on a regular basis.


Trees on the McGill University Campus
Les amis de la montagne's Collection


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McGill Campus, a stroll among a thousand trees

What a beautiful street! But a bit noisy. Come on, let’s cross to the other side and gather at the Roddick Gates. It’s a bit quieter on this side of Sherbrooke Street, and above all, much greener.

Welcome to the campus of McGill University. Look around at all the trees. Between here and the upper campus that ends at Pine Avenue, there are roughly 1,000 trees, representing at least 60 different species. Follow me, and I’ll introduce you to a few of them.

As we enter the campus, look to your left at the white trees. Let me begin with an easy riddle:
I can be grey,
I can be yellow,
But here, my white bark peels off in sheets.
I am.......A paper birch.

Now, let’s continue to the statue of James McGill on the right side of the road.

Just behind the statue is an old tree. It is the only one of its species still standing from a row planted here around 1860. It’s a maple, but which species? Here are some clues:

My sap isn’t as sweet as that of the sugar maple
My leaves are more jagged than those of the Norway maple.
I owe my name to the colour on the underside of my leaves.

I am, I am...A silver maple!

Let’s go on. Keep walking for a hundred or so metres, keeping to the right along the road to the MacDonald Engineering building. In the park across from it, on the slope, you can see a tree with spectacularly gnarled bark, growing at a forty five degree angle.

Are you ready?
I’m a shrub.
I’m not native to North America.
My North American cousin has the biblical name of burning bush. I, on the other hard, am named for an important part in the cloth weaving industry that was made from my dense wood.
I am...

A European spindletree!

Now, let’s head toward the Redpath Museum. Just before you get there, in the park on the right with the Three Bares sculpture, take a look at the trees closest to you.

Here’s the fourth riddle:
I’m a member of the magnolia family.
I am usually recognized by my unusual four-lobed leaves.
My name comes from my large yellow flowers that look like tulips.

I am, I am…A tulip tree!

Let’s go past the Redpath Museum and up Dr. Penfield Avenue. Cross Peel Street and stop in front of the garden of Chancellor Day Hall.

And here is your last riddle:

My species was around at the time of the dinosaurs.
I’m resistant to pollution, insects and diseases.
I was imported from Japan and I am said to have many medicinal properties.
Not many female trees like me are planted, because my fruit smells really bad.

I am...A ginkgo biloba.
I was planted in 1892, making me one of the oldest in Montreal.

Now you can continue your stroll to discover other trees: black walnut, dawn redwood, saucer magnolia, London plane tree, European mountain-ash, Kentucky coffee tree …