A field of small saplings is bordered by a wooden fence on the left. The University of Guelph's brick buildings can be seen in the background.

Roots & Branches: Arboretum History

Header image: Arboretum West Lawn, 1977-78

Celebrating 50 Years!

Roots & Branches is a student-led project exploring The Arboretum’s 50 year history. On this website, discover archival images and stories about this land, and The Arboretum’s origins, grounds, collections, research, education, conservation, and community efforts. The site aims to foster respect for our natural environment and to increase our community’s understanding and appreciation for The Arboretum and all it does.  Read more about the project here.

Timeline of The Arboretum’s History

Late Paleozoic era - Early Mesozoic era

Earth's landmass was a single supercontinent called Pangaea. As the continents separated, plant populations became isolated and evolved independently. The impact of this evolution can be seen in the tree and shrub variations showcased in the World of Trees Collection.
Scenic concrete bridge crosses over a river in a wooded area. The surrounding trees have orange and dark red leaves, hinting that it is autumn.

The World of Trees Flying Fish Bridge, 2020.

The Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Attawandaron peoples lived on and cared for the land that now hosts The Arboretum, the University of Guelph, and the City of Guelph.

1650s - 1690s

The Mississaugas, Three Fires (the Ojibway, Odawa and Potawatomi) and Iroquois contested this region during the Beaver Wars. Following their victory, a group of Mississaugas settled on the land between Toronto and Lake Erie, becoming known as the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.


The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation ceded over 3,000,000 acres of land to the British Crown in the 1792 Between the Lakes Purchase Treaty, No. 3.
Aerial view of The Arboretum. Autumnal colours are speckled throughout the landscape which is mostly covered in trees.

Aerial of The Arboretum, 2020.


Scottish businessman, author and superintendent of the Canada Company, John Galt, began developing Guelph to attract potential settlers.


William and Ellen Hamilton purchased a 400-acre tract of land in Guelph. Shortly after, they began farming on this land.
A family of nine stands in front of a brick home. Four individuals (a woman, a man, and two young children) sit on the far left underneath an open window. Five other young people stand in front of the doorway.

Hamilton Family at the Glen William Farm, 1868.


The Ontario Agricultural College was established.
Postcard of OAC Flower Garden printed around 1910

Postcard of OAC Flower Garden printed sometime around 1910.


O.A.C.'s first proposal for an on-campus arboretum. The Ontario Fruitgrower's Association and Miller and Yates, a Philadelphia landscaping firm, began developing the on-campus tree and shrub collections.
A map planning the locations of various trees and shrubs on the 1882 Ontario Agricultural College's campus.

A map of the on-campus arboretum, 1882.


Forester Edmund Zavitz planted white pines (Pinus strobus) and spruce trees to study tree planting to counteract soil erosion.
Group of men digging in soil and planting Zavitz pines in 1907

Zavitz Pines planting, 1907.


The Hamilton Family sold their farm to the O.A.C. to be used as a research farm.


Professor Leslie Hancock submitted a proposal for a separate arboretum to the President of the O.A.C. but was denied due to lack of funding.
1938 Map of proposed Arboretum

1938 Plan of The Arboretum by Leslie Hancock.


The Arboretum Study Committee, proposed by R.J. Hilton and formed by O.A.C. Dean N.R. Richards, became part of the University of Guelph's transformation into a comprehensive university.


The Presidential Arboretum Planning Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Professor Victor Chanasyk of the School of Landscape Architecture.
Plaque reading "University of Guelph Arboretum Planning Committee 1966-1970. Alex, J. F., Brown, W. A., Chanasyk, V. (Chairman), Coates, W. E. (Master Planning Consultant), Dale, H. M., Hilton, R. J. (Secretary), Irwin, R. W., Montgomery, F. H., Richards, N. R., Scott, D. H., Smith, D. W., Sykes, J. T., Taylor, D. P., Taylor, J. C., and Tossell, W. E. In gratitude and appreciation, Professor D. F. Forster, President. June 9, 1982."

Picture of the 1982 plaque honouring the University of Guelph Arboretum Planning Committee which operated from 1966-1970.


An Academic Brief demonstrated arboretum benefits across the curriculum including Botany, Horticulture, and Landscape Architecture courses.


The Board of Governors approved the Master Plan in December, establishing The Arboretum. Read about the first Arboretum staff.
A map plotting the future area of The Arboretum

Plate plotting the area of The Arboretum.


A collection of maple trees planted in May became the first formal botanical collection in The Arboretum.
Maple trees in 1971

Maple Collection, 1971.


The iconic O.A.C. Centennial Arboretum Centre, designed by Raymond Moriyama, opened. The same year D. W. Smith and G. C. Bowes published "Loss of some elements in fly-ash during old-field burns in southern Ontario" in the Canadian Journal of Soil Science, becoming the first research publication based on data from The Arboretum.
OAC Centennial Arboretum Centre

OAC Centennial Arboretum Centre.


The J.C. Taylor Nature Centre opened. During the same year, Curator John Ambrose established The Arboretum's Gene Banks.
JC Taylor Nature Centre

J.C. Taylor Nature Centre.


The Gosling Wildlife Gardens opened thanks to the generous support of Jean and Philip Gosling.
Garden One of the Gosling Wildlife Garden blooms bright pink and yellow flowers during the summer

Garden One of the Gosling Wildlife Gardens, 1995.


The Arboretum's Nature Reserve was established. The Arboretum and the Wall-Custance Funeral Home and Chapel also began their partnership to create the Wall-Custance Memorial Forest.
A large crowd of people stand under a canopy of trees. They look away from the camera to an unseen speaker.

A large crowd attends a Wall-Custance Memorial Forest tree dedication service.


The first Plant Sale was held with the support of many volunteers.
People browse through aisles of plants

Crowd of people browse through The Arboretum's Plant Sale.


The Ontario Tree Atlas Project began.


The Arboretum Auxiliary was created and The Garden Project was initiated.
AJapanese Garden with a small pond with fountain

The David G. Porter Memorial Japanese Garden, 1995.


The Elm Recovery Project was started by Horticulturist Henry Kock.


The Guelph Master Gardeners established The Roots and Shoots garden next to the O.A.C. Centennial Arboretum Centre to celebrate Jane Goodall's visit to The Arboretum. The Guelph Master Gardeners continue to maintain this garden today.
A group of students wearing green shirts gather around Jane Goodall, a famous anthropologist, for a photo.

Roots and Shoots Students gather around Jane Goodall in the front steps of the O.A.C. Centennial Arboretum Centre, 2003.


The O.A.C. '56 Gazebo was completed.
Wooden gazebo next to a maple tree with bright orange leaves.

The O.A.C. '56 Gazebo, 2013.


The Henry Kock Propagation Centre was opened.
A red lift sits in front of a large greenhouse.

The Henry Kock Propagation Centre, 2010.


A group of local arborists volunteered their time at The Arboretum on Arborist Day.
Two men dressed in orange are have climbed two trees.

Two arborists climb trees at The Arboretum, 2016.


The Arboretum partnered with the Entomological Society of Ontario and the Ontario Agricultural College to create the first annual Bug Day at The Arboretum.
A praying mantis rests on the lens of someone's glasses. The person smiles in enjoyment.

Praying mantis rests on Alexandra Kocher's glasses.


Chaenotheca selvae, a new species of lichen, was discovered in The Arboretum by R.T. McMullin, J. Maloles, S. Selva, and S. Newmaster.
Chaenotheca aelvae

Chaenotheca selvae.

2020 - 2021

The Arboretum celebrates its 50th year.
An aerial view of The Arboretum shows many trees and densely wooded areas. A concrete building can be seen nestled between trees.

Aerial view of The Arboretum, 2020.