How Calgary Became a City of Trees

Despite its arid climate, Calgary is home to more than 70 designated heritage trees, which get that designation because of their size, age or historical significance.

One of the oldest elms in Calgary, this heritage tree can be found in the parking lot on Olympic Way between 12 and 13 Ave. S.E. PHOTO COURTESY OF EVERYDAY TOURIST


If you were to go back in time to Calgary’s founding, one of the things that would strike you is the surprising lack of flora in the prairie landscape.  Calgary’s arid climate isn’t one that would naturally support trees, which make the approximately 630,000 trees in green spaces across the city today all the more remarkable.

Luckily for the city, people like William Reader, the city’s third Superintendent of Parks and Cemeteries, set about beautifying the situation and enacted William Pearce‘s famous vision of Calgary as a “city of trees.” According to Reader’s 1913 annual report, he “devoted a considerable part of my energies during the past season to the construction of new boulevards, and have prepared a big program for the future, as I very much doubt if any other public improvement will tend to create and foster a civic pride in Calgary to the same extend as will the making of boulevards, and planting of trees on our streets.”

It’s thanks to folks like Reader that Calgary can lay claim to more than 70 designated heritage trees, and that Alberta has enough remarkable trees to merit the creation of the Heritage Tree Foundation.

What is a heritage tree, you ask? Well, to qualify, a tree must be of particular interest due to qualities like age, size, shape, special interest, location and history. In addition to individual trees, this designation can refer to collections like shelterbelts, tree gardens, arboretums or any site of botanical or ecological interest. All designated trees, save for those found in national parks, can be identified by small black plaques mounted on or near the tree.

Calgary’s heritage trees can be found all over, from Elliston Park to the Calgary Zoo, though a good chunk of them are to be found around the downtown area. For a full list with their locations, check out the last page in the City’s Timeline of Trees in Calgary.

Photo courtesy of Everyday Tourist

Calgary in the early days, clearly sans trees.


Photo by Andrew Guilbert

Found in the heart of Reader Rock Garden, the massive tree to the left is a Colorado Blue Spruce, which was a new species for the area at the time of its planting. This particular specimen is an Alberta heritage tree planted by William Reader in 1918, one of the first he planted, making it 98 years old.


Photo courtesy of Everyday Tourist

This massive Bur Oak found at 120 Crescent Road N.W. in Crescent Heights was planted nearly 80 years ago in 1937.


For more information, visit or pick up a copy of Heritage Trees of Alberta.

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