Elm Street

The King of Wayside 

The Downie Elm  Stratford- Perth Archives

In the city's south end (east of Erie Street and between West Gore Street and Lorne Avenue) there are at least 10 streets named for native Canadian trees. One of them, Elm Street, was probably named by Alexander Grant for the White Elm. It was Alexander Grant who laid out a survey there in 1873.

Dutch elm disease, long the enemy of the elm tree, is a fungus carried by a beetle. It grows in the new ring of wood, just inside the bark, on which the tree relies almost totally for its flow of sap. When it blocks the sap vessels, the branch dies and very soon the tree. Trees as old as 200 years can be killed by the disease in one season. Once a much-admired part of the Stratford landscape, the ravages of the Dutch elm disease have almost eliminated the stately elm in this area.

The graceful vase shape of the tall elm, as it swept up into a crowning fan which often wept at its edges, was once a familiar silhouette along Perth County roads and fencelines. Majestic elms often stood alone in the middle of farm fields, left standing for their elegant form and beauty. Now they are almost all gone.

One such tree was famous in the pioneer days of Perth County. The great tree stood about two miles north of Avonton. Folks coming to visit from a distance knew they were nearing the end of a long day's buggy ride when they saw the aged landmark in the distance. Fully seven feet in diameter, that great tree was blown down in a storm on Nov. 29, 1919. With notes from Stanford Dingman 

 The great Downie elm was the inspiration for many verses of poetry by the late Dr. Thomas Sparks of St. Marys, Ont. One of his poems was titled The Wayside Elm. This is how the St. Mary’s Journal described the tree: 

"About two miles north of the village of Avonton, right in the middle of the roadway, stands a lofty old elm of gigantic proportions. Fully seven feet in diameter and far over 100 feet in height, its immense size together with its unique position make it an object of far more than ordinary interest. Left, whether purposely or accidentally, when the country was being cleared, this grim old 'warder' of the wayside cannot but awaken strange thoughts in the mind of the passerby. Its great age speaks eloquently of the past, and its vigor seems to augur it a still lengthy future. It is to be hoped that no vandal hand will be laid on this grand old tree, and that it long remain, tall and erect, The King of the Wayside.