Half a millennium ago, deep in a virgin forest, a small seed in the form of a maple key began to take root. In time it would germinate into a sapling that would grow into a massive sugar maple tree; along the way enduring countless storms, avoiding blights, forest fires, and evading the pioneer’s axe.
This incredible tree, which defied all odds, still stands tall and proud today, in the midst of farmland in North Pelham. Known as the Comfort Maple, the immediate area surrounding the tree is a Niagara Peninsula Conservation site.
The Comfort Maple, at approximately five hundred years old, is widely believed to be the oldest sugar maple (accer saccharum) in Canada. The towering tree was already a century old when Samuel de Champlain was exploring Canada; and well over 250 years old when the first settlers arrived in this region.
In 1816, shortly after the conclusion of the War of 1812, the Comfort family obtained the land, which contained the then three centuries old maple. Providentially, the Comfort settlers never felled the mighty tree, and thus it became the oldest of its kind in all the land.
On a recent Sunday afternoon I paid a visit to this ancient wonder. Located off Metler road, the tree is situated at the end of a dusty, bumpy, country lane. To the right side of the dirt lane grow several sugar maples, which are dwarfed by the colossal size of the Comfort Maple.
It soars some eighty feet high, and is a full twenty feet around the trunk.
The tree, while somewhat misshaped, is nevertheless an awe-inspiring sight to behold. I circled it several times, gazing upwards at its thick, snake-like branches, while listening to the warm breeze rustle through its green leaves.
Staring at the great tree conjured in my mind remembrances of Grey Owl’s short story, “The Tree” from his classic 1936 book “Tales of an Empty Cabin.” The legendary Grey Owl, Canada’s greatest nature writer and a prophet of wilderness preservation, tells the tale of a fictional ancient tree in that story.
Guy wires help support the tree’s branches, and concrete has been laid in the cavity of one of the tree’s two main branches. (Presumably to protect it from disease and insects.)
I was somewhat surprised to see the tree itself is remarkably free of graffiti carvings, however, the concrete within the tree did contain a few. Apparently, Dave and Jenn as well as BW and SW thought it fitting to proclaim their love for each other by marking it on the concrete within the tree.
A rustic wooden sign nearby informs visitors that Miss Edna Eleanor Comfort donated the tree and the ground directly around it to the NPCA “for its preservation” on April 30, 1961. The land had been in the Comfort family for nearly a century and a half by that point.
The tree is officially dedicated to the memory of Earl Hampton Comfort.
As Mary Lamb noted in a previous Voice column, according to legend the Comfort Maple is also the site of an ancient Native burial ground. If true, the tree perhaps embodies more than the memory of just Mr.Comfort, indeed, that of a whole vanished people.
As I left the cool shade provided by the giant tree to return to my parked vehicle, I found myself hoping that the great Comfort Maple endures many more years to come.