MANITOULIN ISLAND, ON — Susan Snelling and Barb Erskine have been recognized as Forests Ontario Green Leaders for their commitment to tree planting.

In 2003, Snelling and Erskine packed their belongings and left fast-paced Toronto for the idyllic serenity of Manitoulin Island. The move north was prompted by an employment offer that Barb, a psychologist, received from a First Nations health centre; Susan, her partner, a researcher in the public health field, followed suit. The pair purchased 100 acres of land, comprised of untended fields, forest, and wetland.

“We always intended for the property to have a purpose,” explained Erksine. “In the past, it had been used to grow hay and produce lumber for furniture production. The land had potential, and it certainly seemed like a waste to leave it all unused.”

The couple wished to utilize the acreage for environmental benefit; however, the path to accomplishing their dream wasn’t immediately clear. The answer arrived in 2015, when Snelling and Erskine attended the Manitoulin Trade Fair. There they met Laing Bennett and Lesley Phillips, foresters with Algoma-Manitoulin Forestry Services, a Forests Ontario planting partner. Bennet championed the benefits of tree planting, and suggested they apply for funding support and technical assistance through the 50 Million Tree Program.

The 50 Million Tree Program is a partnership between Forests Ontario and the Government of Ontario that will see 50 million trees planted throughout the province by 2025. Snelling and Erskine were eligible, as they had significantly more than 2.5 acres of open land required to apply, and were soon approved. The pair were surprised and encouraged by how easy Forests Ontario and their planting partners made the process for them.

“It was a learning opportunity for us, to learn about the property we have. It was very easy from our point of view because Laing was able to arrange to have people come out and plant,” says Snelling.

“Barb and Susan should be commended for their tremendous contribution to the environment,” said Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. “Stewardship is a crucial component of keeping our communities healthy.”

In 2016, Laing and his crew began hand-planting the trees. There was immediate interest from friends and neighbours, so much so that it interfered with planting at times. “People were stopping by on the side of the road to see what was going on,” Snelling recalled. “They would ask the planting crew questions. It was a conversation starter; there was definitely a lot of curiosity!”

The end-result was just under 5,000 trees covering the six acres of property deemed best-suited to support growing trees. After the planting partners conducted a soil test they determined that Red Pine and Norway Spruce would be suitable based on the soil conditions. “Barb and Susan were excellent landowners to work with on the planting project. We enjoyed their interest and enthusiasm for the Forests Ontario 50 Million Tree Program. They are strong supporters of environmental improvement and we applaud their efforts,” says Bennett.

The terrain plays host to a rich array of wildlife including deer, turtles, Canada geese, cranes, great horned owls, foxes, wolves, snakes, leopard frogs and tree frogs. Barb and Susan are proud that their property supports this wealth of wildlife by providing diverse habitats.

“The trees planted by Barb and Susan will create a new forest, providing multiple values and adding to the overall forest cover in the region,” said Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario. “Healthy, diverse and contiguous forests are essential to mitigate and adapt as we continue to see the effects of climate change.”

Planting trees through the 50 Million Tree program will help to sequester carbon, enhance and diversify Ontario’s landscape, increase the capacity to withstand climate change, and contribute to wildlife habitat. For more information about the 50 Million Tree Program and other tree planting programs please visit

Forests Ontario administers the government of Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program, part of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. The 50 Million Tree Program is designed to signi­ficantly reduce the costs to landowners of large-scale tree planting and thereby increase the number of trees planted across the province.