Tom Evoy loved trees.
Now his family is sharing that love, turning over woodlot he spend much of his adult life caring for to the St. Clair Conservation Foundation.
The Evoy family name became prominent during the oil boom in Oil Springs in the 1850s and Tom Evoy was the last person to run the Imperial Shipping Station at the corner of Gumbed Line and Kelly Road. It’s now an artifact of the oil industry and Evoy is immortalized with an iron statue there.
While oil was his profession, trees were his passion. In the 1940s, Evoy and his wife, Monica bought the 82-acre woodlot on Black Ash Road. His son, Lance, says Evoy would spend hours there, planting trees, cutting the grass around saplings to help them grow, cutting trails and wielding his ever-present axe when he would come across a hawthorne or beechwood tree.
When he retired, Evoy would head to the woodlot each day, axe in hand, and spend hours there caring for the trees. Over the years, he planted about 12,000 trees to replenish the woodlot.
Evoy’s love of the woods wasn’t confined to his own woodlot. He joined the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority Board in 1976 and stayed for 16 years. He was one of the people who was instrumental in starting the tree planting program there. So far, over 3.5 million trees have been planted through it.
He was also a member of the Conservation Foundation board for four years.
During his time working with the conservation authority, he got to know and become friends with Donald Craig – an employee with the authority. Craig would spend hours with Evoy in the woods.
Craig once asked Evoy if ever thought of logging some of the larger trees. “Tom wasn’t against logging but he said he didn’t need the money and he was too old to be picking up his feet over the trash from the tree cutting.”
Craig says Evoy and his wife shared their love of the woodlot with others. “Tom picked up the most bizarre pieces of wood and would bring them home. Monica would draw on it and then Tom would crave it and they would give it away.”
Evoy also encouraged his son’s love of nature and trees. Lance and Dale would often go with him into the woods, Lance told a group of about 20 people during the dedication of the woodlot Monday. He recalled planting saplings with his father when he was only seven. “I didn’t find it that much fun.”
But his father passed along his love of the land and showed him the trees were “something to be taken care of …he was already imagining then how it could be passed on.”
Evoy passed away in 2002 and his children looked after the Carolinian forest for a time. But the family wanted to make sure it was taken care of the way Tom Evoy would have done it and so, they’ve turned it over to the foundation.
For now, the conservation foundation will simply care for the woodlot. In the winter, workers will take some time to figure out how the existing trails can be enhanced so people can walk through the Evoy Woods.
Walking through the area Monday, Lance and his nephew, Curtis, peered up at the oldest of trees and stopped to study some of the new ash saplings. Curtis recalled going there as a young boy with Nana and Gramps and having his grandfather point out some of the saplings at that time “’You’ll get to enjoy these trees Curtis,’ he said. He had such a great vision for trees.”
Curtis added turning the land over to the foundation means the family can still enjoy the woodlot along with the rest of the public, knowing it is being well taken care of. “It’s fantastic. Gramps always talked about this…Now we can come and enjoy it and you guys can take care of it for my kids.”
Lance agreed adding “It would be very hard without the conservation foundation to give it up. Selling it would be terrible.”
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold, who is the head of the foundation, says the land Evoy had the “wisdom and vision” to care for and is a model for woodlots. “It is in wonderful hands now. You won’t see a better set of caretakers.”