Skip to content

Grove of oaks for Christopher Newton

NOTL tree planting initiative, the Chautauqua Oaks Project, helps celebrate the memory of Christopher Newton, former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival

The ground-breaking tree initiative, the Chautauqua Oaks Project, helps celebrate the memory of Christopher Newton, former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival.

The Chautauqua neighbourhood has a distinct landscape, made impressive by its 100-plus year old oak trees. The Chautauqua Oaks Project was developed to ensure the unique beauty of the Great Chautauqua Tree Canopy be preserved. After extensive study two courses of action were taken: the creation of a list of the recommended trees to plant in Chautauqua and a plan to repopulate the diminishing tree canopy.

For the latter the project partnered with the Niagara College School of Horticulture to harvest the acorns of Chautauqua’s heritage oaks. The acorns were then germinated and grown in the campus greenhouse. The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake joined the partnership to plant these new ChautauquaOaks, as they were called, back into the neighbourhood. This partnership has proven very productive. To date over 60 ChautauquaOaks have been planted along Chautauqua streetscapes, ready to assume their role as the future Great Chautauqua Tree Canopy.

A bountiful crop from 2018 produced more trees than could be planted in Chautauqua this year. To share the windfall of these legacy trees a gifting program was created. Chautauqua Oaks Project founder Leslie Frankish says, “The goal is to now create groves of ChautauquaOaks throughout greater Niagara-on-the-Lake, to create significant landscape gestures with community enriching connections.”   

One such grove was planted on April 23 with a community connection important to Frankish as well as the rest of Canada.

“With the passing of Christopher Newton last December, Canada lost one of its legendary artists,” collaborator and friend Leslie Frankish writes. “As an artistic director Christopher infused a number of theatres across Canada with remarkable success culminating with the Shaw Festival where he remained at the helm for 23 years. As an artist, mentor and friend his impact on many lives reached far beyond just those years in time. As a living memorial of his lasting legacy, 23 trees have been planted on the lands surrounding the Festival theatre.”

As majestic oaks they will in time rise far above the building and other trees, quietly enveloping the theatre in a protective embrace, and will do so for hundreds of years to come.”

Entitled Christopher’s Grove, this LandArt installation is a personal tribute by Frankish with the assistance of the Chautauqua Oaks Project and a team of volunteer planters. Permission to plant was granted by the current stewards of the land: The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Parks Canada and their tenant, the Shaw Festival.

Frankish is no stranger to designing on an epic scale. One of Canada’s preeminent set and costumes designers, she also served as senior production designer of the Opening Ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Her designs have been featured across Canada, but it is her work with Newton that remains her greatest honour.

In her description of Christopher’s Grove, Frankish writes, “The land on which Christopher’s Grove has been planted has many layers of history, beginning with the millennial stewardship of the First Nations. The trees planted for Christopher’s Grove were grown from acorns of first growth oaks found in Chautauqua. Heritage trees for a heritage land.

“This landscape surrounding the Shaw Festival was one of the reasons Christopher accepted the post as artistic director. On one side, the natural meadows of the commons and on the other side, a town with a grand heritage tree canopy. The epic scale of both . . . one expansive, the other sheltering. . . seemed the perfect setting for incubating great theatre.

“In a way Christopher’s Grove is a classic denouement. A couple of themes . . . heritage landscapes, iconic trees and a legendary artist . . . intertwined companionably to add a new meaningful layer to this historic landscape . . . and in the process creating a living memorial celebrating a remarkable man.”

For more information on The Chautauqua Oaks Project (including the list of recommended trees to plant in Chautauqua), and Christopher’s Grove, (including the list of the volunteer Planting Brigade) visit