Drysdale’s connection with trees began back in 1926, when Reg Drysdale, on his own as an orphan without any siblings, at just 19 years of age, used his meager inheritance to purchase two small tracts of sandy soil near Elmvale, reforesting them. He became an Industrial Arts teacher in Toronto, but together with his wife and two kids (Douglas and Ruth), spent most weekends and summer holidays with his father-in-law, Harry Moriarty, at his farm at Coulson’s Hill. During the World War II, there was a serious shortage of Christmas trees in Toronto, as result of gasoline rationing and the situation was that a vast majority of the trees were cut from the tops and harvested in the far north for pulpwood. Reg had some experience growing trees as a result of 1926 plantings, and thought that Scotch Pine, which was rapidly replacing white spruce as the traditional Christmas tree, because of their ability to retain needles well, could be grown on farmed out sandy soils just north of Toronto in York, Simcoe and Ontario counties.
In 1945, he purchased 50 acres of suitable land just south of Highway 89 and was delighted when that same year the Ontario government bought 11 of those acres when they decided to build the 400 series highway. To this day, that property is still within the Drysdale’s family. Reg founded the Ontario Christmas Tree Growers Association in about 1950, eventually being inducted into both Simcoe County and Ontario Agricultural Halls of Fame, for recognition of his foresight in helping develop this new industry which has flourished ever since it’s early establishment, exporting trees in great numbers to the U.S. and throughout Canada.
Reg’s son, Doug, became interested in trees through his father’s passion, and pursued a career in Forestry. As a 19 year old first year forestry student at the University of Toronto, he did conservation surveys in the summer of 1951 for the Ontario Department of Planning and Development, who were busy creating the Conservation Authority system we now all enjoy. During that time, he located a suitable 119 acre farm near Ballantrae, and in partnership with his father, they began to expand their tree farm operation. Doug graduated with a Masters degree in Forest Economics, from U of T in 1957, and thereafter had a successful career which spanned 33 years with the Ontario government, spent mostly at Queens Park in Toronto. During that period, they added additional property in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968. Of particular importance, the successful opening of their Ballantrae, Cookstown and Essa farms to families, who could now come to choose and cut their own Christmas trees, and enjoy a day of family events.
Doug’s children, (Douglas Jr., Donna, Diane) all worked at the farm throughout their school years and eventually their spouses and children too. Doug Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating with a Forestry degree from the U of T in 1981. Like his dad, he worked in the business on weekends and holidays, while working in lumber sales, but joined the family business fully in 1989.
Trees take a long time to grow and nurture, and by necessity and demand, the Drysdale land base continued to increase through additional purchases and rental/joint venture agreements with neighbours. Eventually, the Essa location opened a Christmas store, originally the largest one to be found in Canada, expanded into growing and planting landscape trees, hosting corporate events, as well as weddings. The Essa location is also host to Easter egg hunts and events, Halloween events and pumpkin picking, and Christmas events like choose and cut your own tree, meet and greet with Santa Claus, horse drawn wagon rides, train rides, and so much more.
The phenomenal support of families, customers and clientele over the years is what has made it possible for use through the federal Ministry of the Environment Eco Gift Program, to have our well-known Ballantrae farm become an addition to the very pristine York Regional Forest system. The Drysdale family is pleased that this 135 acre property, respectfully named “Drysdale’s Woods”, is now protected from development ad available for public enjoyment in perpetuity.
Drysdale’s is proud that we have been selected to provide Christmas trees for Rideau Hall on 8 different occasions, as well as provide trees to our Provincial Legislature almost every year. Twice we have been chosen as the champion Christmas tree grower in all of Canada. We are especially proud that we have been able to give generations of families lasting, happy memories through the various activities at our Egbert farm.