From the months of September to April, many students at U of T remain within the vast social, academic, and professional network of this university and the Greater Toronto Area. Across all three campuses, U of T students are constantly undertaking remarkable experiences. Perhaps, though, the full potential of our community’s zest for life and sense of exploration is most evident in the four months between the end of winter term and the beginning of fall. This summer series covers but some of the adventures and challenges U of T’s bold and ambitious globetrotters. 

Chapter one: Life in the trees

At 6:00 in the morning, Izzie Collier was woken up, suddenly. Truck horns or flare guns the likely culprits. By now, this is just another part of her daily routine; on Monday, she set off for her third consecutive summer of tree planting in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

This summer gig, the fourth-year architecture student says, is usually a complete change of pace from bustling Toronto life, but this time the transition is set to be even more extreme. Collier recently returned from a semester abroad in Singapore, and had only about a week at home before setting off again.


To some extent, Collier’s return to Grande Prairie is just what the doctor ordered — an escape from city life. “Before living in Toronto I always enjoyed being outside more, so by the time planting season rolls around and you’re kind of stressed out from exams and being in this busy city, I’m always really happy to get out there,” she explains.

Collier describes a kind of serenity that she associates with planting. Most days, she is on her own in a clear-cut space, only occasionally interacting with other planters, and sometimes wildlife: “This one time I stumbled upon a little baby dear, Bambi kind of thing, and it just made my day. It was so nice just to have that kind of experience after being in Toronto all year.” This recollection causes Collier to reminisce: “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to getting back out there.”

Of course, moments like these don’t exactly define the planting experience. When I ask her about a typical day on the job, she laughs: “There’s no really typical day.”

There is one thing that is consistent though: planting trees is laborious work with long days. After the 6:00 am wake-up call at the campsite, a group of planters eat breakfast, then get on a “crummy” — a box-like truck — which drops them off “in the middle of nowhere” so that they can start planting.

The days are long, the work solitary, and incentive to work hard is high because planters are paid per-tree — and Collier means business. Most days, she plants between 3000 and 4000 trees. Her personal best is over 5000, which she has accomplished twice. With more ambition than most jetlagged twenty-something students could muster at the end of a semester, she says she hopes to repeat the achievement this summer.


Nevertheless, it is not personal bests and encounters with “Bambi” that keep Collier coming back to the planting life. To her, the real draw is the people she’s met. “You meet such great people out there and you get really close so when you hear everyone else is coming back it’s pretty hard to say no because it’s like a reunion,” she says, adding that the paycheque — substantial for those who are willing to work hard — is also a huge draw.

Throughout the days, Collier says she is always looking forward to returning to the campsite, where, in the evening, all the planters hang out, drink, play music, and generally enjoy the beautiful surroundings. “It’s just really relaxing, and everyone’s just so happy to be done another day of planting,” she says.

Planters also get one day off after four days of work, where they go into town; to Collier this is a rare chance “to sort of be civilized and have showers and do laundry.” Collier’s response may be the only time I’ve heard someone describe doing laundry as “exciting,” and yet, she says it is this time off when she gets the chance to socialize with the other planters. “The people are amazing,” she says.


All in all, tree planting is rewarding for Collier, but also challenging, and sometimes downright surprising. Collier describes one June day where, while waiting for a helicopter to take the group to the campsite, the sky opened up and it started to snow. They planted anyways. “That was a really bad day, but it also brought everyone together because you got to know people at their absolute worst. Planting trees in the snow is kind of a bonding experience.”