January 2, 2023
Building Landscape Ontario

On Jan. 24 of 2023, Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association will celebrate its golden 50th anniversary. It’s a remarkable achievement for any organization, but even more so when you recognize its contentious and challenging origin.

In the early 1970s, members of the Ontario Nursery Trades Association (ONTA), Ontario Landscape Contractors Association (OCLA) and Ontario Garden Maintenance and Landscape Association (OGMLA) were operating on a small scale representing those specific sectors. But visionaries such as Glenn Peister, Casey van Maris, Marc Thiebaud, Syd Queripel, Bill Schreiber and others, felt that a stronger voice was needed.
aerial shot of an propertyEarly visionaries of the association.
“We met and we met and we met,” recalled Glenn Peister of the time spent trying to arrive at a solution to merge three associations into one.

Casey van Maris wrote that his objective for the new association was to combine newsletters, meetings, social activities, Congress, government representation and education. He wrote, “In my opinion, we must unite in order to gain our fair share of the consumer dollar, and united we could rise to become one of the most important industries in the province.”

The new association created five regional chapters: Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor. Commodity groups included: growers, landscaping, garden centres and maintenance. The sod growers were to come into the fold, but pulled out before Landscape Ontario became a reality.

When Landscape Ontario was formed, the understanding was that the new association had two years to prove it would be a workable solution for the three former associations. Casey van Maris wrote in his President’s Message that he was happy to report that after a two-year trial period all three voted to dissolve the former associations in favour of continuing on with Landscape Ontario.

Members of the first Board of Directors included: Glenn Peister, President; Casey van Maris, 1st Vice President; Bill DeLuca, 2nd Vice President; Marc Thiebaud, Treasurer; Knox Henry, Secretary; and Howard Stennsen, Syd Queripel, William Schreiber and Dave Watkins as Directors.

Neville Richards was appointed executive director and was introduced at the association’s first annual general meeting on Mar. 28, 1973, at the Canadiana Hotel in Toronto. Other staff members introduced at the event included: Betty DeVita, Barbara Ough and Larry Bruce.

men holding a bannerLandscape Ontario property in the late 1990s. The decision to purchase the Milton property — and the later sale of a portion of the land — has been called “the deal of the century.

LO’s home office

During the first 10 years of its existence, LO’s head office moved four times. In 1973, the home office was located in Suites 202 & 204 at 3464 Kingston Road, in Scarborough. In 1974, the LO office was moved to 4569 Sheppard Ave. East in Agincourt.

In 1978, President Gord Shuttleworth announced that a committee had searched and found a new location for the home office. He told members the move would take place on Oct. 16, 1978 from the Agincourt offices to 3034 Palston Road in Mississauga. “The new space is larger and should afford us room for future developments,” Shuttleworth said.

Six years later, in 1984, LO moved to 1293 Matheson Blvd., Mississauga.

The new quarters provided 1,300 sq. ft. of office space and nearly 4,000 sq. ft. for meetings, etc.  

As part of LO’s work to develop a strategic plan in 1993, it was recommended the association begin looking to acquire larger office facilities. With 12 employees, plus the Canadian Nursery Trades Association staff of three, the office area was described as ‘bursting from the seams.’ It was determined that any new offices were required to be within a half-hour drive of Toronto’s International Airport and that 50 acres were necessary to “Better showcase the talents of our industry.”

aerial shot of an propertyLandscape Ontario property in the late 1990s. The decision to purchase the Milton property — and the later sale of a portion of the land — has been called “the deal of the century.
There were also rumours the new Landscape Ontario offices would be located within the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. However, at the AGM during Congress ’94, Casey van Maris, chair of the Real Estate Committee, recommended purchasing the former site of Shemin Nurseries in Milton. After a great deal of discussion, the membership voted to negotiate the purchase in partnership with a related group or company.

On May 17, 1994, Landscape Ontario members voted almost unanimously to purchase the former Shemin Nurseries property in Milton. The committee negotiated with the owners, U.S.-based Weyerhauser Corporation for the sale at $1.23 million. The board in January approved the negotiation with the provision that a partner was to be found. Flowers Canada had expressed interest in a partnership, but pulled out. The May 17 vote was to move ahead with LO as the sole owner.

Landscape Ontario set Sept. 21, 1994 for the official opening date of the Horticultural Trade Centre in Milton. The actual move took place on June 30 of that year. The final mortgage payment was signed by the Board of Directors just 10 years later in June of 2004.
aerial shot of an propertyLandscape Ontario property a few years prior to 2018 renovation.

Deal of the century

The $1.23 million purchase of a 46-acre new home for Landscape Ontario was termed, “The deal of the century.” Over 20 years later, on May 28, 2015, the culmination of that sentiment was realized when Landscape Ontario’s Building Committee announced the sale of 24.16 excess acres of land from the 48-acre property. The offer: $8,740,000. That number later climbed to $9,263,446.80 and was accepted on Mar. 21, 2013. The deal officially closed later in August of that year.

LO President Phil Charal said, “We will have the ability to transform the LO home, so it will reflect the best that the industry members have to offer. We will also have significant funds left over to advance the industry.”

Building Management Committee Chair Karl Stensson, said, “The Building Committee looks forward to getting on with the next phase of this exciting adventure.” According to Karl, the shortcomings at LO’s current home office building were apparent for some time. He said that planners conducted a study on whether it would be more beneficial to renovate the existing building or build a new one. Consensus of the consultants was that renovating would be more affordable and in line with LO’s budget.

Members of the Building Management Committee were: Hank Gelderman, Tom Intven, Paul Olsen, John Putzer, Haig Seferian, Marc Thiebaud, Rene Thiebaud, Bob Tubby, Monica van Maris and Neil Vanderkruk, with staff members: Tony DiGiovanni, Kathleen Pugliese, Joe Sabatino and Robert Ellidge.

In the spring of 2018, Stensson paid a visit to the home office and advised the approximately 24 staff, plus several tenants that they had about 30 days to move out and entirely vacate the premises so that the nearly $5 million renovation could finally begin. Construction began later that summer and staff returned just over a year later in August 2019.

shot of an office buidingLandscape Ontario property just after completion of the renovation in September 2019.
The brand new doors of the Landscape Ontario office and training facility were opened to members, partners, suppliers and industry professionals at an open house on Oct. 23, 2019. The celebration provided many with their first look of the recently completed renovation project.

Tony DiGiovanni, Executive Director at the time, recalled the first meeting 29 years previous to the newly renovated offices, when past presidents of the association were charged with envisioning a future home office. He said it has been amazing to see that collective vision become a reality. “People will come here to aim higher, become better, reflect their profession well and inspire the next generation.”

No doubt, it’s been 50 years of growth and prosperity.