This is a story about starting. Starting fresh, sampling unknown waters, then jumping in.
Henry Stevens started the business of Stevens Large Tree Sales 32 years ago. Henry hopes the Greenbelt remains preserved, as he has done his part over the years to advance urban forestry – and planting mature trees at many estates and golf courses in Whitchurch-Stouffville.
Henry was a Control Technician at the Pickering Nuclear Plant for 19 years, but something was nagging at him. “I belonged in business,” Henry recounts, “I enjoyed pondering the business part of things, being my own boss and working directly with customers.” He bought 10 acres on Bethesda Sideroad in 1976. These lands were a distance from Stouffville back then and later were to become part of the Oak Ridges Moraine Countryside as the Province started to protect green space.
In 1980, Henry decided to plant out trees with a vision of harvesting them in another 10 years. He had a long vision for a business. “Hydro was a good job, which allowed me a chance to start a business,” said Henry. In 1989, the first crop of trees was ready for harvest. Henry, with a beat-up tractor and a used tree spade, left Hydro permanently for a life of large tree sales.
“I had a young family when I transitioned,” said Henry, “but luckily my wife Jacquie also had a good job hydro too and was very supportive.”
One of their daughters, Stacey, recalls growing up to the sound of the tree spade working in the field and coming and going. “I knew that sound from a distance,” said Stacey. She added that her dad would spend most evenings returning calls and setting up appointments. “I think I was the only kid around that worried about the weather – it is a part of the package,” said Stacey.
From time to time, Stacey’s children help Henry line-out new batches of trees and will occasionally ride along in the tree spade. After three decades in his second career, Henry is voluntarily starting to retire. “He doesn’t like that word,” said Stacey.
Brothers-in-law, Jordan Barkey and Jonathan Willie, were pitched an idea by Terry Reesor (Jordan’s uncle) to speak to Henry Stevens about taking over the tree spade business. It was a big idea – at 27 and 29 years old respectively, they’d be looking at a large investment in equipment. But the prospect seemed to fit both of their backgrounds.
Jordan had been educated in Urban Forestry at Fleming College and naturally gravitated towards trees. Jon, on the
other hand, had just earned a Mechanical Engineering Degree from the University of Saskatchewan. Although Jon was raised in Rosthern, SK, he married a Stouffville local – a Reesor descendent, which happened to be Jordan’s sister.
“I worked on a farm and hauled grain since grade 10,” said Jon, “It didn’t take me too long to get tired of working indoors as an Engineer.” When he heard about Jordan’s opportunity, the family decided to come back to Ontario. They made a proposal to Henry: to purchase his small and medium-sized tree spades, a dump truck, and request that he teach them the business.
Henry accepted the proposal – and J&J Tree Service was born. “Jordan and Jon are friendly and ambitious. They readily take in anything I have to offer,” said Henry. “I’m appreciative of Henry,” said Jordan, “He has lots of knowledge for us to absorb.”
Since, Jon and Jordan have purchased a large tree space (a 90”) from Henry’s brother in Ottawa, who is also in the business. “This tree spade has planted trees on Capital Hill in Ottawa,” said Jordan, “that’s kind of special. Now it has our brand on it.”
The two young men of J&J hope to find time next winter to enroll in Humber College’s Urban Arboriculture Tree Care program as a step in becoming certified arborists. This June 2021 marks J&J’s first anniversary. It was a strange year to start a business with the pandemic, but they did well and remain very positive.