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Empowering arborists in Ontario

Author:  Rebecca Lord
Last Updated:  13/08/2021

Rebecca Lord

ISA – Ontario

The Canadian Chapter of the National Shade Tree Council was first established in 1950, providing a solid foundation for what would later become, the International Society of Arboriculture, Ontario (ISAO).

Today, ISA Ontario is a non-profit organisation governed by an 11-person volunteer board, a full-time executive director, administrator, marketing manager, and a part-time bookkeeper. In the last eight years, we have experienced revitalisation with our membership growing 72% to 1124 members. This growth was due to several key factors.

Full-time executive director

The coordination and professional work undertaken by a full-time executive director is not possible through a volunteer, part-time team. I oversee much of what happens in ISAO, and this allows for continuity within the organisation. I am able to build and maintain relationships and introduce new Board members to key sector individuals.

Building bridges

The fact that I have been the face of ISA Ontario since 2014 has allowed us to reach out to other industry partners and begin building bridges. The urban forestry/arboriculture landscape in Ontario is fractured; everyone operates in silos. We are a relatively small industry and can benefit from working with other groups. We continue to strengthen ISAO by utilising a multidisciplinary approach to forge alliances, facilitating a culture of cooperation and establishing bi-and multilateral relationships.


Since the 1990s, strong female members of ISA Ontario have supported women in arboriculture. This began with Wenda Li, our International Tree Climbing Champion back in 2002. At a time when men dominated the field, Wenda was the only woman out there paving the way, showing other women how it could and should be done. She climbed when there was ONLY a men’s competition. She pushed for a women’s competition WORLDWIDE. In 2018 we were proud to crown another ITCC Women’s Champion in Krista Strating. These women are both strong ambassadors for ISA Ontario and we are lucky to have them!

In 2015, the strength of female arborists’ voices led to the establishment of Women in Arboriculture Ontario (WAO), a formal committee of ISAO of which we are immensely proud. WAO operates through various annual educational and promotional events. Working in partnership with existing community initiatives, its strength lies in developing biand multi-lateral relationships.

Before Covid, we worked closely with community partners and neighbouring Chapters to help bring our Fun Climb for All Ages to community events, organised by the WAO volunteers. Normally, I spend time travelling to career fairs espousing the virtues of careers in arboriculture, particularly to women. One of the largest career fairs I attend is for Women in Trades and we have about 1000 girls, aged 14–18, visiting our table over two days to learn out about Women in Arboriculture!

In the past couple of years, the WAO Committee launched the Purple Laces Campaign to promote women choosing arboriculture as a career. Initially, this was meant to be an Ontario-only campaign, but as news of it spread on social media, we had international orders. You can now find our purple laces worldwide promoting women in arboriculture!

Women in Arboriculture

If you are looking to support Women in Arboriculture, you can purchase your purple laces here: email wao@isaontario.com or website www.isaontario.com/women-in-arboriculture-ontario.


As we are fundamentally a credentialing organisation, meeting the needs of our member arborists is of paramount importance, and to that end, ISA Ontario set up a Safety Committee to ‘provide our members with support and resources to help build effective and compliant safety programs and keep our members up-to-date with the most recent safety regulations’. In September 2016, we established an agreement with a provincial training organisation (IHSA) to offer ISA Ontario members greatly reduced rates for safety training. This partnership has helped to meet Safety Committee’s mandate, and we hope that together, ISAO and our partners can work toward workplaces with fewer injuries, illnesses and fatalities. After five years, this collaboration is going strong and during Covid we added a free one-on-one virtual safety consultation with IHSA trainers, to ensure that all our members comply with Ontario safety legislation.

Education – knowledge is power!

Providing ISAO members with educational opportunities is a priority. Our annual educational conference and trade show showcases innovative expertise, ideas, new products and a high level of intense education, while also providing valuable networking opportunities. Prior to Covid, we had 650 arborists, foresters, urban foresters, consultants, researchers, educators and students attend. This, in conjunction with a full programme of workshops and qualification/certification courses throughout the year, helps to keep our members knowledgeable. Of course, during Covid, our conference went online and we were lucky to have it very well attended. In February 2022 we will organise a hybrid conference event, both in-person and virtual.

To this end, working with our neighbouring Chapters is important to us. Meeting training demands is challenging given the vast geography of Ontario. Working with our neighbours is smart, important, and efficient. Perhaps the silver lining in the Covid pandemic cloud was our need to expand our online learning platform. Even when Covid diminishes, we hope to continue offering online training to meet the needs of arborists in remote areas and for those tied to their desks!

In 2018, we began offering the SkillsAdvance Ontario (SAO) Arborist Ground Worker Training Program. This is a partnership project between The Career Foundation, ISAO and the Ontario Commercial Arborists Association that offers a basic introduction to arboriculture. It is designed to provide job seekers with practical hands-on industry training that will enhance productivity, safety, and efficiency, while focusing on the development of essential skills in new workers, and also enhancing communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills in a practical learning environment that mimics the workplace setting.

For the future, we look to strengthening our growth, while continuing to enhance membership benefits. Our five-year strategic plan builds on the above strengths with an emphasis on education and research – both for the public and for members, while working to strengthen the Ontario arboriculture industry through enhanced regulation.

Rebecca Lord

Rebecca Lord is the Executive Director of ISA Ontario. She has a history of working in the non-profit sector and has been with ISAO for eight years.

This article was taken from Issue 194 Autumn 2021 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.