The community has placed a string of hearts around a cedar tree in North Vancouver to pay homage to the giant before it is lost forever, also organizing protests and petitions in the hope they might save it.
The tree, on the corner of 21st Street and Eastern Avenue in Central Lonsdale, is destined to be cut down this week to make way for the redevelopment of the Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands.
A couple of community petitions sprung up in a last-minute bid to save the tree, which community members estimate to be more than 200 years old, based on its circumference. The City of North Vancouver could not confirm how old the tree was.
The city announced in December 2020 they had signed a 99-year lease and issued development permits for Darwin Properties and Sunrise Senior Living to begin work on the first residential building and assisted living facility in the multi-phase project at the site.
Hundreds of residents sign petition to save cedar tree
Close to 3,000 people have now signed one petition, and over 400 have signed the other in the hope that the developer and the city will reconsider their proposed development plan and “stop the destruction” of the healthy tree. Around 40 people gathered at the site to protest the tree’s removal on March 15 and 16 with high hopes of saving the tree.
Andrew McMillan, Darwin Properties development manager, said he understood the community's concerns, but the tree in question was already investigated thoroughly during the city’s development application review process.
“After working with the City of North Vancouver’s planning department and arborists to explore options, it was clear a number of factors would not allow for its preservation, most significantly its location, which is in conflict with new pedestrian access, below-grade structure, building envelope and incoming services off Eastern Avenue," he said.
Shari Nelson, who has lived across the road from the tree for more than two decades, said she and other nearby residents were all “pretty devastated” the tree was slated to be felled.
“We have a lot of great trees, but this one and its twin cedar next to it are really irreplaceable, and not just visually, but because of what they do underground for the environment, “she said, adding it would be a pity to be irresponsible caretakers of the urban environment and see the tree chopped down.
The cedar tree is not on the historical register, but it has become an important piece of the community over the years.
“It's part of our home,” Nelson said. “It’s part of the makeup of our home, which is changing because they're putting the two buildings there. It's been part of my every day for 26 years, providing shade and the lovely swing of the branches and a home for the birds.”
Darwin commits to plant a new tree in recognition of old cedar
While this giant will not be saved, Darwin has preserved another cedar nearby and made a commitment to plant another conifer in recognition of the old tree, on top of plans to plant four trees for every tree removed.
“We were able to adjust the design to preserve another large cedar tree to the north and in recognition of the tree we weren't able to save, we are planting another conifer – a Douglas fir – just half a block up," McMillan said.
"As well, we will be retaining all of the old-growth heritage trees within Rodger Burnes Park to the west and the old-growth trees within the new, one-hectare park space we will be creating along Lonsdale Avenue between 21st and 23rd streets."
Nelson said she understood more trees would be planted for every tree taken out on the site, but the new trees would not have a similar impact as the cedar tree for decades.
“They can't catch up,” she said, mentioning that the community felt let down by the decision.
“There's a feeling of helplessness and not being able to trust the powers that be to make sound decisions for the good of the environment.”
Fellow North Vancouver resident Kathryn Swift said the tree had offered much solace to her and others during the pandemic.
“When I walk … I deliberately take the streets that will take me by this majestic cedar,” she said.
“I stop and put my back to her, feel her age and wisdom, my feet aside her roots, connecting to nature, I feel alive again. If this goes through, that pleasure that is aiding in my and others mental health, not to mention the environment, will be taken away from us.”
Darwin will build two six-storey mid-rises where the decommissioned North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club now sits. The lease will put $50 million in the bank for the eventual rebuild of the $180-million Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre.
Stephanie Smiley, acting manager of communications with the city, said staff understood the community was upset about the decision, echoing Darwin's comments that during the review process for the first building, all opportunities for retaining the tree were thoroughly investigated.
“We appreciate the concerns the community is sharing with us about the removal of this tree," she said.
"The Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands development carefully considered many options for the siting of new buildings and selected the option that was least disruptive to the existing mature trees on the site. The Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Guidelines require a ratio of three replacement trees for anyone large tree that is removed. In this case, the development will provide a higher ratio of replacement trees, planting four trees for every tree."
Darwin did not yet have the exact date the tree would be felled but expected it would start mid-week.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.