Famous Trees of the Lower Mainland

Posted by Daniel on Aug 15, 2009 - 42 comments

Historian Chuck Davis writes:

If I had the time I’d like to compile a small booklet on celebrated local trees. The late Dr. Gerald Straley of UBC wrote Trees of Vancouver, the standard reference for the kind of trees here; what I have in mind is trees that are interesting for historical reasons. Trees, for example, planted by distinguished visitors, or the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park, or the “Hudson’s Bay Tree” used by factor James MacMillan to mark the location of the proposed Fort Langley, or the famous maple tree that once stood where Gassy Jack’s statue is located in Gastown today, but was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886.

One tree that would get special attention is Charlie Perkins’ tree next to the Trans-Canada Highway in Surrey. You’ve likely driven by that Douglas Fir, originally 210 feet high, many times, and may know some of its story.

Many decades ago Charlie and four of his chums used to splash and play in a small swimming hole near that tree. All five went into battle when the First World War began. Only Charlie, a flight instructor with the Royal Flying Corps, returned. As a remembrance of his friends he planted ivy around the base of the tree and dedicated it to the memory of his friends.

Then, in 1960, Highway 1 began to be built through Surrey. Its proposed route would put it right through the little glade Charlie had cleared. The memorial tree would have to go. Charlie, now a senior citizen, protested, and friends and neighbors joined him in that protest. They were heard by Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi, and the highway engineers curved the road to go around the tree. This is perhaps the only instance in Canadian history where a major highway was diverted to avoid harming a tree. You can see the bend in the road to the right of the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada between the 176th Street and 200th Street exits.

Charlie’s Tree is still there, although some years ago fires set by vandals led to its being topped. But every year on November 11 a wreath is placed at the lofty stump by the Whalley Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, and other passers-by leave poppies and bouquets of flowers.