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Vancouver residents pay tribute to 1,000-year-old tree before it is toppled

VANCOUVER - The decision to cut down Vancouver's oldest and most photographed tree has people in mourning.


VANCOUVER - The decision to cut down Vancouver's oldest and most photographed tree has people in mourning.

Vancouver's Park Board commissioners voted unanimously this week to cut down the city's most beloved hollow tree and put up a memorial in its place. The giant red cedar has stood for more than 1,000 years in Vancouver's Stanley Park, but following a series of severe storms in 2006 that devastated much of the park, the park board says it's time for the tree to come down.

Although the tree isn't scheduled to be cut down until May, some Vancouver tree-lovers have already made their way down to the site to say goodbye.

At one point, former NHLer Gino Odjick pulled up in a car with friends who got out to have their picture taken in front of the tree. Odjick didn't get out of the car.

Lynda Henderson, a local Vancouver artist, said there should be something that can be done to secure the bowing trunk so people can continue to enjoy the tree.

"The hollow tree just brings back so many memories of my kids," she said. "Surely there's a way to preserve it."

The tree has been a tourist attraction for more than 100 years and one Vancouver archive picture shows a group of people in a horse-drawn carriage backed into the cedar's giant hollow trunk.

Many others share Henderson's sentiments.

Later this month, Grade 4 and 5 students from Vancouver's West End Elementary will visit Stanley Park to serenade the doomed tree with children's author Duane Lawrence.

Lawrence said he thought it would be a good idea to pay tribute to the famous landmark by accompanying the kids to the serenade.

To put it's 1,000 year history into perspective, it was standing 400 years before explorer Christopher Columbus was born and 200 years before the Magna Carta was written.

This isn't the first time the existence of the tree has been threatened.

Back in 1910, the tree was saved from certain death by a professional photographer who made his living snapping shots of the hollow giant and raised a ruckus when road-widening threatened to take down the tree.

Joan Seidl, curator of history for the Vancouver Museum, said at that time, it was not uncommon to see horse-drawn carriages and cars backed into the cavern of the tree to show it's enormity.

"Now, you couldn't even fit a Mini Copper inside the thing."

Seidl said throughout history people have tried to temp fate by filling dying trees with cement so that they fall down.

"That's just so unnatural and ridiculous," she said. "It's a tree, it's not there for our entertainment."

In the 1940s, a group of trees known as the Seven Sisters were eventually cut down following several attempts to keep them standing for tourists in Stanley Park.

There were those who wanted the old tree saved for the sake of history but commissioner Loretta Woodcock said the board had to weigh the tree's iconic appeal against safety concerns.

"I think it would be an awful thing if the people of Vancouver woke up to hear that this tree ended its existence by falling on somebody and hurting them," she said.

Vancouver's Parks Board commissioners rejected an option for a $200,000 wire-sling system to prop up the adored tree.

"The question is really, is this a natural tree or is this a monument? And do we want to make it an artificial monument or do we want to have a natural monument?" Woodcock said.

City staff also cautioned there was no guarantee that bracing the tree would ensure it would remain standing or be able to weather another severe storm such as the series of storms that weakened the remaining root system in the past two years.

But critic Mary Jewell argued the cost of a bracing system should not have been a factor in the decision to save the hollow tree because the park board has millions of dollars in donated money to be used specifically to restore the area.

"Approximately $200,000 - and apparently that is exorbitant anyway - is needed to fix the tree," Jewell said.

"Why is that not doable when they have received $9 million from the public already and I think donations are continuing?

"This is my heritage and it is being destroyed and I am very upset."

The board hopes to slice the trunk down its length and use the two halves as walls, allowing visitors to walk between the planks to appreciate the tree's size and age.

The memorial would be built close to the original location on the west side of Stanley Park and there are also plans to plant a seedling in the remains of the stump.

"We are dealing with a tree that is dead and, unfortunately, its time has come," Vancouver Park Board commissioner Ian Robertson said in the Monday night meeting.

 
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