Entering Royal Roads Forest From Wishart Road

Earlier this week my tree hunting partner and I nipped into the Royal Roads old growth forest to check out access gates, trails, and big trees. In spite of driving by this treasury of trees often over the years, we have not thoroughly explored it. But its dark confines and big trees beckoned.

Recent History

The Government of Canada bought the 565 acre Hatley Park (as the area is also known) from the Dunsmuir family in 1940 for $75,000 dollars. It has gone through a variety of uses and is currently being leased by Royal Roads University. The land was designated a National Historic Site in 1995, and is the only area with such a designation in Canada to contain an original old growth forest.

Royal Roads (and adjoining Department of National Defense lands) represent a nice chunk of the last stands of the ancient coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem. Such a forest contains Western hemlock and Western red-cedar, in addition to fir. This forest also contains Garry oak, Bigleaf maple, and the easternmost stand of Stika spruce on Vancouver Island.

The B.C. government has listed the coastal Douglas-fir eco-zone as rare and endangered, and after discovering in my research that the 2nd and 3rd largest Douglas-fir trees in the Capital Region District (the largest is in Francis/King Regional Park) are in the Royal Roads forest, I have vowed to give this area more attention, and find those trees.

Into The Forest

After driving along Wishart Road in Colwood we found several entrances to the forest. We chose one at random (across the street from 3122 Wishart Road) and entered the park.

It was a major transition, stepping from the city landscape on one side of the street, and into a towering old growth forest on the other. The city side probably came into existence in the 1970's, judging by the homes. The wild side has been here since the last glaciers retreated 13,000 years ago. Some of the veteran trees have been around for many centuries.

Immediately the city disappeared and we could have been anywhere in the wild lands of Vancouver Island's coastal Douglas-fir forest. Fat trunks of trees tower overhead. The light was a distinctly different quality, filtered through the green canopies of the trees.

Only in a few places did the shafts of sunlight penetrate all the way to the forest floor. It was cooler and we zipped up our light jackets. The smell in the forest was divine. Intoxicating odours revealed growth and decay mixed with the smells of an ocean breeze. Ravens clucked at us from the branches high above.

From this access point trails extend in either direction along the outer perimeter of the forest. We took a wider path straight ahead which took us, after about 10 minutes, to a gravel pit in the middle of the trees. Following the path past the pit took us to another access point on Metchosin Road. We doubled back on the same trail to complete our short hike.

Notable Trees

Along this short route there are many fine Western red-cedar of fairly large proportions. Just inside the gate and to the right a few steps along the path is an impressively large Douglas-fir. Further down the wide path, and off to the left, is another weathered old fir. It shows the scars of a tree that has withstood the centuries of winter storms and summer drought. There is also evidence of logging here, but of a very limited nature.

All along the trail there are smaller side trails, so one could use this entrance to really explore the area. We did not find the biggest Douglas-fir that we were looking for, but we will be back. It is exciting that there is so much more left to explore and discover for the first time.

Getting There

Royal Roads lands are accessed via a variety of gates and service roads. The main entrance is off Sooke Road. Watch for other small gateways along the fence around the perimeter of the park. Drive along Wishart Road to locate many different ways of getting into the forest. We chose the gate across from 3122 Wishart Road. Note: parking is limited along Wishart. The area is well serviced by public transportation, and the Galloping Goose Trail runs by across Sooke Road.

View Royal Roads Forest (from Wishart Road) in a larger map


Langford's Humpback Road Heritage Trees Outgrowing Their Home: culling will take place

Not many urban streets sport the number and concentration of huge magnificent trees as Humpback Road in Langford. Here you can drive down the street and feel like you are at the bottom of a canyon of green, or passing through a row of giant columns leading to a monumental building. As far as urban big trees go, these are some of my favourites.

This group of trees has a long history that began in 1886 when John Phair, the owner of the Goldstream Hotel from 1886 to 1909, planted them for the enjoyment of future guests.

In the early 1900s the big trees of the Goldstream Park area were a favourite weekend stomping ground for the upper crust of Victoria. The elite from the city would retreat to the forest after journeying by train on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo railway to Goldstream station. After getting off the train people would either stroll along a boardwalk, or take a horse and buggy through the rows of trees to the hotel.

These trees are designated a Heritage Group, and are therefore provided protection due to their size, age, and social history. Initially there were 89 trees in the group, but over the years many of the trees have had to be culled for a variety of reasons.

It is sad that this is so, but it is a fact that enormous trees and urban areas can be a dangerous mix. In April of this year a resident that lives under some of these giants wrote to Langford city council asking that something be done about the rows of huge, hulking heritage trees. Their letter states in part:
"Last Friday, April 2nd, we had a terrific windstorm; with wind-gusts approaching 110 kmh. The result of that was a rather frightening experience for ALL the residents that live in the part of Humpback with the old but gigantic trees lining this portion of the road. Once again, for the umpteenth time, a powerful hail of pine branches and cones came battering at the homes next to the trees. THIS time however, it was a windstorm of unusual power."

The letter goes on to ask that the trees be limbed and topped, but it seems that the preferred solution is to remove all the trees as soon as possible. I know from personal experience that riding out a shrieking west coast gale under giant trees can be a scary proposition. Never mind the unbelievable noise, huge branches and dead wood can fall, and whole trees toppling over is quite common.

On July 26, 2010 a Staff Report to the Parks, Recreation, Culture and Beautification Committee was issued. It gave some background information about these trees, and made several recommendations for dealing with them. The following information is quoted from the report.


"For many years the City of Langford has worked to retain the heritage trees along the public Road ROW on Humpback Road. In 1995 under a provision of the Local Government Act these trees were designated as "Significant Trees" by City Council. All proposed work to these trees must be authorized by City Council.

Over the years many of the trees have been removed due to decline or for public safety. Since 1995, 19 trees have been removed, the last two removals taking place in 2006. Fifty six designated significant trees now remain.

In April of this year a resident, who lives adjacent to the trees, wrote to Mayor Young expressing concerns about the trees. In response the Parks Department engaged a consulting arborist to carry out the yearly assessment of the trees.

Again this year consulting arborist Tom Talbot of Talbot MacKenzie and Associates carried out the assessments. Some additional Resistograph testing was done to assess some trees for potential areas of internal decay."


"This year's Arborist Report dated June 17th, 2010 recommends the immediate removal of two trees (#24 due to decay and #26 an adjacent tree due to exposure by the removal of #24), and removal or monitoring of two additional trees that have existing cracks in the trunks or stems (#41 and #53). Unfortunately six other trees have been identified for removal within the next 5 to 6 years (#3, #4, #5, #18, #19 and #79).

Many of the trees are also recommended for remedial work, removal of hangers, deadwood removal, weight reduction and beneficial pruning."

It should be noted that Langford has legal responsibilities which must be addressed. The city has a duty of care to maintain the trees in such a manner that the public is not harmed by a tree or limb failure. Therefore, the following options were listed in the report."


"That Council direct Staff to engage a qualified tree service to carry out the work as detailed in the Arborist Report Dated June 21st, 2010.

a) Removal of trees #24 and #26.
b) Further that if funding allows trees #41 and #53 (plus # 40) be removed, due to their structural condition and location adjacent to the playground, hydro lines, homes and roadway.
c) All recommended hazard and beneficial pruning work detailed in the Arborist Report.
d) Trees # 3, #4, #5, #18, #19 and #79 identified for removal in the next 5-6 years and all other remaining significant trees are monitored annually for changes in health and structure."

The Goldstream Hotel with the heritage trees towering overhead

It is tough being an urban big tree, and eventually all the giant Douglas-firs along Humpback Road will be gone. In the wild these trees can grow to be older than 1000 years, giving the 124 year old Humpback trees about another 900 years to thrive.

In captivity, though, such trees will outgrow their location rather quickly - say in 1 or 2 hundred years, perhaps much sooner. It is good to see that Langford city council both acknowledges the importance of these beautiful trees, and is committed to doing what it takes to keep them for as long as possible, while doing what it can to protect the people that live and drive along the roadway.

If you are in the area, take a drive through the Humpback Road tree canyon and be amazed at the thick trunks and massive canopies of this group of much loved trees. Enjoy them while they last.


Google Mapping Heritage Trees: Victoria's Albert Ave. Giant Sequoia

The Albert Ave. sequoia is towering over the neighbourhood on the right. Note the sizable native Garry oak on the left side of the street.

Recently I attended a doctor appointment at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, and ended up discovering another of Victoria's amazing Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Actually my tree hunting partner, Linda, was the one to spot it in our on-going game of 'find the big trees' that we play wherever we go on Vancouver Island.

Now, I have discovered another way of visiting the big trees - at least those that can be seen from roadways. I have been exploring using Google Street View on Google maps to see if I can do some virtual big tree hunting in the greater Victoria district. I started with the Albert Avenue Giant sequoia, and was pleased with the results. See the map below for details.

The ten story tall sequoia grows magnificently beside a large older home half a block east from the hospital. It is on a nice urban street unusual enough to be interesting. This narrow dead end lane is only accessible from Shelbourne Street, and contains not only the sequoia, but also a big native Garry oak.

This heritage tree most likely came to Victoria as a sapling from California around 1900, making it about 110 years old. In that time it has attained great height, and girth. The canopy of feathery needles is supported by graceful reddish-barked limbs as big as tree trunks themselves.

Imagine this tree in 2000 years, three times the height and as wide as the house next to it.

The three tallest Sequoia sempervirens in the world are:

Hyperion Redwood National Park, California 115.55 m (379 ft)
Helios Redwood National Park, California 114.34 m (375 ft)
Icarus Redwood National Park, California 113.11 m (371 ft)

Getting There

The map below shows the location of the Giant sequoia in this post. The area is serviced by public transportation, and is a nice place for a bike ride.

Or you could do a virtual visit to this location by clicking on the link below the map which will open a new, larger map. Then click and drag the tiny person icon on the left down onto Albert Avenue. A window will open that will allow you to manipulate the location and picture in Street View. Good luck on your virtual tree hunting.

View Victoria's Giant sequoia: Albert Avenue in a larger map

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