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."
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.