Canada's Tallest Timber Trestle Re-opens After Restoration Project

The restored Kinsol Trestle is now open for crossings
The Kinsol Trestle is one of the largest timber bridges in the world, and the highest timber trestle remaining in the Commonwealth at 44 metres (144 ft) high and 188  metres (617 ft) long. It was recently re-opened to the public after a year-long restoration project.

Recent History of Kinsol Trestle

Before the decision was made to save this piece of west coast timber history, the wood trestle was slated for demolition. The last train crossed the trestle in 1979, the line was abandoned, and eventually the structure was near collapse. The Kinsol Trestle, the oldest free-standing timber structure in North America, had been left to deteriorate in the wet forested valley of the Koksilah River.

The amount of heavy timbers required to support a fully loaded logging train is huge. It was expected that the proceeds of the good timber left in the structure would be significant. 80% of the 1.2 million board feet of timbers were found to be sound after core samples were taken in 2007.

The deteriorated bridge deck before restoration
Restoration of The Trestle

The giant trees felled for the original structure have long disappeared from the area. Replacements for the large, incredibly strong Douglas-fir timbers came from forests in the Alberni Valley.

The 7.5 million dollar project brought the 101 year old trestle back to its original world-class form. The international restoration firm Macdonald and Lawrence Timber Framing Ltd., the same outfit that restored the heavy timbers of England's Windsor Castle after a fire, did the work on the trestle. They are "a specialist carpentry company offering a range of services to assist private and professional clients build and conserve timber structures."

Beginning of project one year ago
The restoration replaced unsound timbers, reinforced structural piers and built a new 614-foot walkway atop the structure for hikers, runners, cyclists and equestrians. Preserving the historic characteristics of this amazing wood structure was a major goal of the project. The authenticity of the historic trestle is expected to draw more tourists to the site.

Hauling Lumber Over The Trestle
"The Kinsol is special as it features a 7 degree curve over a low level Howe truss. Immense, at 145 ft tall and over 600ft in length it is engineering at its finest.
From 1920 to 1979 it is said that 5 billion board feet of timber was brought to market from Lake Cowichan's vast reserves over the CNR trestle.
Railway lore has steam engineers getting out and walking over the trestle and waiting for the brakeman to set the trains into motion, as the bridge at times would sway under the great loads of steam engines and their cargo of massive timber atop the rail cars.The engineers would then step aboard and slow the train for the brakeman, who would follow across on foot and join up with the crew!" - source
Photo of trestle from 1950 when trains were still running

Early Kinsol Trestle Timeline

1910 -- Mackenzie and Mann, promoters of the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway, contracted to build Vancouver Island line from Sidney through Victoria to Barkley Sound.

1911 -- Sod-turning ceremony staged in February.

1914 -- By this time some 700,000 feet of timber had been cut and stacked on both sides of the Koksilah River at Mile 51.9, site of the Kinsol Trestle (named for a nearby copper mine, the King Solomon).

1918 -- Only four miles of track had been laid from Victoria, and some timber work completed on the trestle, by 1918 when the federal government resumed construction as part of the new Canadian National Railways.

1919 -- Sept. 18, 1919, the Cowichan Leader reported: "At long last a real start has been made on the Koksilah River (crossing)." 55 men (local farmers and loggers) were employed on the project.

1920 -- By April the canyon had been bridged. Built on massive concrete piers, the Kinsol Trestle was 145 feet high and 614 feet long.

1924 -- Track reached Lake Cowichan. Weekly passenger service by gas car and the transporting of lumber products was begun.  - source

Trestle Now Part Of Trans Canada Trail

The old rail line is now part of the 22,000 km Trans Canada Trail. The Kinsol Trestle is the largest of eight original bridges in the section of railroad through the Cowichan Valley. Some have compared it to southern interior BC's Kettle Valley Rail Trail before catastrophic fires destroyed some of its historic wood bridges.

The Kinsol Trestle is evidence of Vancouver Island ingenuity and determination during a time when no project was too large or too difficult. More though, it is evidence of the strength and utility of the strongest wood in the coastal forest - old growth Douglas-fir. Kilo for kilo it is stronger than steel.

This is an old map, but the directions are still accurate - click to enlage

This giant wood trestle is an engineering marvel, and a bit of a conundrum -  a huge bridge built out of massive old growth Douglas-firs so that rail cars could pass over as they hauled more massive trees to market.

The Kinsol Trestle is an interesting part of our history that eventually lead to the liquidation of 90% of south Vancouver Island's old growth forests. This is one world class timber structure not to be missed, and is about all we have to show for our efforts to subdue the deep, dark, primeval forest. Big logs passed this way.


Caring For The Urban Forest

Royal Roads urban forest in Victoria may be N. America's oldest
In recent years we have been increasingly recognizing the importance of trees and forests everywhere, including urban forests. Urban trees provide soul soothing green space amidst the black and greys of the endless pavement and concrete of cities around the world. When we build our cities, whenever possible, we also plant trees - and for very good reasons.

Why Are Urban Forests Valuable?

Trees and forests:
  • Conserve energy by shading buildings and paved surfaces
  • Filter air, and water-borne pollutants
  • Remove atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas
  • Reduce storm water runoff
  • Increase the value of our homes
  • Have important psychological benefits; seeing and being around trees makes us feel better
  • Urban forests can be managed to provide wood and lumber for art, building, and a sustainable energy source
Studies have found that hospital patients with a view of trees recover faster and with fewer complications than patients without such a view. Considering their importance to us, we should all be urban forest rangers and do what we can to maintain the health of our trees.

Caring For Urban Trees

Urban trees are constantly under threat. Changes in soil depth around trees can harm root systems as it drastically reduces the amount of oxygen and water available. Urban development often includes excavating - digging around established trees can damage fragile root systems, and kill trees.

Basic Care

Tree problems also occur because of over and under watering, improper fertilization, and competition between roots. Over watering causes the soil pore (air) spaces to fill with water and restrict available oxygen. Under watering does not provide sufficient water for proper development. Over fertilization can injure or kill the roots, while under fertilization results in a lack of the minerals essential to maintain a healthy tree.

Competition for water and minerals between tree roots, bushes, grass and flowers can
stress trees. Trees will stress if routine soil preparation for flowers damages tree roots.

Top 10 Urban Forests
Other practices that affect tree health are: deicing salts and other chemicals; wounding through digging and trenching; and adding deep mulch over 13 cm ( 5 inches), concrete, pavement, or compacted soil that restricts water percolation, and suffocates roots.

Herbicide Alert - Imprelis Kills Trees

Another potential problem is the improper application of a herbicide, or using the wrong herbicide (or any herbicide). Poison pusher conglomerate Dupont is in the news lately because of its new herbicide Imprelis. This herbicide was developed to target broad leaf weeds in grass, but it seems to be killing much, much more than that.

Imprelis is killing Spruce, Pine, and other urban conifer trees after the correct application of the herbicide on surrounding lawns. Dupont is being sued by a number of landscapers, towns, golf courses and cemeteries that say that label use of their product has inadvertently killed tens of thousands of trees across America.

Imprelis is so persistent that grass clippings are basically toxic waste for several months after application of the herbicide. Dupont recommends that grass clipping not be composted or sent to the landfill during that period.

We can help our urban forests through proper basic care of our trees. Another way we can help is by pushing for a ban on the cosmetic use of harsh landscaping chemicals in our cities. We need to get our lawns and gardens off chemicals so that not only our urban forests can thrive, but so that all life that is found within them can thrive, naturally.


Super-Sized Douglas-fir Snags Important Bird Habitat

One giant, old growth large diameter snag
Up the Sooke River in a not-so-secret location, lies one of the largest Douglas-fir snags I have seen, and is a tree I like to visit from time to time. A snag is a dead, standing tree, and the one above is a prime example of a large diameter, old growth snag.

This centuries old tree probably snapped in a windstorm - what is left could stay standing for another century or more. In that time it will provide habitat for a whole ecosystem of interacting organisms and food webs. Although the tree itself may be dead, the structure itself is rich with life.

Birds in the coastal forest depend on these Douglas-fir snags. Up to 34 different hole-nesting species of birds use Douglas-fir snags for roosting or nesting. Woodpeckers are especially dependent on snags as they use them for roosting, nesting, and for feeding. They eat the insects living in the dead wood.

A study conducted in the 1970s in the coastal Douglas-fir forest found that snags provide crucial habitat for hole-nesting birds:
"On the average, hole-nesting birds used Douglas-fir snags over 60 cm in dbh (diameter at breast height - 1.3 meters/4 ft above the ground) and over 15 m tall for foraging and nesting; these snags usually had broken tops, few or no branches, decayed sapwood and heartwood, and less than 100% bark cover. Snags of this size and type occurred primarily in forests over 110 years of age; consequently, use of snags by hole-nesting birds was concentrated in older forests (>110 years old).
Density and species diversity of hole-nesting birds increased with forest age. Density of hole-nesting birds was positively correlated with mean dbh of snags. Intensive management of Douglas-fir forests does not allow for the production or retention of large snags. A reduction in the number of large snags could reduce populations of hole-nesting birds."

No snags, no hole-nesting birds.


Ancient Forests Worth More Standing

British Columbia's remaining ancient forests felt a cold wind shudder through today as local newspapers announced that China has surpassed the USA as our largest lumber market. Their burgeoning economy and growing middle class are putting prized wood at a premium.

The Times Colonist reported:

"May’s B.C. softwood lumber shipments to China, including Hong Kong, were valued at $122 million compared to $119 million in shipments to the U.S.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell said that while more wood — roughly 1.2 million cubic metres compared to 1.1 million — was sent to the U.S. in May, the Chinese exports were more expensive.

The Chinese are paying for high quality and they’re getting high quality,” Bell said.

Bell said most B.C. lumber sent to the U.S. is used in house construction, but in China it is used for apartment buildings, trusses, commercial buildings and furniture among other things.

From January to May this year, the province exported 2.8 million cubic metres of lumber to the world’s fastest growing economy, more than double the value and volume exported there during the same period last year." - source

Old growth, and those that love it, should be very afraid. It is time for BC to switch to logging second growth while phasing out all harvesting of what is left of our ancient forests.

Ancient forests are worth more standing.


Forest Creatures: Snakes

Of Vancouver Island's four species of snake, one is threatened and very rare

Snakes are a forest creature with an undeserved bad reputation. I thought of this when I came across a snake carcass along the Galloping Goose Trail as it passes through a mix of natural forested areas and urban development near Thetis Lake Park.

At first I thought it may be a snake skin left after a moult, but upon closer inspection, I could see that it was a near complete carcass. I wonder if the snake met its end at the hands of a fearful human unaware of the snake's harmlessness, and its importance in the forest ecosystem.

The hinged jaw can be seen in this detail
Of eighteen reptile species in British Columbia, nine are snakes. There are four kinds of snakes on Vancouver Island, and all of them are harmless.

There are 3 species of garter snakes, the Northwestern, the Western Terrestrial, and the Common garter snake, as well as the threatened Sharp-tailed snake that can be found in this area.

The only things that need to be afraid of these snakes are worms, slugs, baby birds, small rodents, tadpoles or fish - all favourite foods of snakes.

The snakes of Vancouver Island, like all snakes, eat their prey whole. They have a jaw that can dislocate to accommodate large meals, like the largest slugs in the world - Banana slugs. I have witnessed a large garter snake eating a large slug in a slow motion battle of patience vs. slime in the middle of a forest trail.

Snakes are important both as predators and prey, and keeping other species populations in balance. Eliminating snakes could cause unwanted increases in numbers of snakes' favourite prey, such as mice. They are also important because they provide food for other species such as owls, hawks, and mammals. 

Three of the four varieties of snakes in our area give birth to live young, from 2 - 85 baby snakes in a clutch.

The rare Sharp-tailed snake is found only in the southeastern part of Vancouver Island, and the southern Gulf Islands. They lay a clutch of eggs, that the young will hatch out of, in the spring.

Habitat destruction has caused an alarming drop in Sharp-tailed numbers - their undeserved bad rap doesn't help.

If you live in their range and have a hibernaculum, or underground hibernation chamber, on your property, it should be protected. You can also build a hibernaculum to encourage the recovery of this species, or attract the garters.

How To Build A Snake Hibernaculum
  • Dig a hole 2 metres deep and 1.5 metres square in a warm, sunny clearing next to a woodlot. It's important that water does not accumulate at the bottom of the pit. Otherwise, it will likely freeze and kill the animals.
  • Loosely fill the pit with logs and stumps, brush, and boards, mixed with leaves and soil. Or, to accommodate snakes that prefer to hibernate in rock mounds and cavities, fill with large odd-shaped rocks. There should be plenty of cavities left for the snakes to move around.
  • Cover the pit with a one-metre-high mound of brush, leaves, and soil for further insulation and protection from predators: source

Snakes are important parts of the coastal forest ecosystem - enjoy viewing these amazing, colourful creatures, but do so from a distance. Although they are considered harmless, they might give you a pinch if startled or handled roughly.


Urban Exotics: Victoria's Giant Sequoias

Giant sequoia dominate their surroundings at The Rise and Montrose, Victoria

One thing I enjoy about the Victoria region is that in addition to beautiful native tree species, there are also many introduced species that grow well here. Because of this, Victoria has an amazingly diverse urban forest. The urban exotics include two huge sequoia at the residential intersection of Montrose and The Rise (see map below).

Sequoia - big and tall

The trees are very tall and can be seen from a distance on the side of Smith's Hill while approaching from the south on Cook Street.

There are also many nice native species in this well-treed neighbourhood. Garry oak and Douglas-fir grow on the rocky hillside, interspersed with Arbutus.

Just down the street is this classic beauty - huge for its young age

Sequoias have a pyramidal shape, but when older can take on more individual characteristics. The trees have reddish-brown furrowed bark, and drooping branches with feathery needles. Giant sequoia wood is more brittle than that of the Coast redwoods, and therefore not as sought after. Sequoia are among the longest living trees and can thrive for thousands of years.

Massive trunk with branches as big as large trees
These fantastic Giant sequoias are probably no older than about 100 years or so, and already they have reached massive proportions. The trees at Montrose and The Rise are just getting started - they do not yet rival their monumental relatives growing in California. Maybe in 3000 more years.

Without taking a two day trip down south you can still get a hint of the majesty of Giant sequoia right here in Victoria, BC.

Getting There

Zoom in the map below to locate these trees.

View Urban Exotics: Giant sequoia at Montrose and The Rise in a larger map


Big Tree Art: Gothic Revival

Gothic Revival, Evan Wakelin
I enjoy doing big tree research on line because you never know what kind of good stuff you might come across. I am always on the lookout for great big tree art.

While studying the coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) recently, I came across Gothic Revival by Evan Wakelin. It is a surreal image that links together, for me, the importance of trees to the development of civilization and religion.

Old groves of trees are the original cathedrals. Trees were very important to the ancient Celts and Druids. Many of their religious sites were graced with Yew trees, Britain's oldest growing conifer, and one of the longest-living trees on earth. These trees represented birth, death, immortality and the cycles of life to ancient peoples.

Christian churches and cathedrals in places like Britain were often built on the religious hot spots of the Celts and Druids. Today, sacred Yew trees are still associated with these Christianized sites.

Large majestic trees have always stirred something in humans, and still do judging by how many people visit the remaining impressive groves of the world, whether a place like the incredible Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, or smaller local groves of trees in parks everywhere.

It is interesting that the artist chose Douglas-fir and not Yew as the tree to match up with the Gothic cathedral. This might be because the Yew is a fairly short tree, whereas the Douglas-fir is potentially the tallest tree species in the world.

It is not entirely inappropriate since the Douglas-fir, according to many a logger, is the most important commercial tree on the planet. No other tree perhaps, has contributed as much to the development of our modern world.

Because of this we should treat the Douglas-fir - indeed, all trees and sacred groves - as the special entities that they are. These, the tallest of living things, are worthy of our worship and appreciation. We should be saving nature's last sacred cathedrals.


Douglas-fir: Tallest Tree In The World?

Hyperion, Coast Redwood: tallest known living tree, M. Vaden
The heights of the tallest trees in the world, presently and historically, have been hotly contested ever since people started estimating and measuring the tallest living things. In the pursuit of records tree heights have been exaggerated - tall tales, mythical and legendary stories emerge from the great forests. So what are the tallest trees on the planet?

The Current Top Three Tallest Trees On Earth

The following are now accepted as the top three tallest measured species (currently standing specimens):
  1. Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens): 115.56 m (379.1 ft), Redwood National Park, California, United States
  2. Australian Mountain-ash (Eucalyptus regnans): 99.6 m (327 ft), south of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  3. Coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): 99.4 m (326 ft), Brummit Creek, Coos County, Oregon, United States - from Wikipedia

Climbers in the Brummit Fir, world's tallest Douglas-fir, described by some as 335 feet tall, which would make it the second tallest known tree, not the third

How Tall Can Douglas-fir Get?

Although a Coast redwood is presently the tallest tree found to date, there is evidence that the coastal Douglas-fir has the biological capacity to surpass the redwoods in stratospheric height. Once trees reach the limit beyond which water can no longer be pumped to the top, the leader experiences 'drought stress' and dies off.
"In 2008, a study proposed that the maximum height for a Doug­las fir -- one of the world's tallest trees -- is about 453 feet (138 meters)." [source]
A Douglas-fir is the third tallest tree in the world (or second, depending on other accounts), and some believe a Douglas-fir could be, or once was, the tallest. Upper height limit estimates for the species go as high as 476 ft, and before logging began in the 19th and 20th centuries, plus 400 foot trees were probably fairly common.

Historical Accounts Of 400 Foot Douglas-fir

Some accounts of the tallest of the tall may be loggers' tales, but others are documented measurements.

In a post I did here I discussed 400 ft plus Douglas-fir trees. An informed reader posted a couple of comments in response. They contain information regarding the historical heights once attained by the king of the Pacific Coast Forest, the Douglas-fir.

See comments below photo.

Industrial logging has removed most of the tallest Douglas-fir, historical photo, Washington

Reader Comments Regarding Tall Douglas-fir

"A Douglas fir measured 415 feet high, (127 meters) in 1902 at the Alfred John Nye property in Lynn Valley. Diameter was 14 ft 3 inches 5 feet from the ground.

A 352 footer was felled in 1907 in Lynn Valley. Diameter was 10 feet.

In 1897 a 465 foot (142 m) Douglas fir was felled in Whatcom, Washington on the Alfred Loop ranch near MT. Baker. Diameter was 11 feet, and 220 feet to first branch. Board footage was 96,345 feet of top quality lumber.

A 400 footer was felled in 1896 at Kerrisdale, BC, sent to Hastings mill. J. M. Fromme measured the giant at 13 ft 8 in diameter.

Records of even taller fir trees exist, but I am in the process of collecting a complete and up to date list of old champions long forgotten."

And a follow-up comment:

"They measured a Redwood tree near the Oregon border in 2006, it is 115.6 m tall above average ground level, but to the lowest end of the trunk it's about 117.6 m total height.

Michael Taylor, Chris Atkins, and Mario Vaden, are the top guys searching the forests for new tallest tree species. They just located last week a new record Douglas fir west of Roseberg, Oregon it is 98.3 meters tall, live growing top. They're hoping to find a monster fir over 100 meters, and I think they will. Thousands of hectares of Oregon forest is relatively unexplored.

But sadly, over 90% of the really big old growth has been cut down in the North West, so finding a 120 meter fir is unlikely -- Not impossible though.

I posted the list in a wikipedia talk section, titled, "Historically Reported Douglas-Fir Exceeding 300 and 400 Feet." I also made a couple experimental Youtube videos dealing with the super tall reports, the 400 foot and up class." 

Is it possible that the Coast redwood is not the tallest tree species on earth?


Beacon Hill Park Black Cottonwood Grove

Large buttressed trunk of an old Black cottonwood in Beacon Hill Park
There is a Black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera trichocarpa) grove in Beacon Hill Park that drew me in during a walk through the park this spring. The fragrance was strong even hundreds of meters away. Entranced, I followed my nose until I stood at the base of some very impressive, old trees that form a beautiful grove.

Some of the larger trees are buttressed at the base forming a broad trunk of deeply furrowed grey bark.

Furrowed, aged trunk

The grove is filled with long grass with wild flowers scattered through it. This area is wetter than others in the park, as the cottonwoods enjoy soils that are occasionally partially waterlogged.

Not only are these these trees large at the base, but they are very tall as well. The large canopies filter the light that reaches the grassy meadow below.

The grove's large trees are tall as well as fat

Another interesting feature is more difficult to see. Way up high in the canopy of one of these giant deciduous trees is an eagle nest. There is no such thing as a small eagle nest.

Eagle nest in one of the grove's cottonwoods, photo by Friends of Beacon Hill Park
Eagles are large birds, and their nests must be large to raise the young. Nests can often weigh over a ton. Such a home requires a large, sturdy tree. The cottonwoods provide such a scaffold for these majestic birds homes.

Wet, grassy area good for the thirsty cottonwoods

Getting There

Beacon Hill Park is conveniently located south of downtown Victoria. The Black cottonwood grove is south of Goodacre Lake along Douglas Street.

View Beacon Hill Park Black Cottonwood Grove in a larger map