St. Albans Sequoia Needs Divine Intervention

Image shows St. Albans property with the church, behind which lives a Giant sequoia (the tallest tree) currently on death row. Slated to be cut for development, it may be the oldest planted tree in the Oaklands neighbourhood.  View Larger Map of St. Albans, Oaklands, Victoria, BC

Canadians are generally tree-defending people that consider significant trees to be community assets to be shared and enjoyed by all. We don't talk so much about "your" trees or "my" trees as much as "the community's" trees, since we all benefit from their presence. However, not everyone sees it that way.

Where some see history and beauty to be protected, others see distracting impediments to their plans. This often leads to clashes over trees and green space with a preservation-oriented public, and pro-development governments and business people taking sides in adversarial standoffs.

Such is the case in the community of Oaklands, where what may be the oldest planted tree in the neighbourhood is under threat of the chain saw. The sale of St. Albans, a former Anglican church property, is threatening the magnificent, and much loved, Giant sequoia as well as valuable green space with several Garry oaks. It looks like divine intervention might be needed to save the trees.

A concerned tree-loving citizen of the community contacted me via email shortly before a public forum (Thursday, July 19, 2012) took place to discuss the developer's plans, and the community's wishes. The email states:
"I am a resident of the Oaklands community (adjacent to Fernwood).  At the site of the St.Albans property (former Anglican church property, recently sold to a developer) there is a Giant Sequoia that is currently under threat of being taken down to accommodate the developers plans.  There is a public forum on Thursday at our Community Centre to discuss the variance application being put forward and it is believed that it will be argued that the Sequoia must come down (I understand that the developer will be bringing her arborist to the meeting).   
There are many in the community that feel very strongly about that property in general (and in fact an attempt by the community to acquire it was made in the spring) and the Greenways/trees that run along the front of the property in particular.
One of my neighbours believes very strongly that the tree, 'has /had a Heritage Tree Certificate.  But I have not seen it in recent years; it was presumably kept with other parish records which are now either lost or at the diocesan archives.'
I have sent a message to someone to make inquiries with the Anglican Church and I have also had it confirmed by the City Parks dept. that there is no covenant on the tree, but I wonder if there is somewhere else I should be looking to confirm this? Do you have any ideas on how we might argue that the tree must stay?  How do we convince the City that the developers plans must preserve this tree?"
Of course, the best protection for trees is education, but when a tree is about to come down, urgent action is required. Victoria has a tree protection bylaw (see an overview here), so the city is the first place I would start. Other avenues of action could include checking to see:
  • if removal defies your municipality's urban forest (or other) plan.
  • whether removal contravenes your municipality's tree bylaw.
  • checking to see if the permit for removal, if issued, considered all mitigating factors.
  • checking if the tree is a 'heritage tree'.
  • if all alternatives have been considered.
  • if removal makes aboricultural (tree) sense.
  • if anyone has talked directly with the developer/landowner to see if mitigation is possible.
If all negotiations fail, and the municipality will not intervene or rescind the permit to cut the tree, and you feel that there are still alternatives to be considered, further actions could include:
  • contacting the local media about the story, and being available for an on-site interview.
  • contacting a lawyer to ascertain your right to ask for a stop work order until the issue is resolved.
It is surprising that the sequoia is not already protected under Victoria's tree bylaw, since it has both heritage and landmark value. It could be over 100 years old, and may have been planted around the same time as many other sequoias that early settlers from California brought with them in the late 1800s. This one may have originally been planted on a farm as the Oaklands area was farmland from Victoria's inception right up until the 1920s when the last farmer's field was subdivided for residential development.

Also, any tree on private property over 80 cm in trunk diameter is protected by the bylaws. The community has expressed the importance of the trees on the property, both the giant sequoia and the Garry oak, a threatened species in the Coastal Douglas-fir eco-zone.

I see no reason why all these trees can not be incorporated into the new development. Indeed, they would make anything built there even more attractive to potential new neighbours.

Good luck to the community of Oaklands - you have taken on a difficult, but worthy struggle. It would be sad to see these trees taken down. The sequoia could live for 3000 more years!

Contact us at VIBT (see sidebar) if you have any ideas or skills that could be useful toward helping in this opportunity for citizen action, and tree preservation.


  1. Anonymous26/7/12

    My mom was along time parishoner of St.Alban's.
    The church was sold and soil removed from the Memorial Garden and placed at St.Luke's Church.

    It is about the money not memories that trees are removed and people and buildings are displaced.
    Is this how we want to be remembered?

    1. It is sad what is happening at the St. Albans property.

      It would have helped to have more support from the city.

      But it isn't over yet. The property owner may yet have an enlightened moment and understand that keeping the trees (the Sequoia and the Garry oaks) would be a benefit for all.


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