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For many children, their first encounter with all the questions that swirl around death comes when a beloved pet dies – a goldfish, a hamster, a dog, a cat. For me, it was a tree: the proud blue spruce that grew right in front of the picture-window of our home on Winston Crescent. They came and cut it down one day while I was at school. I don’t think my poor mother was prepared for the outpouring of a 6-year old’s grief over a dead tree. But it was, you see, the first living thing I had known to die.   

We don’t much think of trees as having a life span – generally, they are here when we arrive, and they are still here when we leave.  But die they do.  

And unfortunately, we at the Cathedral must soon bid farewell to three trees which were probably here when this cathedral was dedicated 90 years ago. They are the Garry oak at the corner of Burdett and Quadra, and two big leaf maples, one of which is along Burdett and the other on Quadra.

Several months ago, we had all the trees on the south lawn assessed by an arborist, in advance of any plans we might make for refurbishing that space. You may have noticed the small numbered tags that appeared last spring on each of the trees. Initially, we had hoped to save the Garry oak. However, in a recent windstorm, a huge branch came down: given the constant use of the space by visitors and small children, we were very lucky that no one was injured.   

The trees are to be removed the third week of November. We will, at the same time, remove the hydro pole which is currently serving as a flag pole. What we decide to do about a flag on the precinct is an open question. We do know that the hydro pole is positioned smack-dab in the middle of what we hope will be an entrance plaza to a re-positioned walkway from Quadra Street to the Burdett doors of the cathedral, and signified by indigenous house posts.  

As those who were present at our annual meeting will know, the cathedral is working closely with the Esquimalt and Songhees nations on a reconciliation project related to the refreshing of the south lawn, and the sharing of our cultural traditions through an intercultural day camp. As such, we want to respect indigenous practices in our use and treatment of the south lawn. One way we can do this is to honour the ancient indigenous practice of returning the dying trees to their ancestral communities. Having lived their natural life, they will return “home,” where they will be used, amongst other things, to provide warmth and light. We have much to learn about not wasting the gifts of nature.  

Finally, it is important to note that our own municipal regulations require us to replace old growth trees when they are taken down. In our case, we will be required to plant 6 new trees, and we have placed money on deposit with the City, which will be returned to us when the work is complete.  

The Cathedral is fortunate that Christ Church Cathedral Buildings, Ltd has agreed to cover the costs associated with all aspects of this project.  – MAT