Vancouver Was Awesome: Siwash Rock trees

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A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

On 9 August 1965, an unusual obituary appeared in the Province newspaper. “The famous tree atop Siwash Rock is dead,” it said. Foul play was suspected by the park superintendent. He said that people climbing the famous landmark and “a hatchetman who gave the tree a working over in 1951” should be charged, as they were ultimately the cause of death. Birds and the exceptionally dry summer of ’65 were also blamed as contributing factors in the demise of the ancient Douglas Fir. Surviving family members were listed as “several small seedlings on the rock, which if left in peace, may keep the legend alive.”

Park staff were still trying to grow a replacement tree for Siwash Rock two years later. “We first tried arbutus, but the sea gulls would land on them and break them down,” chief forester Harry Hutchings told the Province. “Then we strung the top of the rock with piano wire, but that didn’t help. Recently we planted eight firs, but youths climbing the rock have killed four of them … I hope to carry some more soil up to the top to give the trees a better chance. A group of citizens has even offered to care for the firs once we get them started.”

Newspapers reporting on the death of the fir tree noted its significance in the Squamish legend of Siwash Rock made famous by E Pauline Johnson. In the legend, three men of the Sagalie Tyee turn the young chief Skaalch into Siwash Rock. The tree was a bough that he was using to clean himself when he was petrified.

After persisting for three years, park staff were able to report that six new fir trees had taken root atop Siwash Rock, and it appears that three of them have survived. A sign has been placed near the rock by the City of Vancouver expressly forbidding anyone from climbing Siwash Rock.

Source: Siwash Rock, 1930s, City of Vancouver Archives #371-2851; Siwash Rock trees, 17 October 2013, taken by me.

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