"Victoria's Own Oak Tree": A Brief Cultural History of Victoria's Garry Oaks After 1843

Matt Cavers

Abstract


Garry oaks are an iconic part of the landscape in Victoria, British Columbia. The native oaks are prominent for other reasons, too – in the last two decades they have been the subject of environmental campaigns aimed at winning some protection for the trees and for remaining patches of the landscape the trees inhabited before Victoria was colonized in the mid-nineteenth century. Their identity nowadays is that of the arboreal environmental poster child, but in this article I am interested in unearthing some more of the trees’ cultural history. As a preliminary survey of the topic, I examine textual sources dating back to the beginning of colonial settlement in Victoria and find three major themes in Victoria Garry oak lore: the trees are reminiscent of English landscape and British identity, they are beautiful street trees, though often tragic ones, and they are native trees and therefore worthy of protection. If there is a central thread running through the oaks’ modern cultural history it is anxiety over the trees’ future. I conclude by suggesting that the disappearing, enigmatic Garry oaks are, to people in Victoria, a symbol of a landscape not yet fully understood.

Keywords


Garry Oaks, Victoria, conservation, botany

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ISSN 0005-2949

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