Hundreds sign petition to save tree near Inner Harbour

Update: A stump is all that’s left of a large tree near Victoria’s harbourfront. The tree was removed Monday despite pleas to save it.

The tree was cut down to accommodate the creation of a two-way protected bike lane and a “scramble” crosswalk.

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The taped-off triangular greenspace at the intersection of Government and Wharf streets — where the tree seemed to erupt from its concrete surroundings — was covered in wood chips on Monday.

“I'm speechless and heartbroken,” said Katie Benardo, who led the charge to save it. “It was unnecessary to remove it.”

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Hundreds of people have signed a petition in an attempt to save the large white aspen tree near the Inner Harbour, which is set to come down to make way for bike lanes.

The City of Victoria says the tree will be removed to accommodate a two-way protected bike lane on Wharf Street and to install a scramble-style crosswalk in front of the Visitor Information Centre. The plan to remove the tree has drawn a backlash.

“They can re-plan their design to go around this living part of Victoria B.C. and show the world that we care about our precious living species that we share our space with,” reads the petition created on change.org which had been signed by more than 600 people as of Sunday.

“This tree has been here for decades and I have yet to see any functional reason for its removal besides the city have an idea for that intersection that doesn’t include it.”

Katie Bernardo, the 37-year-old Vic West resident who created the petition, said she believes the city can build bike lanes while keeping the tree.

“I didn’t see the point of cutting it down because we’ve been manoeuvring around it for decades,” she said. “It’s kind of unique and it’s part of the Victoria Harbour. When you look back at the pictures of our city, it's there.”

Since creating the petition, Bernardo has heard of people’s emotional attachment to the tree. One person met a close friend under the tree. Another woman with mobility issues chooses to stop on the median for a rest.

“It’s like a space of refuge in the hustle and bustle of in the Inner Harbour,” Bernardo said, adding that she hopes the petition will push the city to change its plan.

A group called Trees Matter Network has included a sample letter which people can send to City of Victoria mayor and councillors.

The letter says that amid a climate crisis, “there must be an alternative to removing a mature, healthy tree.”

The grass around the tree is dotted with signs that say: “Humboldt tree, we love you” and “Helps! Save Me!”, a plea to Mayor Lisa Helps. A string wrapped around the tree holds a little bag with coloured markers and white pieces of paper, on which people have written wishes to the tree.

The tree even has its own Facebook page, where it’s been christened the Harbour Guardian Tree.

Fans of the tree shared photos from years past, including a photo of the tree festooned with Christmas lights.

So far, the city has not yet backed down from its plan to chop down the tree.

On her website, Helps admits that she, too, is fond of the tree.

“I love that tree!” She recalled that in 2016, the city, the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Viatec and Limbic Media, “adorned the tree with lights that moved to the sounds of the city.”
The tree was dubbed the Innovation Tree and around it, people danced in the streets to the music of a band, while the tree’s lights danced to the music.

Helps shared a YouTube video of the street party, writing: “As we say goodbye to this tree in order to create an intersection for people, create a safer space for pedestrians and people riding bikes and plant two more near where it stands — all in order to combat climate change — let’s remember the good times we've had.”

The two-way protected bike lane along Wharf and Humboldt streets will link the Pandora and Fort Street bike lanes and connect to the Galloping Goose via the Johnson Street Bridge. It will mean the loss of 21 parking stalls in the heart of downtown.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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