By Kerri Scott
Special to the Record
Few other communities have a living legacy like the Garry oak forest in the Comox Valley. Dispersed between Ships Point and Smith Road as well as on Denman and Hornby Island remain patches of a cultural ecosystem.
“The scattered majestic oaks still standing alone in today’s fields north of the river and the few native Garry oak groves surviving amid second growth conifer forests are all that remain of the ancient indigenous cultivation,” said Bill Henderson.
Sacred to the god of thunder, Garry oak trees in vast camas meadows were vital to the women who managed them as a food source. Fires caused by lightning were fundamental to the health of huge oak forests and replicated by the First Nations’ people before the arrival of Europeans.
The historical Tsolum River Valley Garry Oak Ecosystem includes the Vanier Forest Garry oak grove, which is the only remaining grove of Garry oaks found in wetland conditions in the Comox Valley.
In 2019, one of the Garry oaks at the nearby Comox Valley Sports Centre site won the Tree of the Year award. Nominated “This Garry oak has been watching over our kids for generations,” said Annette Boulter, who nominated the tree. “Like a mother or father, this tree is a big part of life on that land.”
Boulter’s wish, which also echoes that of Cathy Storey, whose legacy is the Comox Valley Nature Tree of the Year contest, was that trees are recognized for the vital role they play in our community.
Protected by city bylaw, not all Garry oaks are part of this remnant grove. Some tree nominations from previous years include a Garry oak planted in 1995 at the Courtenay Airpark by Comox Valley Nature members. Also in 1937 Bill Farmere planted a Garry oak on his property. When asked how long he had lived in the Comox Valley, Farmere replied, “Walked up the tracks in ’21 and decided to settle here.”
The tree was 41 years old when Farmere passed away at the age of 98.
Nancy Gothard, a planner and policymaker at the City of Courtenay nominated one of the Garry oaks in the St. Andrews cemetery in 2021.
“The city wants to support the Tree of the Year this year by linking the event to the city’s urban forestry page and crowdsourcing map,” said Gothard. “Folks can post and put on the map their photos of their favourite trees.”
Trees nominated for Tree of the Year within Courtenay will be added to the crowd source map, which can be found at www.courtenay.ca/urbanforest.
There are many fascinating stories associated with the trees in the Comox Valley. But none as celebrated as the historical Garry oak trees. Comox Valley Nature will be showcasing these Garry oak ecosystems in one of their upcoming tree tours.
Do you have a Garry oak that you would like to nominate and have included in the tour? Or maybe your favourite tree is a species that has never been nominated before. CVN wants to hear your story!
For more information and the easy online nomination form visit cvnature.ca/treeoftheyear/
Nominations remain open until April 1.