By Liz Carroll

Sometimes even Mother Nature needs a nudge. Take James Bay trees. For centuries they served Coastal Peoples well. Rare White Oaks (named Garry by botanist David). Douglas to honour an HBC factor, Arbutus, Cedars. Chief Factor, James Douglas, mapping the area's vegetation for Hudson's Bay Company in 1842, wrote: "It appears to be a perfect might have been dropped from the clouds."

Accolades were as prevalent as the acorns newly arrived settlers scattered amidst centuries old trees. But that didn't stop them from adding to the bounty with seeds and seedlings and cuttings from back home or far away. Mother Nature nurtured the new plantings. Today's streets, parks and public spaces are made up of a blended-tree-family.

One of the most popular additions was the Giant Sequoia from California. One of the weirdest was the Monkey Puzzle from Chile (by way of Europe's rare plant collections where Captain Vancouver's medic-cum-botanist Archibald Menzies had introduced the bizarre razor-sharp leafed species in the 1790s).

When land Douglas set aside, in 1858, for 'recreation and enjoyment' was being developed as Beacon Hill Park in 1889, Joseph Heywood convinced a few equally prominent pioneers to contribute funds to purchase 2000 ornamental trees from nurseries in California and Pennsylvania: swamp cypress, holly, purple beech, so many others. One of those donors was Lady Douglas whose gardens included a cherry orchard (from which a descendant exists in an iron 'cage' on the site that is now BC Museum grounds).

Her James Bay neighbour, Capt. John Irving, planted a Giant Sequoia seedling at his estate on Menzies at Michigan. Today it vies for the 'tallest tree' title. The Captain's mansion is long gone but the land, Irving Park, is home to spectacular sequoias, European Beech, London Plane, Red Cedar, Black Aspen, fruit trees and more. There's even a Monkey Puzzle, one of several in James Bay (like the picturesque example at 1861s' Woodlands at 140 Government St and another at Niagara at Croft).

A discontinued Irving Park Tree Tour, which encompassed the park and the area bounded by Michigan, Government, Toronto and Menzies, listed forty species of trees including Tulip, Hazelnut, Windmill Palm, Dogwood, Ginko.

According to that comprehensive field guide "Trees of Greater Victoria: A Heritage"' published by the Heritage Tree Society in 1988, "Heritage is not necessarily associated with age....Victoria has inherited magnificent and exotic trees." Designations include Outstanding, Rare, Historical (planted by a noted personage or re a special event), Heritage Group, Heritage Area, and Landmark.

High on the latter division is the Weeping Pendula. Originally purchased from Saanich's Layritz Nursery for a home on Superior St it forms an arch from Quebec St into Centennial Park. Layritz, specializing in exotic plantings, was the go-to nursery of the day. Its owner Richard Layritz lived on Toronto St briefly in the twenties.

Another noted Landmark is the spectacular Sequoia on the Legislative Grounds. Dating back to the 1800s it is one of James Bay's most photographed trees especially at Christmas when it is strung with hundreds of lights.

The Grounds are home to several significant trees like the Empress (Royal Paulownia) with its purple trumpet Spring blossoms. (There's another in the impressive gardens at St Ann's). A copper beech was planted in 1921 in memory of Ethelbert Scholefield a Provincial Librarian, a forerunner to other Historical tree plantings.

In 1927 the city hosted a Western Mayors Conference. Mayor JC Pendray invited participants to pick up a shovel and plant. They did. Maple, beech, linden, oak and copper beech trees were added to a site near Heywood meadow in Beacon Hill Park. (A Heritage Tree site, that urban oasis merits a story of its own).

A Who's Who of visiting dignitaries took up their shovels at newly named Mayors Grove. One was England's ex-chancellor of the exchequer Winston Churchill in 1929. Alas, his English May tree (Hawthorn) is feeling its age. The Sir Winston Churchill Society of Vancouver Island, which toasts its namesake with a glass of bubbly on his deathday, is concerned.

One might have expected great hoopla when the King of Siam added a native oak in 1931, after all he was the self-proclaimed Brother to the Sun, half-brother to the Moon etcetera, etcetera. He'd drawn crowds around town but only his entourage was in the park.

The Boy Scouts' Lord Baden Powell planted an Oak in 1935 as did author John Buchan, as Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir, in 1936. What was deemed the grove's final tree, a Red English Oak, was planted by Lt Governor Earl Hamber in 1941.

The custom was revived over forty years later with sporadic plantings. In 2012 a Big Leaf Maple was added by the Mayor of twin city Napier, New Zealand to honour Victoria's 150th anniversary. There is a Mayors Grove directory near Southgate and Arbutus Way.

James Bay trees, centuries old, or newly budding, remind us that we still live in a forest. While visitors and newcomers are awed many long-time residents admit to taking the panoplied streets for granted, but they do have favourite streets and blocks and gardens. For instance there's a "must-see" Cherry tree on the boulevard on Clarence St. An only-in-Victoria specimen. That whimsical Tea Cup Tree is a four season treasure. The early settlers would be amused.

James Bay has benefitted mightily from the foresight of the pioneers who knew that planting a tree would provide long-term rewards. Now, on their behalf and ours, diligence must be the byword. Saving this heritage is imperative. Mother Nature will approve.