Dockyard’s Big Tree – End of an Era


Katelyn Moores
Base PAO

It’s the end of an era for one of the oldest and largest Arbutus trees on base, but hopefully also a new beginning.

The Arbutus tree located in the Dockyard is estimated to be over two hundred years old, but a recent risk assessment found it in deteriorating health, and that instability poses a significant hazard to both people passing by and nearby infrastructure.

“A certified arborist has been monitoring the tree for about 20 years,” said Don Fenton, Contract Coordinator with Real Property Operation. “During the course of this monitoring program, signs of decline were identified and the tree has been pruned back many times to help reduce risk. The latest assessment completed this summer showed that greater intervention was now necessary.”

The assessment identified a continuing decline in its health and a large stress fracture in the tree’s largest limb. To mitigate growing safety concerns, most of the Arbutus tree will be cut down this week; however, instead of cutting the tree down to ground level, the four large stems will be left approximately 10 to 15 feet above ground. This decision was made to increase the potential for the tree to re-sprout, but also to preserve a portion of the tree to commemorate the natural heritage of the Esquimalt Royal Canadian Navy National Historic Site. 

Likely here long before the first military facilities were built in the 1850s, the Arbutus tree has become a well-known fixture within Dockyard where it stands just outside building DY68. With a combined trunk measurement of 259 centimeters, the tree was named to the B.C. Big Tree Registry in 2000, and currently holds the second  highest “tree score” for Arbutus in the province. The ranking is based on several different measurements including height, diameter, and crown spread.

Before the tree could be cut back, Base Safety and Environment staff worked to ensure compliance with environmental legislation and policy. This included initiating a bird nesting survey and delaying tree removal until the end of the bird nesting window. In addition, similar to most municipalities, CFB Esquimalt follows a tree replacement policy that requires two trees to be planted for every tree removed. Real Property Operations acquired five arbutus saplings and coordinated the planting last week at Duntze Head.

Cain van Cadsand, an Environment Officer with Base Safety and Environment, has been providing updates on the health of the tree to the B.C. Tree Registry and plans to nominate another Arbutus soon. The beauty and long history of dockyard’s Arbutus tree have earned it many admirers over the years, and van Cadsand knows people will be saddened by the news of its decline.

“The tree reminds us of what the natural landscape would have been like prior to the industrial development of the dockyard,” he said. “People enjoy working in, or within view of natural environments like this Arbutus tree and at Dockyard we are lucky to have a few small remaining patches of native coastal bluff ecosystems to enjoy.”

The only native broadleaf evergreen in Canada, Arbutus trees can grow up to 30 metres tall and live for 400 years. They are normally found within eight kilometers of the ocean and stretch along the coastline from southern B.C. to California.


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  1. kris says:

    of course it is under stress, we paved everything around it. Who knows how long the pavement has been there, since I can remember anyway back in the 80s or 90s, and for it to have taken this long to show stress tells me it is a strong tree in a bad place

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