Right: "Chief White Hawk in the Big Hollow Tree, Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada." This c. 1930 postcard features a ficticious Indian chief with a headdress of eagle feathers. The portrait is a stereo type that exposes the caricaturing by settler society of the Coast Salish Peoples who did not wear such regalia. The Coast Salish are the original inhabitants of Stanley Park and it is they who stewarded the big trees here for thousands of years before the arrival of Captain Vancouver in 1792. Not until recently was this fact acknowledge in the history of Stanley Park.

Left: "Big Tree, Stanley Park, Vancouver BC." Old postcard.

This postcard is an instance of failed appropriation. The iconic Big Hollow Tree is pictured surrounded by the symbols of imperial glory.

Since 1888, when Vancouver was founded as a city, the Big Hollow Tree has been a popular attraction. With a burned out centre and a circumference of almost 20 meters, it was used as a novel photo prop, first with horse drawn carriages and later with automobiles.

"Great Cedar Tree, Stanley Park," 1897.
Photo: McCord Museum

Given BC's historical identity as a voracious destroyer of big trees, the outpouring of public support for preserving what is essentially a cedar stump is astonishing.

The article "Requiem for an ancient cedar," published in Canada's national newspaper, expressed the collective guilt of settler society in BC:

"We are pinioned by guilt about global warming and the desecration of our pristine landscapes," wrote Timothy Taylor, "the depletion of our resources and the extinction of species" (7 April 2007, Globe and Mail).

Over the years the Big Hollow Tree slowly died, in part due to the many curiosity seekers who impacted its shallow root system along with the paved road that encircled it. To keep it standing the increasingly fragile tree was buttressed with cables, bolts and braces.

Left: Hollow Tree, Stanley Park, 2007. In January 2009 Vancover's Park Board backed down from its hasty and contested decision to fell the "snag" and instead approved the Stanley Park Hollow Tree Conservation Society's engineering plan and fund raising strategy to conserve the Hollow Tree as a monument (right). The Society argued that the Hollow Tree is iconic, "a wonderful local reminder of the majesty of our original forests." Millions of dollars were raised for conservation from private individuals, corporations and the provincial and federal governments.

Today the long dead Big Hollow Tree has been declared a cultural heritage resource and is listed by Vancouver's Heritage Register and the Heritage Tree Inventory (left). It is also recognized by Parks Canada as a "Level One Cultural Resource" in the Commemorative Integrity Statement for federally designated Stanley Park National Historic Site. A "Conservation Plan" for the Hollow Tree (below) contends that the famous tree was replicated for a centerpiece display in the BC Canada Pavillion at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Left: Conservation Plan for Stanley Park's Hollow Tree, 14 October 2007.

(Click for pdf)

"A unique and famous gathering place. . . to marvel at the grandeur of nature and to reflecton our relationship to the environment, the past and our future"

Vancouver Heritage Commission.

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