B.C.’s reforestation efforts began 91 years ago in Surrey with the “inaugural plantation” of Green Timbers Urban Forest.
Not surprisingly, not all of those 120 trees have survived a century of radical change in the area.
Back in 1928, Surrey-area citizens protested the proposed logging of the area, but concerns were ignored and the entire 2,000-acre forest was chopped down.
“This was the last virgin forest that remained along the Pacific Highway that stretched from San Diego, California to Surrey, British Columbia,” notes a post on historicplaces.ca.
Chastised, the provincial government of the time looked to make amends by setting aside 640 acres along the highway (now Fraser Highway) to be replanted as B.C.’s first reforestation project.
And so, in 1930, the death of the last old-growth trees in the area led to an awakening of sorts, with a new forest given life in the heart of the municipality.
On March 15 that year, on land cleared by locals Harry Baker and John Tompson, government and business officials gathered to plant 120 Douglas fir, Sikta spruce, Western red cedar and Monterey pine seedlings, each numbered and assigned a name.
Heritage signs and storyboards now mark the plantation site, a short walk from Surrey Nature Centre, 14225 Green Timbers Way.
“The event really started a cultural shift in the province, because they’d been cutting down all these trees and they thought, ‘Well, there won’t be an end to them all, there are so many trees,’” said Don Schuetze, president of Green Timbers Heritage Society. “Well, we know that’s not the case. So they started planting trees, and it started right here.”
The heritage society was established in 1987, in a fight to save the forest from urban development. A sports stadium was proposed on land where the man-made lake was later created. Referendums were passed, preserving Green Timbers Urban Forest.
Schuetze, son of the society’s first president, Herman Schuetze, remembers visiting the forest as a kid.
“We used to live in the area and did school trips here, and one of the exercises was, we had to stand over there and calculate how tall these trees were, through trigonometry or whatever,” Schuetze recalled. “And this here, a straight line of trees that you can still see, is part of the original hedge that separated the nursery from what was planted here. You can follow this line of trees across the road and behind the RCMP building, the same hedge and the ditch here.”
The story of the inaugural plantation is told on greentimbers.ca. One photo shows MLA John W. Berry planting tree #2, along with Colonel Nelson Spencer, young Tom Berry, MLA Mike Manson, Peter Z. Caverhill (chief engineer) and Ed Walmsley (land agent).
The photo caption says: “The inaugural plantation was left practically untended for 58 years when, in 1988, Herman Scheutze and Rick Govier, two co-founders of Green Timbers Heritage Society with the help of Jim Foulkes, a surveyor and member of the Surrey Heritage Society, succeeded in locating the overgrown inaugural stand and its surviving trees.”
Schuetze remembers his father constantly writing letters, struggling with a manual typewriter. “He was missing a finger from a wood mill accident which probably didn’t help either,” the current society president said.
In 1990, a “commemorative plantation” was done at Green Timbers to mark the 60th anniversary of the inaugural plantation. “Nearby is the two-billionth forestry tree seedling planted in the province in 1989, and 20 more seedlings were planted to commemorate the Millennium in 2000,” says a post on surrey.ca.
Not all of the trees planted in 1930 have survived, Schuetze noted.
“One of the trees had to be cut down last spring,” he said, “because it posed a danger to people walking through here, so not all of them are in great shape and are leaning a bit, you know.”
This week, as part of the city’s annual Environmental Extravaganza, Green Timbers Heritage Society is hosting a “Selfie Scavenger Hunt” to encourage exploration of the forest.
“Find at least five of the locations, featured wildlife and plants on the list below in Surrey’s Green Timber’s Urban Forest and Park,” says a post on greentimbers.ca. “Post a selfie of each item in the list to social media with the hashtag #GTUF2021 to be entered into a draw for great prizes. Winners will be messaged via Instagram after June 8, 2021.” The items include beaver lodge, glacial erratic, ferns, birds, flowers, tree cones, insects and more.
“There’s so much history here aside from the inaugural plantation, including an arboretum and the 60th-anniversary planting,” Schuetze said. “I always enjoy visiting here.
“Now there’s this emphasis on trees as a form of livability and there’s the phrase ‘forest bathing,’ which is about being in the forest and soaking in the air, how it does something to you – you feel better after going for a walk in the woods, you just do. Humans are just wired that way, that we need green things around us, especially trees.”
Surrey Now & Then is a look back at Surrey-area landmark sites, events and people. Email story ideas and tips to email@example.com. We thank Surrey Archives for assistance with this series.