Future of Duncan’s disputed maple on agenda

The final decision on the future of the old maple tree on James Street in Duncan could be made today.

The final decision on the future of the old maple tree on James Street in Duncan could be made today.

The Island Savings Centre Commission will assess the public’s input from Monday’s “community conversation” on the tree, and may make a recommendation on whether to take the tree down at a meeting of the Cowichan Valley Regional District board later in the day.

More than 100 people took part in Monday’s gathering, meeting in groups for roundtable discussions to answer a number of questions posed by the ISCC.

The questions asked participants what the tree means to them, what their involvement with the Island Savings Centre is, what they would like local government to know about the tree, and how they would like to see the tree honoured if it’s decided to take it down.

The tree, estimated to be approximately 150 years old, is located next to the ISC’s parking lot on James Street and was scheduled to be taken down on June 28 as part of the centre’s plan to upgrade the parking lot, as well as for liability reasons.

But protesters have been gathering at the tree over the last two weeks to protect it, and one woman, Seairra Courtemanche, chained herself to it as RCMP officers tried unsuccessfully to talk her into letting the workers do their jobs.

The CVRD, which leases the centre’s property from the Municipality of North Cowichan, was considering applying for a court order to have Courtemanche and any other protesters removed from the site for their own safety.

But the regional district decided to have the community gathering instead to help try to determine the best course of action.

Many in the crowd at the community gathering, if not most, wanted to see the old tree saved if possible.

Kailyn Crossman, who will be heading to Grade 8 at Frances Kelsey Secondary School in September, felt so strongly about the tree that he came up with his own redesign of the parking lot to allow the tree to stay.

He’s even proposing setting up a plaque next to it to outline the history of the tree and its significance to the community.

Kim Walters is a member of the Evans family that once owned the property where the centre is now situated.

She carried a picture of the family taken in the 1930s at the location with the much-younger maple tree in the background.

“I want is saved for the future generations of the family, and for the benefit of the community,” she said.

Courtemanche thanked the local politicians and bureaucrats at the gathering for “listening to the community” on their concerns over the tree.

But she criticized the original political process that led to the decision to cut the tree down without community consultation.

She said an independent arborist that was consulted on the tree indicated that if it was properly pruned, it would pose less risk to the community and live through its complete life cycle.

Courtemanche said the community has spoken loudly against the tree being taken down, and a petition to save it that has been circulating throughout the community has garnered more than 1,600 signatures.

“The tree could be a historical monument as it survived the building of Duncan,” she said.

“This tree has brought together many diverse parts of the community. People who have never talked before came together over their love for the tree. That’s amazing, so why take it away?”

The meetings today of the Island Savings Centre Commission and the Cowichan Valley Regional District board are open to the public.

The ISCC meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. in the board room at the centre, and the CVRD meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at 175 Ingram St.