The sound of chainsaws filled the air in the early morning hours in Duncan on Monday, Aug. 22, as the old maple tree on James Street was finally cut down.
Emmy Bayes said she was the only person at the tree who was standing guard at approximately 6:30 a.m. when workers arrived to begin work taking the tree down.
She said she was returning with a coffee when security guards prevented her from getting close to the tree, claiming it was unsafe and had to go.
“I was all alone and couldn’t get to the tree to protect it,” Bayes said with tears in her eyes.
“I can’t understand how I was trespassing on public property in my own neighbourhood.”
The tree, estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old, was located next to the Island Saving Centre’s parking lot on James Street.
It was scheduled to be taken down in June as part of the centre’s plan to upgrade the parking lot, but people opposed to its demise have been fighting to save it.
The Island Savings Centre Commission decided to postpone the decision to fell the tree until they had a dialogue with those that wanted it saved, and gathered more input into alternatives to cutting it down.
But, after a couple of meetings with the public, the commission decided on July 26 to move forward with plans to take it down.
However, when the tree was scheduled to be cut down on Aug. 5, about a dozen people linked arms around it and refused to be moved.
The commission was considering legal action to force people away from the tree to it could be cut down safely.
John Elzinga, manager of the Island Savings Centre, said the commission made the final decision to take the tree down on July 26 and, since then, it has been an “operational decision” by staff as to when it would occur.
“Public safety was our main priority in the decision to cut the tree down on Monday,” he said.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, a member of the commission, said the commission hasn’t met since July 26, so no decision was made as to the possibility of legal action, and staff were left to decide as to when the tree should be cut down.
He said he has been told that there wasn’t much to salvage from the tree, other than some of the larger branches and pieces of the trunk.
“The commission will decide in a public meeting what will happen to those parts of the tree,” Lefebure said.
Seairra Courtemanche, one of the leaders of the group that was fighting to save the tree, said the commission members weren’t listening to the public and “couldn’t get past” their set agenda and the costs associated with the tree and parking lot upgrade.
“They did have a conversation with us, but it was under their own agenda,” she said.
“They never had any respect for this tree. We need decision makers that have respect for the land.”
Courtemanche said she will continue to campaign for a heritage law for the region that will protect sacred sites.
Joyce Behnsen, a councillor from the Municipality of North Cowichan and a staunch defender of the tree, said she was “devastated” to learn that it had been taken down.
“We had another petition going around to save the tree,” she said.
“This is a nightmare and it’s wrong.”