Ongoing construction on Shelbourne Street in Saanich has residents concerned over the removal of several trees along the road where a memorial honoring World War I soldiers was created.
The District of Saanich says phase two of the Shelbourne Street Improvements Project, which aims to improve local infrastructure, started in August and is now well underway. It says crews are removing trees as a result.
“Some trees will be removed as part of this project; however, after many years of consultation, the final project plan ensures that the number of trees that need to be removed is as few as possible,” the district posted to its website.
In 1921, London Plane trees were planted along Shelbourne to honour fallen soldiers and nurses in the First World War. Exactly a century later, on Oct. 2, 2021, the district planted another tree next to the existing ones to remember those lives lost.
CHEK News received numerous news tips from concerned neighbours, including one person who believed the trees removed were part of a memorial that’s more than 100 years old.
“One woman said when she saw the trees, she spent a day crying,” said Moira Walker, organizer of Treasure our Trees.
Walker is among dozens of concerned residents that attended a vigil on Oct. 2 — the 101st anniversary of the memorial first being planted. The Shelbourne project will bring in improved sidewalks, bike lanes, and improved utility infrastructure. She says that doesn’t warrant the removal of the trees.
“I’m a bit puzzled by the choice of this street because as a bicyclist, I avoid busy streets,” said the woman. “Once this has no trees on it, just little saplings, it will be just another reason why one would never ride on it.”
According to the district, however, the London Plane trees currently being removed are not part of the original memorial plantation. Still, officials acknowledge that the trees hold historical significance for the community.
“Since 2020, Saanich has been doing work along Shelbourne Street to improve infrastructure, safety and active transportation. This important project included many years of community consultation on the design as well as the required tree removal,” Harley Machielse, Saanich’s director of engineering, said in a statement.
According to Machielse, the final project plan ensures that the number of trees that need to be removed is “as few as possible.” He says that delivers on Saanich council’s goals around climate action.
Saanich bylaw requires that workers must plant three trees for each removed one. The director estimates that 350 replacement trees could be planted.
“Two London Plane trees were planted further North near Feltham Road, and approximately 20 are proposed to be planted in phase two of the project (between North Dairy and Pear),” Machielse added.
The project is from the district’s Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, first proposed in 2017. Community engagement sessions were held, which included the possibility of some trees on Shelbourne Street being removed.
Phase two of the project spans Shelbourne from Pear Street to North Dairy Road. It’s all part of planned upgrades that include new cycling facilities and the replacement of underground utilities, as well as pedestrian safety and transit improvements.
People can find more details about the Shelbourne Street Improvements Project online. It’s expected to be complete by 2024.