It always strikes me, wherever I go, how much trees contribute to the character and definition of a place. As you drive out of Victoria to go up the island, up the Malahat toward Duncan and Nanaimo, for instance, the change in trees and terrain as you get close to Goldstream Park is marked. The height and density of cedars and Douglas Firs, their closeness to the road, combined with the long northward curve in the road as the road anticipates Goldstream: all these elements announce a landscape with a different character. More rugged, more ancient, less genteel, more mythic. If you are prone to such responses, it can even incite a little shiver down the spine. Speaking of gentility, a very distinguished tree that you see in parts of Victoria, and in many urban locations, is a plane tree, usually lining avenues or parks. These are the trees with broad leaves like maple leaves, and the peeling grey bark. You find these trees in most cities of the world – London, Paris, New York, Victoria; they evoke urbanity. My wife, Joan, and I have gone a number of times to the Languedoc area of the south of France: a classic image of this area is of the plane trees that line and overhang the Canal du Midi. We are actually in the process of planting about 30 plane trees on our little piece of property on one of the Gulf Islands. They grow quickly; since they are deciduous trees, they will provide greenery in the summer and, leafless in winter, let light through.
Around our school, there are several emblematic trees or groups of trees. In front of our Junior School on Victoria Avenue are several craggy and distinctive Garry Oaks. One of these in particular affords shelter from the drizzle as Nancy Richards, Director of our Junior School, and I greet parents at the crosswalk on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Another favourite is the line of flowering plum trees at the north edge of the main field along the front drive at the Richmond Road Campus; in spring the pink of these blossoms is powerful. The most distinctive tree of all is the Blue Atlas Cedar, the tree in front of School House. The early pictures of School House show this tree as a sapling, a scattering of early automobiles in the background. A few years ago the tree was surgically limbed to give it longer life; there is every expectation that it will last another hundred years and more. It deserves its own special label of Vivat! in honour of its long life and it place in the memories of SMUS, past and future.