As a boy growing up in a small California foothills town, I was in love with a tree. The live oak that guarded one side of our property was close to 250–years–old when I was a toddler, affording acorn meal to the Indigenous people of our area long before white faces were seen there.
That tree was my refuge. As it had provided food to Indigenous people, it saved my life in another way. Bullied at school, I often climbed into the tree’s broad branches to cry, because the tree understood.
Sadly, that tree is no more. It was still healthy, but a developer found it in the way and destroyed it in an hour with a bulldozer. I still feel sick at the memory, and that sadness returned this week with the destruction of the former Innovation Tree, a white birch that stood on Humboldt Street in the Inner Harbour. Despite a petition to save the tree numbering hundreds of concerned citizens, Mayor Lisa Helps and council sent in chainsaws.
That tree, too, was part of my personal history. It greeted me when I arrived as permanent resident in 2006, and when I emerged from sitting my citizenship test at the now hollowed out Customs Building in 2010.
I get the need for improved traffic flow and safety issues. What I don’t get? Helps danced around this tree in 2016 when it was draped in flashing lights and serenaded by a band. She says she loved it. And she showed no creative leadership when it came to saving it.
But then this is the same mayor who told a reporter she’s happy to see the flower baskets and high teas of Victoria dissolve – the very ambience that keeps people flocking to Victoria from around the world and, regardless of whether it matters to the mayor, forms a significant percentage of our local economy.
Is this leadership or love Victoria can afford?