Saanich delays removal of trees

Residents rally to protect sequoia trees that are more than a century old

Saanich director of engineering Harley Machielse stands in front of a sequoia at Mann and Wilkinson. The 124-year old tree was originally included among the 110 trees scheduled for removal in the coming upgrades to the Wilkinson corridor but has been tagged as a priority to save due to its historical relevance.

Saanich’s passion for tree canopy was evident on Monday as two dozen people packed under a pair of pop-up tents for a site information meeting at the corner of Mann Avenue and Wilkinson Road.

About 110 trees are slated to come down for the Wilkinson Road corridor improvements, to be replaced through Saanich’s two-to-one planting program.

When the trees were tagged with removal notices, however, a group of locals spoke up in defence of some of the trees. In particular, two sequoias have been identified as worthy of saving, and Saanich has agreed.

One is on the northwest corner of Mann and Wilkinson, the other about 150 metres north, also on the west side of Wilkinson. Ironically, as Saanich engineers and local residents stood ankle deep in mud and water, it was noted the sequoias are still suffering from the drought of 2015. Monday was the municipality’s biggest rainfall in nine years.

“We are working to keep the sequoias for now with a plan to put a sidewalk behind them,” said Harley Machielse, director of engineering for Saanich. “A lot of the trees we’ve listed as ‘possibles’ are [failing or are] going to fail as roots are damaged during the construction. We will know upon further investigation as to whether these two are a risk.”

In recent weeks a group surfaced on Facebook in favour of the sequoias. They talked about the link directly to Richard Layritz’s nursery of the 1890s which was once located there and supplied the south Island with all types of trees and shrubs. He is the same Layrtiz who donated 15.5 acres to Saanich in 1953 to create Layrtiz Park, home to Little League baseball and soccer organizations.

During the initial pushback there was some confusion as to the prominence of the two sequoias. About 200 metres south of Mann are two more sequoias. Not only are they in much better health, but they are the very site where Richard Layritz and his wife Dorothy’s ashes are sprinkled. The two have plaques with their names on them permanently affixed to one of those sequoias.

“They are the trees I’m most concerned with,” said Liesel Layritz, a Saanich retiree and  relative of Richard’s. “They’re so valuable, there’s not many of them around and the area of the tree is particular, as it [carries] the history of the nursery.”

Layrtiz Nurseries began in the 1890s with the planting of sequoias, and all four of the sequoias were the result of the seedlings, Liesel said.

Layrtiz’s business grew to include nurseries in Vancouver and Kelowna, where it was responsible for planting many fruit trees in the Okanagan. Locally, the original trees of Uplands, Crystal Gardens and the Government House all came from Layritz Nurseries.

However, not all who showed at Monday’s site meeting were in favour of keeping the sequoias.

“This one blocks the intersection, and when people run red lights I have no idea they’re coming,” said Angela Grohovac, who lives with her five kids in the 600 block of Mann Avenue. “If you want to see a healthy looking sequoia, there’s one in my yard. These two aren’t healthy.”

The $5.9 million Wilkinson Road bridge replacement and corridor improvements are set to begin this spring with a goal of completion by the fall. Saanich engineering said there will be closures throughout the project, which “will be frustrating.”

“We’d like to have it done by the fall so it doesn’t overlap with construction of the McKenzie interchange,” said Saanich engineer Steve Holroyd, the project manager.


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