Surrey may soon lose another heritage tree and that doesn’t sit well with a local history buff.
An 80-year-old Royal Oak is set to be chopped down on 74 Ave. to make way for a school. But area resident Jim Foulkes said it doesn’t need to be cut.
“It’s near the road and it’s within the City’s easement,” he said.
Foulkes, a director for the Surrey Historical Society, said he talked to the main contractor on the site and the contractor told Foulkes the tree is scheduled to be removed, although the contractor said the site clearing project was being delayed at the moment.
“I also talked to the City and they confirmed a stop-work order was in place.”
Foulkes added that still doesn’t mean the tree won’t be removed.
The site in question is located at 18717 74 Ave.—the former George Whitehead Farm (see page 11)—along what was formerly known as Regent Road (pre-1957).
The land clearing project will make way for Regent Road Elementary School. The $26 million development will be completed in January, 2021 and will accommodate more than 650 students.
There are other big trees on the site and one is encircled with protective wood fencing.
After chatting with the contractor, Foulkes emailed the City’s planning department and received an email from Karen Fuoco.
Fuoco deals with tree bylaw issues. She wrote back, “Mr. Foulkes, your email has been sent to the parks department (who deal with city trees) to go to the site asap to see what is going on. Thank you so much for your phone call and email. There should not be anything going on at this site as the subdivision has not been approved yet.”
The Cloverdale Reporter reached out to Fuoco to ask if a permit-to-cut had been issued for the Royal Oak in question, but Fuoco said she wasn’t allowed to talk to the media. She confirmed that if it had just been a concerned citizen calling, then she would be allowed to give out the information.
Fuoco said the Reporter’s question would be sent to her manager, who would then kick it up their manager, and that manager would get back to the Reporter at a later date. The Reporter had not heard back from the City by publication time.
Foulkes has fought to save heritage trees in the past. In 2012, he fought—and won—a battle to save another Royal Oak on King George Blvd. (See links below.)
The Royal Oak at the Regent Road school site is 67 centimetres in diameter. According to City of Surrey bylaws, any tree 30 centimetres in diameter or greater, at chest level, requires a permit to be cut down.
Foulkes said Surrey’s Royal Oaks have roots that run deep into the city’s history. He said the trees were planted to commemorate King George VI’s 1937 coronation.
“The trees are historical because of their origin and they have significant heritage value because of what they meant to the city and Canada at the time,” noted Foulkes. “They were planted to commemorate the king’s visit, but the visit was also made to strengthen the ties of the Commonwealth” in the face of an impending war with Germany.
According to the City of Surrey website, the Royal Oaks were sent over as seedlings from England’s Great Windsor Park.
The trees were planted in various parts of Surrey, but most were planted along Peace Arch Highway. In 1940, the arterial road was renamed King George VI Highway to commemorate the monarch’s brief visit to Surrey in 1939. (It was only renamed King George Boulevard in 2010).
As for the Regent Road school, Ritinder Matthew, communication services manager for Surrey Schools, said at least one tree will be incorporated into the final building design (see yellow box on graphic). “We work closely with an arborist and we try to retain every tree we can,” added Matthew.
“In some cases we can’t keep (a tree) because we need to protect the structural integrity of a building.”
Matthew confirmed the Royal Oak in question—numbered 4,123—will be cut down (see blue circle on graphic).
She said it’s being removed because there will be a building a short distance away. “There will also be a paved parking lot there and a pick up drop off area.” She added roots can grow into pipes and push up pavement.”
But Foulkes said the tree need not be cut down.
“Every design is open to adaptation to local concerns,” he said. “Trees have been preserved in much more difficult situations than this one. Designs can be changed.”
He said if Surrey Schools knew about the importance of the tree, they would act differently. “I think the arborist had no inkling that was a heritage tree,” he said.
Foulkes hopes the school board changes their mind about a Royal Oak that was planted when the road was still Regent.
“I would suggest that the future students of the school would be proud to play in the shade of a very healthy oak that has stood growing since a sovereign visited Surrey.”