Sub Quercu Felicitas: Place, Knowledge, and Victoria's Garry Oaks, 1843-2008

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Cavers, Matthew
Garry oaks , Victoria, British Columbia , Place , Environmental knowledges , Identity
The Garry oak (Quercus garryana) is a species of oak tree native to North America’s Pacific coast. Its range in Canada is limited to the east coast of Vancouver Island, the southern Gulf Islands, and two isolated groves in the Fraser River valley. It is most widespread and conspicuous in Greater Victoria, the urban area centred around the city of Victoria, British Columbia. Garry oaks themselves and areas of relatively undisturbed land containing Garry oaks are threatened in Victoria by a number of factors including land development, the tree’s unpopularity as an ornamental species, and fire suppression. The Garry oak’s predicament provides rationale for the central goal of this thesis, which is to explore how people have known these trees in the 165 years since Fort Victoria was established. Using a range of print sources, I identify five prominent areas of knowledge about the tree, or Garry oak cultures. These are: Garry oaks as significant of Britishness, Garry oaks as known through science, Garry oaks as significant individual trees, Garry oaks as remnants of pre-colonial landscapes, and Garry oaks as advocated for by conservationists. From these, I draw three key themes. First, many people have found Victoria’s Garry oaks valuable or important and expressed that sense of value in a variety of ways. Second, people have used Garry oaks in narratives of national identity, though in divergent ways: for some Garry oaks have been symbolic of Britain and Victoria’s supposed connection with the mother country, and for others Garry oaks are to be regarded only as a native species. Third, scientific language and concepts have been used to understand Garry oaks with increasing popularity over the past few decades, especially as public awareness grows of the oaks’ ecological crisis. Following recent work in cultural geography, I contend that people negotiate connections to place through trees such as Garry oaks. Though these findings must be understood to be preliminary, they can help to explain the plight of the Garry oak by casting light on ambiguities and dissonances in the ways that Victoria’s diverse citizenry relates to the places they inhabit.
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