Canada’s Trees Fall Victim to Superstitious Immigrants


Someone is killing some of the great trees of Canada.

Amateur loggers, many apparently harboring a deep-rooted hatred of trees, are giving a whole new meaning to Vancouver’s reputation as Canada’s lumber capital.

Some culprits are ordinary vandals but others, authorities say, are superstitious Asian immigrants who believe the trees are blocking escape routes of evil spirits.

The Vancouver parks board recently reported what it termed a worrisome increase in attacks by midnight lumberjacks on the 130,000 trees which line Vancouver’s leafy boulevards.


Parks board tree specialist Herb Johnson said that one of the worst attacks, on July 17, destroyed a 20-inch-diameter cherry tree valued at $2,900.

Stakes Driven Into Tree

Six copper stakes were driven into the tree and a 1 1/2 hole was drilled into its trunk, Johnson said.

Then, poison was poured into the hole.


While Johnson was careful to avoid attributing the tree paranoia to any single group, he said the Chinese immigrant community and other ethnic groups appeared to have a particular fear of them.

“They (the Chinese) want the evil spirits to be able to escape their property,” he said in an interview. “So, if there is a tree out on the boulevard it could stop the spirit escaping. That’s why they sometimes ask for the tree to be removed.”

Sometimes people don’t bother to ask, but steal out at night to perform their own arboreal exorcism.

Tree Vigilantes

“They take the law into their own hands,” he said of the tree vigilantes.

Johnson said the city often is approached by realtors whose clients want to buy a house--but don’t want to have anything to do with the tree in front of it.

“Most people respect the tree, but not in front of their house,” he said, adding that 1988 has been the worst year for tree vandalism since records were kept.

Parks commissioner Rolly Skov estimated tree vandalism would cost the city $40,000 this year, with as many as 100 street trees being lost.


Skov said a variety of culprits were to blame for the explosion in tree attacks. Some could be over-eager pruners believing they were doing the city a favor, he said.

Drunk Tree Topper

“I had one this year where the gentleman cut the top off the tree. He was inebriated,” said Johnson.

Others tree vandals had a more deliberate intent to kill or maim, Skov said. They pound nails or drill holes into the trunk or cut into the bark so the tree dies a lingering death.

Parks board horticulture manager Hugh Monroe said trees sometimes are victimized because of the company they keep.

“Sometimes a tree is infested with pests--say, aphids--and that can be a nuisance when you park a car under them.”

Human Tree pests

Vancouver city officials are more concerned about tree pests of the human variety. Johnson said the maximum fine under the city’s vandalism bylaw recently was quadrupled to $1,600.


He also said the tree assailants would not stop the city from planting a few thousand more trees each year and noted that although Vancouver is surrounded by mountains of evergreen trees, it is deciduous ones such as maples and cherries that line its streets.