Some say the Cedar Tree of Life on Meares Island in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) territory is 1,200 years old.
Located a short paddle or 10-minute boat ride from downtown Tofino, the Cedar Tree of Life along the Big Tree Trail is one of the last remaining old growth trees on Vancouver Island.
TFN Tribal Parks Guardian Jeff Frank says he hopes when people visit the magnificent giant tree, they return home with a sense of awe. At the base of the Tree of Life, Frank shows an old photo on his phone that’s been resurrected on social media; the photo is of a group of young First Nation people posing proudly in front of the Tree of Life.
“That’s my mom, Lyse Frank. Thirty-eight years ago she helped save Meares,” he said.
When logging was proposed on Meares Island in the 1980s, a decade-long battle to preserve the trees unfolded. The giant trees that thousands of guests relish today are still standing thanks to the peaceful protesting of many TFN people and allies. TFN owns the underlying title to Meares Island – Wanachus-Hilthuuis in Nuu-chah-nulth language – and continues to maintain the magical area for all to experience.
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This year, Tribal Parks Guardians started the process of refurbishing and improving the existing trail with funds donated from local businesses committed to the Tribal Parks Allies program. Guardians constructed boardwalks from reclaimed wood around the base of popular giants along the trail to protect the shallow roots that have been suffering from heavy foot traffic. A composting toilet donated by the District of Tofino was installed at the trailhead and the Guardians plan on extending the trail to another special viewpoint, a massive cedar harvest tree.
Most recently, with a $40,000 donation from Surfrider Pacific Rim and the Blue Friday initiative, Tribal Parks have replaced the old foam dock and gangway a couple with a much more environmentally friendly dock made with air-filled floats.
“I think replacing the dock will elevate everyone’s awareness and consciousness. It will improve our health and the health of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because it reduces the amount of EPS foam going into the water,” Surfrider Pacific Rim chapter co-ordinator Laurie Hannah said during a walk to the Tree of Life with the Tribal Park Guardians.
Tribal Parks Guardian Riley Caputo said that the number of old growth trees that remain on the Island aren’t enough to sustain cultural purposes like totem poles, long houses, and traditional canoes.
“It’s a sort of cultural genocide to harvest the remaining old growth. It is not sustainable,” he said.
READ MORE: Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks: A Vision into a Movement
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