The End of Brockton Point Heronry: 1927

1925ish LGN 488 - Heron Tree

The Heron’s Tree of Brockton Point. At the time of this photo, there were about 27 nests. VCA, LGN 488 (ca1925).

I am indebted, again, to Robert A. Hood, author of By Shore and Trail in Stanley Park (1929) for the following excerpt from a source which doesn’t seem to be widely available. It is from the June 1920 edition of Museum Notes, a publication of the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver (later, it became the Vancouver Museum Association). The author is Donald W. Gillingham:

The Stanley Park Heronry, one of the most familiar landmarks at Brockton Point, and famous the world over, has been removed. Gradually killed by the excrement of young birds, the giant white spruce was found to be rotting at the base, so the Parks’ Board ordered the tree felled at the end of January, 1927, on the principle that it was a menace to public safety. Its removal was not generally known until this summer.

The Board was further influenced in its decision by the condition of the heronry itself. According to reports, the birds had been so harassed by eagles, which also wiped out one season’s brood, that some of them abandoned the aerial village for a more hospitable shore, leaving the heronry with only half the usual number. This tragedy, combined with the fear of the birds being exterminated in the near future and the knowledge of the tree’s decay, led the Board to pronounce the heronry’s span of interest and value to the park as over, so the old spruce came down.

The only record we have of its history — the tree was one hundred and sixty-six years old — comes from Mr. Windrem, chief forester of Stanley Park, who started work in the Park in 1910. The spruce was alive then, though as white as chalk, and contained about the same number of nests. In 1922 there was still a little green noticeable at the tips of the lower boughs, but a year later…not a sign of life remained. It is possible that the herons had built there for thirty years.

It would be gratifying to discover the birds establishing themselves somewhere else in the Park, but that seems to be beyond all hope, for already another spring has gone by and they have not turned up. The first spring they came back in full force, but after viewing the ruins of their ancestral home, circled the Park and disappeared. No doubt the brooding urge has caused them to rebuild in some other part of the country, though a report of a new heronry anywhere has not been received. (Gillingham quoted in Hood, 46-7)

The Parks Board seems to have been justified in deciding to fell the Heron tree, given its wretched condition as a result of guano deposited on it. It doesn’t seem to me necessary to cite further justification. But it seems that the Board felt it was necessary: namely, the perilous future for Herons since their young were a delightful protein snack for eagles living in the Park (did the Board truly believe that young herons had never before suffered this fate or that eagles had never before had a taste for young herons?!). It is apparent that the Board — and, likely, many of the city’s residents — were inclined to pick favourites among Park wildlife. Eagles were apparently ‘naughty’ (as they fed upon the relatively ‘good’ — and attractive? — young herons. (1)

Gillingham’s pessimism about a future for a Stanley Park heronry proved unfounded. There was a nest spotted in the Park  as early as 1930 (although it isn’t clear where in the Park it was located). For some time, there was a heronry near the Vancouver Aquarium (not far from Brockton Point) until the Herons moved in 2001 to their current nesting site adjacent to the Vancouver Parks Board office and the Stanley Park tennis courts (number of nests counted in 2013: 117).

By Shore and Trail in Stanley Park (R. A. Hood)

Great Blue Herons Nest and Beguile in B.C. – Jack Christie for Georgia Straight

An Unnatural History of Stanley Park – Jesse Donaldson for The Tyee

1) This apparent Board-imposed ‘hierarchy of cuteness’ (my phrase) was evident also between crows (bad) and robins (good). Sean Kheraj, in his excellent Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History (UBC Press: 2013), points out that the Vancouver Parks Board “approved a motion to allow members of the Vancouver Gun Club to shoot crows in Stanley Park on Saturday mornings – a policy that was renewed every year until 1961.”  Apparently crows were feeding on the eggs of songbirds and on other critters which were higher on the cuteness hierarchy! (Kheraj, 131)

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