Top: Leafy trees screen and soften appearance of looming buildings
Bottom: Soothing effect of water outside the McPherson Library; mature trees looking on
One of our best repositories of interesting trees is the UVIC campus, but there, as everywhere in the CRD, the trees are being deleted and crowded out in the name of development. The campus, as it celebrates in 2012 its 50th anniversary, has already tilted toward the condition of being overbuilt. The original "modernist" layout of the grounds within the ring road - straight edges and stark borders where concrete walkways met grassy open areas -- has been marvellously softened over five decades by the presence of trees. Many have grown into splendid individual specimens, and their combined bright yellow-orange colours light up the campus in autumn - a heady joy to observe.
How bizarre to read in a recent article by Robert Amos in the Times Colonist ("Exhibit details the evolution of a city" Feb. 11/12) that original campus designer and Public Works employee Alan Hodgson says UVIC was built on "barren land, really barren." Many of us who grew up in the 1960's and rode horses at Carley's Stables across the road from the campus, remember those woods and meadows as anything but "barren." They were enchantment, a Sherwood Forest of trails and fields to gallop across, winding routes along the ravine down to Cadboro Bay where we galloped on the sand. In the early years of constructing the university, the woods, meadows and orchards which it was quickly eradicating were still navigable on horseback (along with what is now the Henderson Golf Course on the other side of Cedar Hill Cross Road), despite the fact that a sudden turn might lead to a paved sidewalk, a building in the distance, a network of ditches with boards spread over them for access by workers and machines.
So the rural character of the area was destroyed, but the "garden campus," as campuses go (and remembering that the word "campus" is Latin for "field") was an attractively landscaped one. Those of us who once rode across its woods and meadows, when we grew up to attend classes could still enjoy picnicing on the grass, lying in the sun, admiring the fall colours, lolling around the Petch Fountain, exclaiming over the fabulous floral displays in the garden at the south entrance to the Ring Road (created before all gardens had to be "native"). How extraordinary then to read that this same Hodgson laments that people on campus do "walking which is not under cover"! That is exactly what we have always valued: air, movement, space, gracious and stately trees all round us. We have already lost the charming presence of rabbits, and how else could people of a certain persuasion enjoy the 420 Club? The tragedy is that the air, spaciousness and treescape are increasingly intruded upon by overbearing buildings.
Why can institutions never be satisfied without having to grow incessantly? What would UVIC's ideal size be, its "Goldilocks zone"? Where is the University President who will be satisfied not to have presided over endless building and growth, but rather over preservation and restraint? A scholarly campus should be conducive to thought, harmony, meditative walking, quiet gathering for conversation. Nothing furthers such pursuits like the surrounding context of nature, on one of her clement days, of which luckily we get a majority in our climate. Further building at UVIC will only diminish its arboreal beauty, and probably its 50th birthday will one day be looked back on as already marking the decline after the campus's most elegant era.