A California redwood growing in the 6900 block of Duncan Street continues to thrive in an unnatural environment. The tree was planted by the original owner of the house, Grace Raby, in the early 1940s.
According to Raby’s daughter Norma Howard, it comes as no surprise that the tree has thrived in the unusual habitat of Powell River as her mother was a gifted gardener.
“I’m sure if my mother planted a 2x4 it would’ve grown; she was that type,” she said.
Howard, who now resides in Jasper, Alberta, said her family moved to Powell River in the late 1930s during the Great Depression.
“That’s when the times weren’t good, so we went down to stay in Northern California with my mother’s sister until dad got a job in the mill,” she added. “We started school in the states in the Northern Redwoods near Arcata.”
After her father found work with the Powell River Company, he built the family a small house on Duncan Street before dying a few years later at the age of 39. Raby raised her two daughters on her own in the little house.
When the girls graduated high school, they took a trip back to California to see their extended family. Raby brought four redwood seeds back to Powell River. She planted them in flower pots on her front porch. Eventually, one of the trees outgrew the pot and was planted in the front yard.
“It grew into the giant redwood that is still standing there today,” said Raby’s granddaughter Elaine DeBock, who also lives in Alberta. “My grandmother continued to live in that house for the rest of her life until she passed away in late 1980 and since then it has been sold. I was born in Powell River and lived there until I was 10 so I spent a lot of time at that little house playing in the yard, but I didn’t know anything about the redwood tree at that point.”
Howard, now 94, graduated from Brooks Secondary School in 1942 and went to work at the mill, relocating to Alberta in the 1950s after she was married.
“The last time I came back to Powell River was for a high school reunion in 1994,” said Howard.
This California redwood remains uncommon for the upper Sunshine Coast, according to University of BC associate director of horticulture and collections Douglas Justice.
“Coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, is relatively rare locally, mostly because our soils are shallow and not particularly moisture retentive during the summer drought,” he said.
In California and southern Oregon the trees are only found in what is known as the coastal fog zone.
“The trees are adapted to absorbing moisture through their needles,” he added.
On the coast, the trees only survive where there is reasonable soil moisture in summer. As for the tree in question, Justice said he believes it must have gotten adequate moisture and been well cared for.
“The climate in Powell River is close enough to Vancouver's that I would guess the site has a good depth of soil and either there is some natural soil moisture or the garden has been regularly watered since it was planted.”
At almost 80 years old, the tree is already a commanding presence, although in redwood terms it is just in its infancy as the species can live 1,800 years or more, reaching heights of a few hundred feet.
The family has not visited Powell River in several years, but whenever friends or family are in town they request a picture of their redwood tree, said Howard.
“It’s very tall," she added, "and just beautiful."