Palms away: Oak Bay council turns thumbs down to annual sale

Tourism Oak Bay cancels palm sale rather than find a private location

Oak Bay Tourism committee chair Derek Vair stands underneath one of the palm trees on Monterey Avenue outside the Winchester Gallery.

Oak Bay Tourism committee chair Derek Vair stands underneath one of the palm trees on Monterey Avenue outside the Winchester Gallery.

For the second year in a row, there will be no palm tree sale in Oak Bay – at least, not with the municipality’s endorsement.

This year, it’s more than just the weather hampering the sale of the tropical trees. On Monday council denied a request from Oak Bay Tourism to host the event on the lawns of the municipal hall, citing a desire to support tourism initiatives which fit the municipality’s vision of a sustainable community.

“We need to support projects that support and preserve our existing ecosystem, and unfortunately this one just didn’t do it,” said Coun. Tara Ney, council’s liaison to Oak Bay Tourism.

The decision prompted the group to cancel the sale outright.

Some on council fear that the tropical plants, while not considered an invasive species, could overshadow important native species such as Garry oak trees, which are protected in Oak Bay.

“We have this limited number of large Garry oaks left, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage people to plant and maintain that urban forest,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby.

The chair of Oak Bay Tourism called council’s concern somewhat arbitrary.

“Yes, palm trees are an exotic (species), they’re not native to this area,” said Derek Vair. “But so are camellias and so are rhododendrons and so are lots of other things that people put in their gardens. The argument that palm trees are displacing Garry oaks, I think, is rather spurious.”

While the palms don’t have a significant negative impact on the local ecosystem, they don’t do much to green the community either, said Oak Bay municipal arborist Chris Paul.

“(With) palm trees, you’re getting a very small (contribution) as far as being green, and doing all the good things that trees do for the atmosphere,” he said. “They have a pretty small impact, because their crown is so small.”

The palm tree sale has been quite popular in past years, with several hundred trees being sold annually to customers from around the region. Last year’s sale was cancelled due to an unusually cold winter, coupled with what Vair termed “a glut on the market.”

Though her organization isn’t taking a side in the debate, Trina Mousseau, Tourism Victoria’s director of destination marketing, said the trees are part of Oak Bay’s charm.

“What’s very special about Oak Bay is that it’s this unique seaside community, and the trees add to their personality as a neighbourhood,” Mousseau said.

Not only does nixing the sale have a negative impact on tourism promotion, Vair said, it also deprives a local community group of some much-needed funding.

This year Oak Bay Tourism planned to share proceeds of the sale with the ironically named 5th Garry Oak Scouts Group.

While she acknowledged Vair’s unhappiness with council’s decision, Ney argued that it’s a chance for Oak Bay Tourism to work with other municipal agencies to create a more comprehensive vision for tourism in the community.

“We want to bring tourism together with our heritage, parks and rec, and culture,” she said. “If we do that, there’s tremendous possibilities here.”

Kirby maintained she would be happy to support a sale of Garry oak seedlings, or even fruit trees, which would promote the sustainability concept.

“I think our community has elected us because that’s their vision. I ran on an environmental platform and it would be wrong to encourage something that might threaten our natural environment – even if it’s just a symbol.”

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