May 31, 2022

Tree Crotch Dropping & Mount Pleasant’s The Davis Family: A Personal Story

I have written before about the remarkable Davis Family who bought up the derelict houses along the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Instead of selling to a developer for a three storey walk-up, they  renovated several Edwardian houses in deplorable condition.

At the time this was a very unusual practice, and the Davis Family then rented out the restored apartment units in their houses. They had a long waiting list for potential renters. John Davis Senior passed away in the early 1980’s and his widow Pat and her son John continued the stewardship of these houses, and provided a community amenity in their front yard and gardens. Pat and her son swept the sidewalk and the street every morning, but had to do this very early-everyone wanted to talk to them as they worked.

When Pat Davis passed away from Alzheimer’s many thought it would be appropriate for her and her late husband and son John Junior to be recognized for the tremendous streetscape and rental housing they had created. While this Edwardian streetscape is recognized by Heritage Canada, there is another plaque that states “this streetscape and rehabilitation was done with no government assistance “.

But they have never been recognized by the City of Vancouver, and there is no official record at the city of what they accomplished. John Junior was also very involved in the Mount Pleasant Plan and also was a caretaker for a rental building across from the houses.

He championed community building in this part of Vancouver.

After Pat Davis’ death, the City of Vancouver  in 2020 turned down recognition of the Davis Family when asked to proclaim a day for them as part of Heritage Week .

Of course it could also be the draft Broadway Plan that meant the Davis Family is shunned by the city-page 249 of 493 Appendix B proposes towers of 18 stories on  their block. (No mention of the Edwardian houses in that document either).

But there’s another story of change they should be known for  too: the  Davis Family single handedly changed the way BC Hydro trims street trees for their wires.

About fifteen years ago  I received a call from British Columbia Hydro asking me if I would intervene with Mrs. Davis. According to the caller, Mrs. Davis had refused to have an arborist on a BC Hydro climber truck prune the street trees on the boulevard on West Tenth. The arborist was afraid of Mrs. Davis, and wanted to go back to the street when she was not there.

The problem was that the hydro wires were in the middle of the canopy of the street  trees, and the arborist was going to cut, or “crotch drop” the primary branches  of the tree  so that the wires could run unimpeded. This is great for the hydro line, but severely weakens the tree.

According to BC Hydro, Mrs. Davis, a grandmother  who was just over five and a half feet tall  and weighed around 100 pounds, had sharply told the arborist to leave, and when he had refused, had taken the keys out of his truck and refused to give them back so he could not extend the hydraulic ladder to “crotch drop” the tree. She then allegedly threw the keys into a bush.

That was so out of character for Mrs. Davis that  I asked if BC Hydro had the correct resident.

There was a compromise mediated and an alternative  was adopted by  Vancouver City Council where it is now policy: in mature street trees, hydro lines can now be raised so that trees are not brutally altered. It is a simple, elegant solution to maintain a strong tree canopy especially important to mitigate heat sinks in our time of climate change.

The City of Toronto’s Elyse Parker who works in Engineering has always said that you need a bad example of something to show why you change current practice.

I was in New York State earlier this month and visited Ogdensburg New York where street trees have been “crotch dropped”, the practice that Mrs. Davis had taken such exception to.

That city’s policy has not updated to protect the tree as well as to contribute to the urban forest.

And below is that bad example.

Here’s one more reason the late Pat and John Davis and their son John should be recognized by the city with a proclamation, for changing Vancouver street tree  policy.

Pat  Davis  made a remarkable difference in the City’s streetscapes, by taking away the  keys from BC Hydro’s arborist. And our streetscapes are better for it.

images: sjames

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