Culturally Modified Trees of Stanley Park


Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 — 4:36pm PST
Comments 2

The other day during our multi-hour walk through the park, John and I came across a a tree that had been tagged in a way I hadn’t seen before. You’ll usually find fluorescent flags hanging off branches as route or survey markers but since the storms we’ve mostly seen spray-painted dots, rags and other indicators that meant “remove”, or “save”, from what I gather anyway.

This tree however was wearing a blue belt, made of plastic that had the words, “Culturally Modified Tree”. Admittedly at first I was amused, picturing Ents partaking in a night at the theatre – then I decided it would be best to ask someone (or Google).


Photo credit: John Bollwitt on Flickr

I asked the most knowledgeable person that I know, and showed him the photo John took on the walk, at my request. He said it means that the tree was used by First Nations people, probably for its bark to make masks, baskets, other provisions or even canoes. These cultures would use the tree but not harm it, leaving it as nature intended and thus making it a sustainable resource for the community.

This all sounded rather logical but I thought I would still Google to see if my source was on target.

A CMT is a tree that has been altered by native people as part of their traditional use of the forest. [CMT Handbook]

Okay he was right (as usual), but I decided to dig a little deeper.

The clearcutting of the ancient forests of BC has resulted not only in the disappearance of ancient trees, but in the loss of culturally modified trees (CMTs). CMTs reveal the social, economic and political organization of aboriginal societies and are signposts of occupation that provide vital evidence for resolving Aboriginal Title. [CathedralGrove]

Here’s more from the David Suzuki Foundation’s report on the significance of CMTs (pdf)

Few Canadians know about the archaeological treasures that lie hidden in the old growth rainforests of coastal British Columbia. Covered by moss and other vegetation, and sometimes difficult to reach in the dense forests, these treasures are the places where aboriginal people long ago felled and worked the massive cedar trees that were so critical to their way of life. Only in the last few decades have people become aware of the existence and importance of these ancient sites and the culturally modified trees found there. [Read more in the pdf]

As I look at more pictures found on Flickr and various websites I now recognize the distinction of CMTs and recall spotting so many over the years while on various walks. The importance of these trees astounds me and it gives me more purpose than ever to take another walk through Stanley Park to try to spot more of these gems.

As a side note to this story, my inspiration for writing everything about local history will be going away for an undetermined amount of time (hence my sudden trip to Surrey this afternoon). My posts won’t stop, in fact I may be even more motivated than ever to jot down and share things he’s enlightened me with over the years. I’m going to miss him a great deal, so much so that it hurts, but at least I’ll have his familiar stories (and hopefully some new ones) to share.

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2 comments

  1. fotoeins says:

    When I was a laddie, I would travel around the city on the old Brill trolleys, which were once painted in green & blue BC Hydro colours before their transformation to the yellow-orange & brown. Because of their accessibility, I made my way to the former sites of Whoi-Whoi and Snauq, where I sent a silent prayer to the Salish gods, hoping in my young naviety, that we were doing all right by our predecessors.

    I guess we still have some ways to go.

  2. H.-J. Hübner says:

    Hi Miss 604. I’ve found this site via Google, because I’m looking for material about culturally modified trees. Yesterday I started writing an article about CMTs within the frame of Wikipedia – but it’s only the german version. I would like to translate it soon. Maybe you will find time and energy to correct my germanisms?

    Sincerely Hans-Jürgen Hübner

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