Friday, 15 July 2011

Seven Sisters Stanley Park Vancouver

In the park of the seaport the giant trees swayed, and taller than any were the tragic Seven Sisters, a constellation of seven red cedars that had grown there for hundreds of years, but were now dying, blasted, with bare peeled tops and stricken boughs (They were dying rather than live any longer near civilisation. Yet though everyone had forgotten they were called after the Pleiades and though named with civic pride after the seven daughters of a butcher, who seventy years before when the growing city was named Gaspool had all danced together in a shop window, nobody had the heart to cut them down.) The Bravest Boat

There is a well-known trail in Stanley Park that leads to what I always love to call the "Cathedral Trees"–that group of some half-dozen forest giants that arch overhead with such superb loftiness. But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble or onyx columns can vie with those straight, clean, brown tree-boles that teem with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace work they have festooned between you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles, are as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading about their feet. They are the acme of Nature's architecture, and in building them she has outrivalled all her erstwhile conceptions. She will never originate a more faultless design, never erect a more perfect edifice. But the divinely moulded trees and the man-made cathedral have one exquisite characteristic in common. It is the atmosphere of holiness. Most of us have better impulses after viewing a stately cathedral, and none of us can stand amid that majestic forest group without experiencing some elevating thoughts, some refinement of our coarser nature. Perhaps those who read this little legend will never again look at those cathedral trees without thinking of the glorious souls they contain, for according to the Coast Indians they do harbour human souls, and the world is better because they once had the speech and the hearts of mighty men. "The Lure in Stanley Park" in Legends of Vancouver. by E. Pauline Johnson.

The trees were six Douglas Firs and a red cedar. In 1951, the Vancouver Parks Board declared them a hazard after they begun to die in 1943 when their root systems had been damage by constant traffic. (Vancouver: A History of Photographs by Aynsley Vogel and Dana Wyse). The last tree was removed in the 1960s Sean Kheraj Restoring Nature: Ecology, Memory and the Storm History of Vancouver's Stanley Park in Canadian Historical Review 88, 4 December 2007)

The Vancouver Sun 3 April 1951 featured a story of the trees headed 'Famed Giants of Forset Doomed'which prompted Malc to draft a letter to the newspaper which is the basis of what appears in his short story 'The Bravest Boat'. The death of the trees symbolised for Lowry the encroaching urban sprawl and industrialisation of Vancouver which is an underlying theme of the short story.

Malc also took up with the paper how the trees got their name of "Seven Sisters". The paper stated that the name was linked to the Sutherland Sisters, who sold hair tonic, and performed in Vancouver shop windows back in the 19th Century. The paper also stated that they have been named after the daughters of one Gastown's prominent citizens, Angus C. Fraser. Sherrill Grace has noted that Fraser actually had eight daughters! (Collected Letters 369)

The Seven Sutherland Sisters, a group of singing women from Lockport/ Niagara, N.Y., were famous for their long hair, which they showed off in a sideshow of Barnum & Bailey’s from about 1882 to 1907. On such group photos the sisters were always placed in such a way that it seemed all of the sisters had hair reaching the floor.

Malc suggest in his letter to the Vancouver Sum and later in 'The Bravest Boat' that in actual fact that the trees were named after Pleiades - the constellation known as the Seven Sisters. The nine brightest stars of the Pleiades are named for the Seven Sisters of Greek mythology: Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Alcyone, along with their parents Atlas and Pleione. As daughters of Atlas, the Hyades were sisters of the Pleiades. The English name of the cluster itself is of Greek origin, though of uncertain etymology. Suggested derivations include: from πλεîν pleîn, to sail, making the Pleiades the "sailing ones"; from pleos, full or many; or from peleiades, flock of doves. Malc goes on his draft letter to detail the various myths concerning the Pleiades including that the the one cedar in the seven firs corresponds to the Lost Pleiad Hyades.

Malc goes onto say that the Pleiades are known in many cultures - the Egyptians, the Aztecs etc. But significantly he also mentions that the Mexican Day of the Dead, All Saints Day and the festival of the All Hallows are all associated with the culmination of the Pleiades.

On of the ironic things that Malc suggests in his letter is to preserve the stumps of the trees by encasing them in plastic and goes onto say:

..Even more touching might be to put a little tablet, likewise encased in the plastic of course, commemorating their high-minded murderer; Persecuted & killed by civilisation in the form of the Noble City of Vancouver. nee Gastown R.I.P. (Huggged to death out of love).

As the plaque above states, in 1986 they were replaced with a newly-planted batch of evergreens.

See Seven Sisters, Stanley Park, Vancouver April 1951 on Postcards from Malc

Finally, E. Pauline Johnson believed in the Chinook legend that the trees were planted by the Four Men sent by Sagalie Tyee to prevent the lure of a witch:

The Four Men, fearing that the evil heart imprisoned in the stone would still work destruction, said: "At the end of the trail we must place so good and great a thing that it will be mightier, stronger, more powerful than this evil." So they chose from the nations the kindliest, most benevolent men, men whose hearts were filled with the love of their fellow-beings, and transformed these merciful souls into the stately group of "Cathedral Trees." Legends of Vancouver.

See The Famous Old Oak Tree, Calderstones Park, Liverpool on Postcards from Malc

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