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The establishment of Arbor Day

Arbor Day, an annual event dedicated to planting urban trees, originated in Nebraska in 1872. John Davidson’s interest in the City Beautiful movement and natural history led to his establishing and organizing an Arbor Day in Vancouver.

In 1916, the Women’s University Club asked for Davidson’s help in starting a local Arbor Day to help make Vancouver beautiful. Davidson acted as chair, with other participants including members of the parks board, the school board, the Local Council of Women, the Women’s University Club and the City Ratepayers. Alderman Lauchlan A. Hamilton and Mayor Malcolm Peter McBeath, who signed an Arbor Day bylaw on March 12, 1917, also took part. The parks board nursery provided trees after an educational campaign appeared in the press.

Brink on Davidson
Listen to the audio clip: “Land clearing and urban tree-planting” (streaming, 1.22 MB)

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While city beautification was important, Davidson intended for Arbor Day to inform schoolchildren and homeowners of the value of trees in retaining moisture, protecting against erosion and providing food and shelter to “many native animals.”

Arbor Day could not take place in 1911 because, according to Davidson, “we were then intoxicated with real estate, [and] we had no desire to beautify homes which might be sold within 24 hours. Now [1916], however, we have sobered down and find time to think of things worth while.” Davidson felt that nature study was especially important in the lives of young children since the pastime could instill in a child “the habits of kindness, carefulness, thoughtfulness, industry, patience, happiness, usefulness, the love of work and the hatred of idleness.” These, Davidson thought, were the first steps toward true citizenship.