Curious About George

The George Fraser Society is ready to re-introduce Ucluelet to its horticultural heritage.

Ucluetians haven’t celebrated George Fraser Day since 2010 but society chair Wanda McAvoy is hoping to bring it back.

It’s an idea she hopes will be fertilized by volunteer support. Since the event’s planning usually takes about a year, the society is hoping to revive George Fraser Day in 2015.

The George Fraser Society was struck in 2000 and began compiling a history of Fraser with the help of some Victoria historians, according to McAvoy.

Fraser lived in Victoria and was a big part of Beacon Hill Park’s installation in 1889 before moving to Ucluelet in 1894. He was still living in Ucluelet when he passed away a half-century later in 1944.

During his time in Ucluelet, Fraser was no garden-variety gardener. He was a strong advocate for youth programming, taught students the fiddle, and developed a hybrid rhododendron the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England, dubbed Rhododendron fraseri.

He posthumously received a Pioneers of Achievement Award from the American Rhododendron Society’s in 1991.

“He was an important pioneer of our community and he gave a lot to the community when he was with us,” McAvoy said.

In 2001 the first George Fraser Day was held in Ucluelet at the

opening of George Fraser Memorial Park near the Village Square. A memorial plague was placed and descendants of Fraser’s famous Hybrid rhododendrons were planted.

The freshly minted park was an extension of the George Fraser Memorial Gardens dedicated in 1993 near Ucluelet Elementary School.

The society continued to spread the rhodo love throughout town and Ucluelet now boasts 18 rhododendron gardens, many of them located along the Highway into town.

The society continued to hold George Fraser Day and to propagate Fraser’s rhodos with solid success.

In 2004 Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Iona Campagnola arrived in Ucluelet to celebrate George Fraser’s 150th birthday. Campagnola returned in 2007 to celebrate the opening of the society’s largest garden to date near the Wild Pacific Trail’s highway entrance. McAvoy recalled the setup for 2007’s event was backed by immense community support.

“People came out with machinery and their tools and their kids; it was great,” she said.

CHEK TV attended and a writer from Garden Life Magazine came and dubbed the Highway leading into Ucluelet “The rhododendron mile,” according to McAvoy.

“We were really rocking it there for a while,” she said.

The event was held on the Saturday during Victoria Day Long Weekend to draw in the garden enthusiasts in town for the annual Stubbs Island open house.

McAvoy said the day would kick off with an interpretive garden walk that would navigate through Fraser’s former land winding up at a Heritage Fair held at the UAC Hall, of which Fraser was a charter member.

“It was a nice community event for the afternoon,” she said.

Ucluelet’s last George Fraser Day came in 2010 and the Heritage Fair was held at the Ucluelet Community Centre (UCC). A painting of Fraser was placed in the centre’s George Fraser Room, which now holds various meetings and serves as Ucluelet’s movie theatre.

The big draw in 2010 was a wheelbarrow decorating contest where teams gardened up wheelbarrows as best they could in the hopes of receiving the coveted People’s Choice award. The wheelbarrows were raffled off after the event.

After 2010 the society’s numbers dropped and volunteer support waned to the point that the day was no longer feasible.

The society has since become a subsidiary of the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society and McAvoy is hoping to end the drought

and breathe life back into George Fraser Day and Ucluelet’s horticultural heritage.

She is working on grant applications and plans to install new historical signage amongst the garden to give people an understanding of the history they’re experiencing when they gaze into the rhodos.

The society has plans to do major refurbishments at two gardens this year: the garden by the school that was dedicated 1993 and the hybrid rhododendron garden near the welcome sign at Ucluelet’s entrance dedicated in 2002.

McAvoy said the society wants to return these gardens to a level of showcase appeal.

“We’re trying to regroup and bring things back to life,” she said. “We’ve got a few good projects on the go we just need some more people to help us out.”

McAvoy said the society is also working towards bringing gardening workshops to locals and generate support for a community garden in Ucluelet.

She also hopes to revive a kid’s garden located near the back of the UCC “It would be nice to get a little stewardship program going with the kids again,” she said. “We’ve got some great ideas we just need some people.”

Anyone interested in lending a hand is encouraged to contact McAvoy at 250-726-7459.