Ucluelet event salutes George Fraser, his legacy

Just about 70 years after he left Ucluelet on a boat at age 90, George Fraser was remembered for all the evidence of him there is still in town.

The Ucluelet pioneer whose famed hybrid rhodies put him and the West Coast on the horticultural map was a hit at the Ucluelet Community Centre, where the society bearing his name had a plant sale, presentation, music and activities.

“236 acres, 236 bucks .. that was it,” but that 236 acres was “at the edge of the world,” said presenter Dave McIntosh as he flipped through slides showing historic Ukee images.

A Scottish immigrant who came to Ucluelet at age 40 after becoming foreman of then-new Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Fraser operated his nursery and a four-acre garden cleared (perhaps with the help of his two younger brothers, who emigrated here as well, and an ox) on his 236 acres. There was a pond, with goldfish and lilies.

The soil was glacial till – leftovers, basically. He beefed it up, so to speak, with cow manure and seaweed he hauled with a scow from up the inlet, McIntosh said.

Fraser had few kind words for the deer and the salal that even then plagued the gardeners of Ucluelet, McIntosh said, citing bemused mutterings regretting that pit-lamping was illegal.

Air Force pilots in training nearby were given heather seeds to drop, making Fraser something of a “ecoterrorist,” McIntosh quipped.

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His dwelling, a very modest home that measured 12×18″, with an outhouse tacked onto the back.

Despite the challenges, Fraser cultivated all sorts of plants, but he became known for his rhododendron hybrids, with several named for him in the western world’s top gardening circles.

“He worked incredibly hard,”

McIntosh said.

He traveled to Portland or Victoria for meetings, but his work was revered from New York to England’s Kew Gardens to Boston.

Just 10 or so pioneer awards have been given by the American Rhododendron Society – one of them to George. In addition, a plaque in his honour has been posted at Fochabers, in northern Scotland, saluting one of the town’s most famous sons.

A rhododendron Fraser planted in 1889 in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria (by Fountain Lake) still blooms.

The Shelter Islands were renamed the George Fraser Islands in his honour.

“He’s left a bit of a legacy,” McIntosh said.

George Fraser played the violin – his old fiddle was lovingly restored with the help of a Victoria’s Jim Smith.

He was vital long into his golden years.

“He was getting tired of hauling cow manure and seaweed in his 80s,” McIntosh said.

George Fraser was a generous man, who gave land for the UAC hall – which was in turn parceled out, in part, for the Ucluelet Elementary School and high school. Around Ucluelet and Tofino, you will find blooms from the bushes he planted. The Fraserii, the John Blair, and others, along Fraser Lane and Imperial Lane, at Fletcher’s Cove and in Ken Gibson’s yard in Tofino.

When he was being taken by boat to Port Alberni, as he was dying, in May of 1944, he reportedly said “I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but it doesn’t matter – I’ve had my heaven here on earth,” McIntosh said.

editor@westerlynews.ca

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