JARS v45n3 - Pioneer Award: George Fraser

Pioneer Award: George Fraser


George Fraser, 1854-1944, one of the earliest growers and hybridizers of rhododendrons in North America, devoted more than fifty years to the development of his beloved genus, Rhododendron . Working alone in the isolated village of Ucluelet on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island, he produced many hybrid rhododendrons and generously shared seed, pollen and plants with other pioneer plant breeders in the U.S.A. and Britain. He was interested particularly in developing crosses between the native rhododendron of the Pacific coast and the hardier ones of the eastern United States and Canada. Loved by his friends and neighbors, respected internationally by his peers, this gentle, humble man was a truly great rhododendron pioneer.

George Fraser
Bill Dale
Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

George Fraser, a Scottish born nurseryman who died in British Columbia in 1944, was awarded the ARS Pioneer Award at the 1991 Annual Convention in Oakland, California. On May 25 he was honored again by local residents and several ARS members in his adopted home of Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, B.C. Fraser (1854-1944) spent the last 50 years of his life in Ucleulet on the west coast of Vancouver Island where he developed a nursery specializing in hybridizing and growing rhododendrons.

R. 'Fraseri'
'Fraseri', George Fraser's cross of
R. canadense
and R. japonicum .
Photo by Bill Dale

He corresponded with Joseph Gable of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, dean of American hybridizing and first recipient of the Pioneer Award, from the early 1920s until just before his death at age 90 in 1944 (see articles in the Journal ARS , Vol. 43, Winter 1989, and Vol. 44, Summer 1990).

Gable was always very generous in acknowledging the help and good advice which he received from Fraser. In 1960, some 16 years after Fraser's death, Gable wrote: "Both I and those who grow the varieties of rhododendrons that I have concocted and disseminated owe a debt we cannot figure in dollars and cents to the kindly paternal advice and generosity of my old friend George Fraser."

Rhododendrons planted by Fraser at 
St. Columba Church
Rhododendrons planted by Fraser
at St. Columba Church, Tofino,
Vancouver Is., B.C.
Photo by Ken Gibson

On May 25, 1991, many Ucluelet residents gathered at the village hall to attend a talk and slide show about the life and work of George Fraser. Also in attendance were several representatives of the ARS Chapters in British Columbia.

The mayor of Ucluelet accepted the Pioneer Award on behalf of all of the citizens of the community. It will be permanently displayed in a prominent place in the village hall.

Following the presentation ceremony those in attendance visited the newly planted George Fraser Memorial Garden in the centre of the village. This is a beautiful garden constructed by volunteer work by the people of Ucluelet.

G. Fraser's grave, Ucluelet, B.C.
May 25, 1991, Fraser's grave, Ucluelet, Vancouver Is., B.C.
Photo by Bill Dale

Next was a visit to Fraser's grave site. When he died in 1944 no marker was placed on his grave. In 1990 a marble tomb stone was placed to mark his final resting place by three service clubs of Ucluelet. Further improvements were added this year in the form of a concrete curb and white crushed rock over the grave.

The many rhododendron trusses placed on his grave on May 25 made for a fitting tribute to this pioneer who will be long and affectionately remembered as one who helped to make this a more beautiful world in which to live.