JARS v55n4 - George Fraser Day

George Fraser Day
Bill Dale
Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

The village of Ucluelet, British Columbia, has officially designated the holiday in the later part of May as George Fraser Day. The first of this annual event was held on May 19, 2001, and was a well-attended, successful event.

The feature event of the day was the dedication of a large engraved stone in the newly designated George Fraser Memorial Park near where Fraser's nursery and home had been. Nearby, in front of the village offices, is a column on which a bronze plaque had been placed several years ago with the engraved names of the first settlers - those who had settled there before 1900.

George Fraser's name was among those, as he had settled in Ucluelet in 1894 when he purchased 236 acres of land for $236. This land now covers about half of the area of Ucluelet. It extends from Ucluelet Inlet right across to the rugged western shore. The next land in that direction is Japan. The Indian name of Ucluelet means "people with a safe landing place."

A group of islands at the entrance to the Ucluelet Inlet is officially known as the George Fraser Islands. Amphritite Lighthouse is located at the tip of the peninsula, and a hiking trail extends approximately a kilometer on the rugged coast in each direction. The views of the ocean waves crashing on this tree-lined coast are spectacular.

The rugged coastline, which undoubtedly reminded Fraser of his home on the coast of Scotland, and the mild climate and conditions, which made an ideal spot for growing rhododendrons and azaleas, must have been the reasons Fraser chose this as the place he wanted to live. It would be his "rhododendron heaven."

It was here that he grew his rhododendrons, azaleas, and many other plants, crosses between the wild ones and domestic varieties, and it was from here that his reputation as a horticulturist would become known worldwide.

In 1919, a young Joseph Gable of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, wrote to the Arnold Arboretum asking where he could obtain information about growing rhododendrons. Professor Sargent and Dr. Wilson, later to be known as "Chinese" Wilson, told him that if he was interested in growing rhododendrons he should get in touch with a George Fraser of Ucluelet, B.C. This was the start of a friendship that would last until Fraser's death in 1944 in his ninetieth year.

When Fraser died, he was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1989 a bronze plaque was placed in his honor at Ucluelet, and now in 2001 a large memorial stone has been placed in the newly named George Fraser Memorial Park. The Lions Club of Ucluelet has paid for the stone which was placed with some ceremony on May 19. An RCMP constable in his dress uniform led the parade to the new park along with a kilted piper. At the park the stone, which was draped in a piece of Fraser plaid, was unveiled by the mayor of Ucluelet, Dianne St. Jacques, and myself. The crowd then proceeded to the Lions hall where several presentations took place, all under the events coordinator, Lion Dave Godfrey.

A framed painting of a plant of the Rhododendron Fraseri Group by Daphne Jackson of Duncan, B.C., was presented to Mayor St. Jacques by Ian Anderson, president of the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society. A framed picture of the Fraser stone in front of a rhododendron planted in Victoria in 1889 was presented to the Lions Club by Joe Daley, on behalf of the mayor of Victoria. A large cake decorated with several rhododendrons and a tribute to George Fraser was ceremoniously cut by Mrs. Carol Thompson and myself.

Pictures of all of Fraser's hybrids were on display as also was the framed Pioneer Achievement Award which had been presented posthumously to Fraser by the ARS. It was the fourth time this rarely given award had ever been presented. The first recipient had been his good friend Joe Gable. Also received and read was a letter of congratulations to the committee from Dee Daneri and Lynn Watts, the executive director and past president of the ARS respectively.

As Fraser Day is now to be an annual event, it is hoped that more rhododendron people will be in attendance next year.