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VIDEO: B.C. wood artist transforms 250-year-old Garry oak into mementos

No shortage of wood to work with on southern Vancouver Island, says turner Peter Hackett

Garry oak trees are known for their longevity but don’t last forever, particularly in an urban setting.

A roughly 250-year-old tree from the Jubilee neighbourhood, for example, lives on in a series of vases crafted by Victoria wood turner Peter Hackett.

While not old for its species, the tree suffered root rot. Now wood vases serve as mementos in the home on the land where the tree originally towered, several sold quickly and the remainder are on display in an Oak Bay gallery.

People often find him through his website wanting to commemorate a tree that they lived with for decades. The sapling is almost like family, a fixture for folks, and at the end of the veteran tree’s life, people seek a memento.

“They want to see it continue and see that relationship continue,” he said. “This big thing that’s been there for hundreds of years is going to persist. That’s the reward for me.”

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For this particular tree, he found himself with several six-inch slices three or four feet in diameter – tough to turn into a bowl.

So he envisioned the lovely 13-inch tall vases, with an unusual oval created by working with the wood wet. While he did need to invest in a little bit of equipment it turned out to be worth it, losing very few to cracking as they dried.

There’s no shortage of wood, between those looking to make use of trees that must come down, landscaper finds and driftwood.

“The wood finds me now. It’s not an issue in Victoria and every kind of wood is available.”

He once turned a piece of red cedar driftwood he aged at 270 to 300 years by counting the growth rings. It struck him that it was only 10 inches across with that many rings.

“There’s a story there I don’t know,” Hacket said. “It makes you wonder about the stories.”

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With his many scraps, Hackett makes “one tree a day” in a nod to his awareness of climate change. He’s made 250 so far and they’re popular with both the neighbourhood and the occasional home design expert (one on the Lower Mainland has ordered several).

The vases wound up in The Avenue Gallery after he was discovered during the Fernwood Art Stroll. It took Hackett some time to find the tree and story he found worthy of gallery display.

It was a creative task that’s part of the reason he shifted into wood art in the first place – after a career as a scientist and research manager.

“I wanted to do something using the other side of my brain,” he said.

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It took a year of stewing, but he settled on wood carving, which didn’t shift into the turning until they moved to Victoria a couple of years later.

One day about five years ago, Hackett told a friend he was interested in wood turning. That friend walked him over to another house in the neighbourhood where a new acquaintance fuelled his addictive new hobby.

He embarked on the “university of YouTube” the next day.

Learn more about the artist at

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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