The Story Of Big Lonely Doug – B.C.’s Saddest Tree

Earlier this year, a friend of mine went to Vancouver, British Columbia, to see a Dua Lipa concert.

I saw him walking his dog on one of the trails by my house the other day and since we were going in the same direction, I decided to walk with them for about a mile or so.

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I hadn’t seen him since his return, so I asked him about his trip. After he told me about the concert, I asked him what the most interesting thing he saw was during his three days on the island, since I’d never been to Vancouver and I was curious.

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He told me that he and his friends went over to see Big Lonely Doug. I was confused and asked, “The guy who sat behind me in English class freshman year? I didn’t even know he was sick!”

He laughed and explained that Big Lonely Doug is not a man from our high school and is, in fact, a tree. He then told me the story.

What is Big Lonely Doug?

In 2011, one of the forests on Vancouver Island was set to be clearcut by a logging company. Their surveyor, a man named Dennis Cronin, had worked in the timber industry for over 40 years and, in his own words, “cut down millions of trees”.

He began marking most of the trees in the area known as cutblock 7190 when he reached an extraordinary tree that caught his attention.

He could tell right away that it was a Douglas fir, which is highly prized in the timber industry. At a glance, he figured it was about 20 stories tall and wider around than his truck.

He knew that a tree of this height and with this quality of wood could build ten 1,000-square-foot houses and could sell for tens of thousands of dollars to the right buyer.

However, he also knew that he was looking at something special. Instead of the standard orange tape he used on the others, he wrapped some green tape marked “SAVE TREE” around the trunk.

Although he likely did not know it at the time, the tree would soon be given a name and become an important symbol for advocates of protecting British Columbia’s old-growth forests.

Facts About the Big Lonely Doug

Conservationists believe that Big Lonely Doug is a little over 1,000 years old, having begun to grow around the year 1000.

It is over 230 feet tall, which makes it the second-largest Douglas Fir in Canada, about 12 feet behind the Red Creek Fir located just a few miles away. The trunk has a circumference of just over 39 feet and a diameter of about 12.8 feet.

To put that into perspective, it has the height of a 21-story building, a circumference of just over ten 55-inch TVs placed in a row, and a diameter the size of the average African elephant!

How Did Big Lonely Doug Get Its Name?

In 2014, a man named T.J. Watt (the environmental activist and photographer, not the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers) came upon the tree and gave it its nickname.

“Doug” is a shortened version of “Douglas”, as in, Douglas fir, the type of tree. Big, of course, referring to its giant height, and “Lonely” because all the trees around it had been cut down.

After Watt took the photographs, the tree (and the name he gave it) grew in popularity, as it became a symbol of the importance of environmental conservation in Canada.

The Big Lonely Doug Book

In 2018, a Canadian journalist named Harley Rustad published his first book, entitled “Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees”.

The idea came from a series of articles that Rustad had written for a Canadian magazine called “The Walrus”.

The book is both about the tree itself and about the larger issue surrounding it, namely the desire to protect the old-growth forests of British Columbia, like the one that the tree used to be a part of before its surroundings became mainly stumps.

Dennis Cronin tragically passed away in 2016 and was never able to see the book. It was reported, however, that he returned quite often to the spot when he was in the area, to see the beloved tree that he had saved.

Port Renfrew

The nearest town to Big Lonely Doug is Port Renfrew, a small, unincorporated town with a population of just under 150 people.

It used to be known as a logging town, but in recent days it has been rebranded as “The Tall Tree Capital of Canada”. Most of the town’s visitors come to enjoy the outdoors and to visit both Big Lonely Doug and its taller neighbor, the Red Creek Fir.

It is about 70 miles from Victoria on BC Highway 14, or you can take the more scenic route through Duncan on Pacific Marine Road and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Conclusion

Big Lonely Doug is one of the tallest and most beautiful trees in all of Canada, whose name and legacy might have never come to pass if a single logging company surveyor had not chosen to save it.

Today it stands as an important symbol in the fight to protect old-growth forests in British Columbia, where it is believed that 99% of the Douglas Firs that once inhabited the area have now been cut down.

Visitors to Vancouver Island will not want to miss this beautiful piece of nature and the opportunity to see one of the few surviving Douglas Firs in British Columbia. Book your trip to Port Renfrew today!

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