December 15, 2016 11:29 am
Updated: December 15, 2016 11:56 pm

10 years since major windstorm hit Stanley Park

Ten years ago, "the jewel of Vancouver" took a beating from mother nature. A windstorm tore through Stanley Park - leveling more than ten thousand trees. Linda Aylesworth looks back at the destruction, the public rally to repair the damage, and how it all worked out for the best.

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It’s been 10 years since the 2006 storm that destroyed a section of Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park with hurricane-force winds that ripped through and levelled 41 hectares of forest.

On Dec. 15, 2006, the park, which boasts old growth conifers several centuries old, lost more than 10,000 trees. Large sections of the Seawall also suffered extensive damage, shutting down access to some areas, like Prospect Point near Lions Gate Bridge, for months.

WATCH: Aerial footage of the devastation left by the 2006 storm in Stanley Park


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The images of destruction wreaked by the winds in Vancouver’s crown jewel and tourist mecca led to a huge outpouring of support from Vancouverites.

“It felt like a bit like a funeral almost,” said Patricia Thomson with Stanley Park Ecology Society. “Once the main roads were open and people could make their way up to Prospect Point and the hardest hit areas around the western side again, it was such a slow, long and continuous procession of people wanting to come and see it for themselves and try to come to grips with what a big change it was and what it meant for the forest and to them and their own memories.”

Thomson says people wanted to come out and “fix the forest.”

“The response was tremendous not only from people wanting to come out and physically do something, but also financially help with the renewal.”

The city says public concern for the park resulted in a level of financial and in-kind support that made the $10-million restoration achievable, with volunteers of all ages coming out to help plant seedlings.

PHOTO: The section of the park battered by the storm as seen from the air in January 2007. Courtesy: Vancouver Park Board. 

Stanley Park 2006 damage

In all, 15,000 new trees and shrubs were planted in blow-down areas as part of the rehabilitation process spearheaded by the Vancouver Park Board.

Thomson says they didn’t expect all of the replacement trees to survive, but there was such a high success rate that some thinning will have to be done soon.

She says there were some concerns about invasive species initially.

“Every time you have an opening or a huge disturbance, opportunistic, non-native plants will try to take their hold. Because many of them were already established in small pockets in the park, it gave them an opportunity to take a bigger hold.”

PHOTO: Damage to the Stanley Park Seawall as seen by City of Vancouver crews after the storm. Courtesy: City of Vancouver.

Stanley Park seawall damage 2006 storm

In the years that followed, city staff used the blow-down areas, which constituted about 10 per cent of the park, to set the stage for a stronger, more resilient forest.

Thomson says, from a purely human-centric point of view, the destruction left by the storm was overwhelming, but for the ecosystem it brought some much need renewal.

“The destruction was shocking and impactful, and we felt that,” she said. “But the wind opened up sections of the forest and allowed for growth of plants that needed the new open, sun-lit areas and that, in turn, allowed for greater biodiversity.”

Before and after – 10 years after the storm, the ecosystem has rebounded. Courtesy: Vancouver Park Board and Stanley Park Ecology Society/Kari Pocock

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Before and after – the picnic area that was devastated during the storm as seen when restoration was still ongoing in 2008 and 2016. Courtesy: Vancouver Park Board and Stanley Park Ecology Society/Kari Pocock

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Thomson says 10 years later, some parts of the park, like Prospect Point, have completely changed.

“From what was once a high overhead canopy, it really opened up and now we have a viewscape that looks out toward Vancouver Island,” said Thomson. “People enjoyed that tunnel effect, but now they enjoy the view.”

She says the damage allowed new trees and a lot more shrubbery into the area, which means new kinds of insects and songbirds started to emerge.

“Almost immediately after the breakage of those trees, we noticed that woodpeckers were going to be supported better,” said Thomson. “Far more wildlife use broken, dead or dying trees than they do living trees.”

Global BC covered the storm extensively. Here is a snippet of that coverage – a story by reporter Anne Drewa that showed the degree of the destruction the day after the storm hit the park.

And a week later, when the park was still being cleaned.

Global BC meteorologist Mark Madryga was heavily involved in the storm coverage.

“I recall watching the storm progress towards the B.C. coast on the evening of Dec. 14,” said Madryga. “I awoke at 2 a.m. to my alarm with intentions of arriving at Global BC studios by 3 a.m. That is when the frontal passage occurred, and the wind shifted to the extreme westerly and took aim at Vancouver. It was an immediate flurry of activity. Many trees had already snapped or were uprooted by the time Global BC Morning News started broadcasting at 5 a.m. It was an intense morning, as the extreme wind held for two or three hours, subsided, then returned later in the morning.”

Madryga says blasts of wind from the west happen on occasion in Vancouver, especially during the fall season.

“The 2006 storm had a vicious wind from the west that rapidly developed in the wake of a cold front,” said Madryga. “This direction of extreme wind flowed freely into English Bay and hammered all in its path, including Stanley Park and parts of Downtown Vancouver. The estimated 120 km/h wind gusts certainly did the most damage to Stanley Park.”

Elsewhere in the city, the storm downed power lines, knocked out street lights and caused transformers to burst into flames.

PHOTO: A sign warning of the Seawall closure due to unsafe conditions after the 2006 storm. Courtesy: Vancouver Park Board. 

Stanley Park 2006 damage

Madryga says it was not the first time Stanley Park was hammered by such strong winds.

Two other storms that are well-documented include the remnants of Typhoon Freda that hit Stanley Park in October 1962 and levelled a considerable amount of it, and a recent windstorm in August of 2015, which uprooted countless trees over a larger area, but had much less effect on Stanley Park due to its direction.

READ MORE: Massive Metro Vancouver storm leads to power outages, fallen trees

As to whether a storm of this magnitude can happen again, Madryga says winds of similar intensity and direction can be expected every few decades.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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