SUMMIT TREE TOPPING CONTINUES FOR YYJ  Please note: Regular maintenance will be taking place adjacent to the Nav Canada radar site through August and September. The work will involve the topping of a number of trees to the west and north of the radar dome in order to maintain communications critical to airport navigational safety. If you have any questions concerning this work please contact the BC Parks office at 250-391-2315.”



The 1982, the Dubin Commission of Inquiry into Aviation Safety recommended: “Speedy modernization of our radar network to ensure an efficient and modern air navigation service into the next century.” Mr. Justice Dubin said: “The highest priority must be given to the RAdar Modernization Project (RAMP).”

Transport Canada (TC), through its Canadian Air Transportation Administration (CATA) received a mandate from the federal Minister of Transport (MOT), to provide safe air traffic services within national airspace.

During the mid-1980s, TC purchased 39 new state of the art radar tower systems, which would provide complete aerial surveillance over Canada; it was a priority of national importance. Soon after, a Site Selection Committee was created to locate a site that met the following criteria for the Victoria Airport, YYJ:

a)      Coverage must show all aircraft targets in the vicinity of the airport, from 200’ above ground to 18,000’ above sea level;

b)      Coverage must show all aircraft targets from 1,000’ above ground level between the airport and 30 nautical miles of the antenna, up to 23,000’ above sea level;

c)       The radar antenna must not lie directly under major airways of approach areas to avoid blind spots in coverage areas; and

d)      The radar must be quickly accessible to maintenance personnel in case of failures.


Sites considered were:

1)      Cloak Hill, North Saanich

2)      Mount Tuam, Saltspring Island

3)      North Hill, North Saanich

4)      Mount Newton, North/Central Saanich

5)      Malahat, Malahat District

6)      Mount Parke, Mayne Island


The Mount Newton site was the only one which met all the operational criteria; thus the MOT gave RAMP approval in 1982. The coverage area predicted was based on analysis of topographical maps. “Any potential impact by trees or foliage will be evaluated by flight checking after construction.”

Raytheon Canada Ltd. received the contract to construct ready turnkey installations, using a standard tower configuration of a 25m height. The following correspondence confirms that Mount Newton’s RAMP was proceeding, and the trees would be topped:


–          04 Aug 1982 – Letter from BC Parks Director, C.J. Velay; questioned a higher site option, and acknowledged the need for tree topping on Mount Newton

–          14 Sep 1982 – TC choose the existing Mount Newton (1943 Receiver Site) for RAMP

–          13 Apr 1984 – BC Parks (4 reps) and TC discussed the tree topping and decided on the location of safety fence and summit viewing platform

–          20 Jul 1984 – TC identified the required tree topping, and future topping maintenance

–          23 Aug 1984 – TC met onsite with a BC Parks Planner to identify topping requirements

–          14 Jan 1986 – TC Met with BC Parks, confirmed tree topping above 75’

–          30 Jan 1986 – Airport Public Consultation Committee briefing

–          21 Mar 1986 – Park-use-permit (PUP) issued for road realigning and viewing platform

–          12 Jan 1988 – TC advised BC Parks of plan and specifications for the tree topping

–          21 Nov 1988 – Kick-off meeting for radar installation

–          25 Jan 1990 – PUP, end of construction, approved continued maintenance


Throughout 1985-86, BC Parks and TC undertook extensive discussions over the road realigning, the installation of a safety fence and a summit viewing platform. And, both acknowledged the forthcoming need for tree topping within the provincial park. The RAMP project commenced as follows:


1986 March BC Parks approved the summit road realigning, PUP issued
1986 June 200 old growth trees were fell and removed from both sides of the existing summit access road
1986 September Road blasting and grading occurred
1986 October Viewing platform installed (Abraham Collins Lookout)
1986 November Road and site work finishing occurred
1987 January Safety fence installed above road cliffs
1987 November Radar site foundation and fencing installed
1988 May Power lines improved and extended up the Thomson-right-of-way
1988 November RAMP kick-off meeting, all concerned met and understood their responsibilities, project time-line and results expected
1989 November Tower and dome constructed
1990 January Site cleanup and drainage improvements
1990 February Flight checks provided radar imagery showing unsatisfactory coverage in the area of the taller trees
1990 November BC Parks notified volunteers that the summit trees would be topped (first indication)
1991 February Transport Canada and BC Parks cohosted information forums
1991 August 113 x initial topping/cut: 6 trees removed, 107 topped by 30%
1991 September RAMP declared operational
1997 summer 14 re-topped, line-of-sight maintenance, minimal
2001 summer 10 re-topped, line-of-sight maintenance, minimal
2007 Summer 6 re-topped, line-of-sight maintenance, minimal
2011 Summer 10 re-topped, line-of-sight maintenance, minimal
2012 Summer 13 re-topped for coverage over Patricia Bay @ +500’, a significant re-topping was conducted
2014 Summer trees topped for coverage over Coal Bay @ +500’, a significant re-topping was conducted as follows:16 x July (line-of-sight maintenance)

22 x August (maintenance, plus 11 mint/previously un topped)

? x September (approx. 13 mint/previously un topped)



During the summer of 1986, the summit access road, which leads from the parking lot to the radar towers, was realigned. Approximately 200 trees were removed, and the roads upper stretch was blasted to a depth of 40’, and the rock was moved onto the lower half, which created a consistent road grade.

On September 18, 1986, the Outdoor Club of Victoria wrote the Minister of Parks: “We note with alarm the damage being done as the road access to the radar site is being expanded. Although we realize that it may be difficult to avoid some disturbance to the environment, we trust that the park will be restored, insofar as is possible, to its pristine state when construction is completed. It will be difficult, though, to replace the 300-year old trees which have been cut down.”

A park volunteer counted the rings on three stumps and added seven years: 1) tree in the parking lot, 326 years; 2) tree at the lower bend, 226 years; and 3) tree at the summit compound, 330 years. He concluded that a huge forest fire occurred around 1655, as most of the Douglas firs were the same age. Though this exercise, he was able to convince the road builders to construct stone walls around two Douglas firs: a) below lower bend; b) middle straight stretch, mid-point; and through conversation a giant leaning trees was also left.

The parks regular users were totally disgusted, words couldn’t express their disapproval. But they knew that the MOT and BC Parks had approved the project…

One letter to the Sidney Review on November 13, 1986, titled: “See Park Destruction” requested: “I’m asking for all old age pensioner groups, Legion groups, Lions groups, church groups, all people young and old to visit our John Dean Park and see the destruction that bulldozers and chainsaws have already done. This park was given to the people to enjoy and for our children and grandchildren to enjoy, the cairn bearing the names of many people who gave this park to us faces destruction that already has occurred.”

After the tower was completed, on February 23, 1990, Raytheon Canada Ltd. and TC conducted flight checks. The checks verified that the equipment was functioning to specifications, and the facility was handed over to TC. “The flight check also provided preliminary radar imagery which showed unsatisfactory coverage in the area of the taller trees.”

It wasn’t until November 1990, when the provincial park volunteers first heard that the summit trees needed to be topped. On January 21, 1991, volunteers wrote MP, Lynn Hunter: “Some disturbing information has reached the Friends of John Dean Park. We are told by the Provincial Parks Branch that the 350 year old trees growing on the top of Mount Newton have to be cut because the crowns are interfering with the reception of radio and radar signals.”

In February 1991, CT and BC Parks cohosted forums to discuss the removal and topping of trees in the vicinity of the newly constructed Airport Radar. On February 7, municipal and provincial government representatives were briefed. One mayor stated he felt “the federal representatives had done an admirable job in researching the alternatives.” On February 13, volunteers were briefed in the morning (this authour attended, age 16); and in the afternoon the South Island Tribal Council. After a brief explanation of site selection and criteria, it was stated: “The RAMP project had designated Victoria as a first priority in 1982; and that because the radar is unable to penetrate tree-tops, the radar facility would not be operational until such trimming had taken place.” – “…Aircraft in the vicinity of Victoria International below 800’ altitude simply cannot be seen.” – “…This is considered dangerous and a situation that with increasing congestion can only become more complex and hazardous to the traveling public.”

TC acknowledged that prior to the towers construction, they were aware that the tower wouldn’t be high enough, but had consulted BC Parks. They undertook to select the highest 25m available option to minimize the number and extent of trees to be trimmed. Given the 1991 situation – three choices were available:

1)      Not cutting or topping trees: Was not viable because there would be no coverage;

2)      Raising the height of the tower an additional 20m: The tower would provide coverage, and not affect the trees. But the foundation would require replacing at a cost of three to five million, would be 45m high, involve a considerable delay and cause disruption to the park; and

3)      Trimming and thinning: This was the MOTs preferred choice. They planned not to shave the trees at the same level, but would be “tipped down” as required to provide coverage. Between 12 and 18 trees removed, a number topped by 10m, and many topped at 5-10m. Of the 425 trees at the summit, between 115 and 140 would be affected.

4)NAV CANADA manages 18 million square kilometres of domestic airspace and international airspace assigned to Canadian control.


There was an emphasise that all work would have to be approved by BC Parks, and that “great care would be taken to screen the contractors.” BC Parks advised in July 1990, “the present proposal represented a significant improvement over the first proposal made prior to the towers construction.”

And so, for an entire day in August of 1991, six trees were removed and 107 trees were topped. The branches were chipped and removed; logs were cut into 3’ lengths and delivered to the Saanich longhouses; and volunteers received a pile of woodchips for the Thunderbird Trail. This author visited the summit the evening prior, watched the sunset, and said so-long to the shaded summit. He spent all the next day watching as branches fell and took many pictures.

Since the mid-90s, TC, now referred to as NAV Canada has subcontracted some line-of-sight tree re-topping maintenance at half-decade intervals, which was minimal and unnoticeable. In 2012, a significant re-topping of 13 trees was conducted to achieve coverage 500’ above Patricia Bay; the material was felled and left as ground debris.

In July 2014, BC Parks placed the above notice on their web-site. What surprised this author was the extent of the cutting; 16 tress in July and 22 in August were drastically topped. After the cutting began, it was a faller who mentioned “the goal is to achieve coverage from the radar tower at 5% downward grade to 500’ above seawater in Coal Bay.”

Ongoing radar testing this autumn 2014 may reveal the requirement to top a few select trees. What concerns this author is: any further topping will extend into a zone of previously un-topped mint old growth trees.

Next year, Nav Canada may require coverage in a southwest direction… The long-term goal is likely 360 degree radar coverage.

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