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Historic roots to be planted on Snape’s Hill

Danny Frechette stands atop Snape’s Hill looking over where his project will soon establish roots. | J.Stockfish photo

Jason Stockfish |

Jasper resident Danny Frechette has spearheaded a project to create a self-sustaining place of contemplation and historical interpretation located at Snape’s Hill.

The project will come in a few phases, the first of which is the deep-rooted foundation of Frechette’s vision, the planting of dozens of Douglas Fir trees throughout the approximately two-acre area.

Standing beside the remnants of what was once the home of the area’s namesake, J.B. Snape, Frechette discussed the historic significance of the plot of land originally known as Fitzhugh.

“Many people in Jasper don’t really know what (the Snape’s Hill area) is,” Frechette said.

“This is the oldest piece of ground that has been inhabited outside of Indigenous peoples.”

Frechette explained that in 1910-1912 the area originally had numerous Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) buildings occupying the land after the railway wound its way through the Canadian Rockies.

The site was named Fitzhugh after the vice-president of the GTR, Earl Hopkins Fitzhugh. 

J.B. Snape, the first engineer with Parks, made his home on the hill in 1921.

In 1925, the Jasper train station moved when CN built the current station.

For Frechette, Snape’s Hill has a very “endemic history” in relation to the railway and Parks Canada.

However, holding an even deeper sense of place and history for Frechette are the Douglas Firs.

“As old as this site is in terms of the railway and Parks Canada being here, this is really contemporary history compared to Douglas Fir trees that have been here for 400 years,” he said.

Frechette envisions the area sustaining itself after some initial TLC from volunteers. 

“For the first two years, we’re going to look after these trees, but for time immortal, they’re going to look after us,” he said.

“They’re going to clean the air, they’re going to give us shelter, they’re going to give us a sense of time.”

Frechette pointed out a few of the 80 Douglas Fir saplings that a restoration crew planted in the area, but due to a lack of water and a heat dome in 2021, many were unable to survive.

To avoid a similar outcome, Frechette has put together a crew of volunteers to work with university students to plant much more robust trees, two or three feet in height.

In addition to planting stronger trees, Frechette has devised a plan to ensure the plants receive sufficient water.

“We have the support of the restoration crew to help water but, as an addition, I have access to a 2,000-gallon water tank donated by Trans Mountain pipeline.”

With that much water on site, all that’s left is people to water the trees and a system to ensure they receive sufficient hydration.

Frechette has devised a coloured pail system to ensure that happens. 

Using a series of pails, ranging in size from an ice cream pail for small children to larger ones for adults, the pails will be painted in five colours along with a map of the trees that are also colour coded accordingly.

After a volunteer has watered a certain section, they will make note in a journal so that the next volunteer to come along will know where to water next.

It will encourage people to explore the space and the history of the location and to water the trees, Frechette explained.

“The first two years are fundamental here for (the trees) to take hold, and once they’ve taken hold, they won’t really need that anymore.”

Frechette described the project as a marriage of history and horticulture and human habitation.

“It’s just a wonderful space in the middle of a community.”

The Douglas Firs will be planted at Snape’s Hill on May 6.

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