The Ar­mistice Tree

Beech­wood Ceme­tery’s tribute to the Al­lied sac­ri­fice of the Great War of 1914-1918

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - BRIAN MC­CUL­LOUGH

On Sun­day, Re­mem­brance Day, when the bell on the Peace Tower tolls 11 a.m. to in­di­cate the begin­ning of the two-minute pe­riod of si­lence, it will also mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the ar­mistice that re­stored a blessed, peace­ful si­lence across the grim land­scapes of the First World War bat­tle­fields in Europe and else­where.

Five kilo­me­tres to the east, at the Na­tional Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Ot­tawa’s Beech­wood Ceme­tery, an un­usual sen­tinel — the twisted re­mains of a cen­tu­ry­old maple tree in­scribed and pre­served with the sym­bols of war, vic­tory, peace and re­mem­brance — will also be stand­ing in silent tribute to the sac­ri­fice of the brave and vic­to­ri­ous Cana­di­ans and their al­lies who made that peace pos­si­ble. It is Beech­wood Ceme­tery’s “Ar­mistice Tree,” a unique com­mem­o­ra­tive sculp­ture that is giv­ing a sec­ond chance at “life” to a tree that was ready to be cut down.

The idea for the project grew from Beech­wood’s de­sire to pre­serve some of the ceme­tery’s great trees that have reached the end of their nat­u­ral life cy­cles. In re­cent years, two other trees iden­ti­fied by Beech­wood hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist Trevor David­son have been recre­ated into beau­ti­ful works of art by Kemptville mas­ter wood­carver and chain­saw artist Peter Van Adrichem.

For the Ar­mistice Tree, which stands about seven me­tres tall, Beech­wood com­mu­nity out­reach di­rec­tor Nick McCarthy teamed up to cre­ate an over­all con­cept with Steven Di­eter, a serv­ing pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer in the Cana­dian Armed Forces who vol­un­teers as a his­to­rian at Beech­wood. The only instructions they gave to Van Adrichem were to in­clude the iconic Brodie hel­mets as the ubiq­ui­tous sym­bol of our sol­diers, three maple leaves to rep­re­sent Canada’s con­tri­bu­tion to the First World War on the land, at sea and in the air, and pop­pies to sig­nify the bat­tle hon­ours earned by Canada’s forces from 1914 to 1918.

“The pop­pies are sym­bolic of re­mem­brance,” Di­eter said. “We iden­ti­fied 58 of­fi­cially rec­og­nized bat­tle hon­ours of Cana­dian and New­found­land reg­i­ments, and Peter sculpted them out over the height of the tree in a pat­tern that roughly mim­ics the time line, with more clus­tered to­ward the top of the stump as the vic­to­ries mounted dur­ing the fi­nal three months of the war — Canada’s Hun­dred Days.”

On Sept. 12, Van Adrichem fired up his chain­saws, three dif­fer­ent sizes of them de­pend­ing on the level of de­tail he wanted to pull out of the wood, and got started. The work took about a month to com­plete, and to say his process was or­ganic is a bit of un­der­state­ment. Apart from the ba­sic instructions on what to in­clude, Van Adrichem, 62, sim­ply drew on his decades of ex­pe­ri­ence to read the wood and go with the flow. He made no draw­ings, and had no idea what he was go­ing to end up with.

“The de­sign evolved as I carved the stump back,” he said. “There were a cou­ple of limbs stick­ing out, so I took ad­van­tage of them.”

He trans­formed one of those limbs into a large maple leaf, and turned an­other into an arm and hand hold­ing a sword in salute to those who sac­ri­ficed so much. Near the top of the sculp­ture, one of his most evoca­tive de­sign-on the-fly fea­tures is the preser­va­tion of some of the rot that even­tu­ally killed the tree.

“There’s a du­al­ity in that war is some­times nec­es­sary,” he said, “but that it’s also such a waste. That’s why near the top you have some nice carv­ings on the one side, and rot­ten wood pre­served on the other.”

Van Adrichem, whose par­ents sur­vived the war as chil­dren in Hol­land, said he felt hon­oured to do the sculp­ture. “It was an inspiration to do it right there at the Na­tional Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery,” he said.

Di­eter added that the sculp­ture sym­bol­izes the grow­ing col­umn of na­tions that came to­gether in what turned out to be vic­tory 100 years ago.

“When you look at this tree, you re­al­ize that it lived through that war,” he said. “It has its rough spots, dam­age from the wounds of time, yet it re­mains rooted firmly in the ground to tell the story for all those who did not come home, or could not tell their sto­ries to any­one them­selves.”

Mil­i­tary mem­bers of the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion and their fam­i­lies and friends are in­vited to ob­serve the Re­mem­brance Day Cer­e­mony at the Na­tional Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery of the Cana­dian Forces at Beech­wood on Sun­day, Nov. 11, begin­ning at 10:30 a.m. Free park­ing within the ceme­tery is avail­able on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. Weather per­mit­ting, the cer­e­mony will in­clude a tra­di­tional mil­i­tary fly­past.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.beech­woodot­tawa.ca

PHO­TOS SUPPLIED

Mas­ter wood­carver and chain­saw artist Peter Van Adrichem cre­ated the “Ar­mistice Tree” for Beech­wood Ceme­tery out of a cen­tury-old maple that was ready to be cut down.

Sev­eral images of Brodie hel­mets are carved within the tree, rep­re­sent­ing a ubiq­ui­tous sym­bol of Cana­dian sol­diers.

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