Trees from bat­tle­field live on

De­scen­dants of oak tree from vimy ridge grow in canada, france

Simcoe Reformer - - NATIONAL NEWS - Morgan Lowrie

mon­treal — in april 1917, a cana­dian soldier stand­ing on a war-rav­aged bat­tle­field in france pock­eted a sou­venir to send home: a hand­ful of acorns from a downed oak tree at vimy ridge.

Now, a cen­tury af­ter the first World War ended, oaks de­scended from those acorns have be­gun grow­ing at parks and ceno­taphs across canada. and the vimy oaks have made the jour­ney back to france, where they will grow in a new cen­ten­nial park be­side the cana­dian Na­tional vimy me­mo­rial.

The project is pos­si­ble thanks to the late Lt. Leslie miller, who gath­ered the acorns from the de­nuded site of the 1917 bat­tle and planted them on his farm in scar­bor­ough, ont.

They thrived in their new habi­tat, where 10 are still stand­ing on land that now be­longs to the scar­bor­ough chi­nese bap­tist church.

ralph cole­man, a vice-pres­i­dent of the non-profit group vimy oaks Legacy, said the trees are a pow­er­ful sym­bol of the con­nec­tions between canada and france and of sol­diers’ re­silience.

“There’s such sym­me­try to it,” he said of the oaks re­turn­ing to france. “out of death comes life and re­gen­er­a­tion, and it comes full cir­cle.

“There were no oak trees left on vimy ridge, and now the oak trees that grew up in canada de­scended from vimy ridge are send­ing their own de­scen­dants back.”

The park in france, set to be to in­au­gu­rated fri­day in ad­vance of the cen­ten­nial of the war’s end, will fea­ture four con­cen­tric rings rep­re­sent­ing the four cana­dian divi- sions that fought at vimy. shady path­ways will of­fer a di­rect view of the neigh­bour­ing mon­u­ment.

The 1.6-hectare park was cre­ated by the vimy foun­da­tion, a char­ity that ed­u­cates cana­di­ans about the mile­stone bat­tle.

cole­man said the idea of send­ing back the trees be­gan in the mid2000s, when the founder of vimy oaks Legacy, monty mcdon­ald, trav­elled to the fa­mous bat­tle­field and re­al­ized that none of the orig­i­nal oak trees at vimy had sur­vived the in­tense shelling. mcdon­ald had worked on miller’s farm, and the vimy vet­eran was like a grand­fa­ther to him.

as cole­man tells it, mcdon­ald thought: “Wow, wouldn’t it be a nice ges­ture to repa­tri­ate some oak trees back here from canada and a nice ges­ture to my surrogate grand­fa­ther, Leslie miller.”

in 2015, cut­tings were taken from the orig­i­nal trees in scar­bor­ough and grafted onto roots at a nurs­ery in dun­das, ont., where they be­gan to grow as new trees that could be flown to vimy.

The group had hoped to have the project ready for the 2017 cen­ten­nial of the bat­tle, but that fell through when an out­break of a dis­ease af­fect­ing oak trees led the french gov­ern­ment to ban tree im­ports.

in­stead, mcdon­ald gath­ered acorns from the orig­i­nal trees and flew them to france in 2016, where they have been grow­ing in a nurs­ery and will be trans­planted to the park in time for the in­au­gu­ra­tion.

mean­while, the saplings grown in dun­das are mak­ing their way across canada, where over 800 have been or­dered for plant­ing at le­gions, parks, war mon­u­ments and pri­vate res­i­dences.

Three are des­tined for a mon­treal park ded­i­cated to vimy, where they’ll line the path­way lead­ing up to a large stone ceno­taph.

city coun­cil­lor ster­ling downey said the idea of us­ing vimy oaks came af­ter a mi­croburst swept through the park last year, de­stroy­ing many of its ma­ture trees.

downey, the son of a vet­eran, said the trees sym­bol­ize the abil­ity of both hu­mans and na­ture to over­come great ad­ver­sity.

“These trees are a nice liv­ing me­mo­rial to cel­e­brate life af­ter this atroc­ity, and as a re­minder hope­fully that this will never hap­pen again,” he said.

The ges­ture is ap­pre­ci­ated by della robert­son, a sergeant at arms of a lo­cal royal cana­dian Le­gion branch whose grand­fa­ther served at vimy.

robert­son, 54, was at the mon­treal park in uni­form sun­day as lo­cal politi­cians and cit­i­zens held a small re­mem­brance cer­e­mony or­ga­nized by the le­gion.

she said she likes the idea of hav­ing some­thing to con­nect the past to the present at a time when fewer young peo­ple seem to feel per­sonal links to canada’s mil­i­tary his­tory.

“you need to work to keep that con­nec­tion,” she said. “There are some schools that do cer­e­monies, but very lit­tle. There’s very lit­tle con­nect­ing (them) to 100 years ago.”

Gra­ham hughes/the CANA­DIAN PRESS

A sign for an oak tree is shown at Place de Vimy in Mon­treal, on Sun­day. Months af­ter Mon­treal in­au­gu­rated Place de Vimy in a west-end park in 2017, many of the park’s trees were de­stroyed in a fierce sum­mer wind­storm that left parts of the park bar­ren. Now, as the city re­plants, it will in­clude oaks de­scended from acorns brought back from Vimy by a Cana­dian soldier. The ini­tia­tive is part of a na­tional project that will also see the oaks grow in a new park at the Cana­dian Na­tional Vimy Me­mo­rial in France.


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