In 1917, after winning the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an Ontario-born Canadian soldier, Leslie Miller, looked onto the Ridge for a souvenir to take home. However, amidst the destruction, all Miller could find was a handful of acorns. Miller later planted the acorns on his family’s farm land, an area known today to be part of Scarborough.
Decades later, several of the Vimy Oaks live on at the “Vimy Oaks Farm,” currently standing on the property of the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church; however, no original oaks remain on the Vimy Ridge site. As part of Canada’s 150th celebrations and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge next year, the Vimy Foundation is repatriating these trees back to Vimy, France to preserve Canada’s First World War legacy.
“If you look at the old war pictures, there was nothing left. It was total devastation all of the oak trees, which were predominant in that area. They were wiped out. So, we are actually repatriating them back home to their homeland. But they also represent those soldiers and I think they represent, also, that we have not forgotten, and those soldiers from the Great War, or First World War, will live again through the planting of those trees and their memory,” said Patricia Sinclair, Vimy Oaks Project Coordinator.
The idea originated with Monty McDonald, a friend of Miller. McDonald wanted, originally, to collect hundreds of acorns and replant them in France. However, after McDonald and Sinclair connected with experts like CBC radio columnist Ed Lawrence, the idea grew to take a different turn.
“We have a great tradition in Canada of planting trees as remembrance and memorial and it stems back from First World War when Canadian women took up the idea of planting trees as an economical way to commemorate the family members of soldiers they had lost from the First World War,” stated Sinclair.
The process began in January 2015 when professional arborists took cuttings, or scions, from the crowns of the oaks. These scions were then grafted on to the French Oak root stock from Chilliwack, BC. These grafted oaks are currently growing in quarantine at the Connon Nurseries in Ontario.
It is expected the trees will measure 2.5 metres when they will be shipped to France, in time for next year’s 150th celebrations. The Vimy Oaks team hopes that dignitaries will have the chance to plant the trees in the ceremony.
The team has been working with the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle to find suitable land to plant the trees. The goal is to plant the trees along both sides of the D55 “Chemin des Canadiens,” with a viewing gazebo or deck and a walkway with stations that include descriptive panels. Sinclair hopes the project will also connect Canadian tourists with the town of Givenchy.
“The people really do want to connect with Canadians. Hopefully, through the planting and better connectivity we will have more cultural exchange and student exchange,” stated Sinclair.
In addition, the team is developing a Vimy Oaks Education Project to involve students and help them realize the significance of planting trees for remembrance and the process of doing so.