Plaques, names carved in stone, monuments, all are beautiful tributes for the fallen heroes of Canada. But what about creating a tribute that grows, changes, gives life and stands tall for hundreds of years, a tribute that serves as a constant reminder to Canadians as they travel from one destination to another?
This was the inspiration behind the Highway of Heroes (HoH) Living Tribute campaign. Officially launched on Friday, Nov. 6, the campaign plans to plant 117,000 trees along the Highway of Heroes, one for every fallen Canadian soldier since confederation.
Throughout the Afghan Conflict, fallen soldiers made the journey from the passenger terminal at CFB Trenton, down the 401 to the Coroner’s Office Complex in Toronto. It is this journey that the planted trees will follow.
“I think that having trees, changing colors, growing and dynamic, will serve, even if its symbolic or subconscious, as a way for Canadians to always be remembering and always be thinking of the sacrifice and service of the military family and those that have gone before us so that it’s not just a Remembrance Day or Remembrance week, but there are touchstones that people are seeing and connecting with throughout the year,” said Scott Bryk, Executive Director HoH Living Tribute.
The committee believes that trees not only provide a living tribute but also play a role in helping the environment by reforestation, cutting Carbon dioxide, soaking up floodwater and absorbing toxins. They assert that the trees will increase the beauty of the area possibly leading to increased tourism.
The committee has worked with several key partners, Forest Ontario and Landscape Ontario, to ensure the right trees are planted. Through the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, the committee has carefully selected the trees and the best planting methods to ensure the trees can survive in a high-traffic transportation corridor like the 401.
The selected trees are all Native tree species and include sugar maple, beech, white pine, white cedar and white spruce.
The project has a five-year time span with an initial budget of $20 million. A major portion of that budget is for the maintenance of the trees. After two or three years of proper maintenance, the trees have a better chance of surviving and growing.
For the official launch of the project, a ceremonial tree planting was held at the Coroner’s Office Complex and CFB Trenton.
“They say there was a time when a squirrel could go from Toronto to Montreal without ever having to touch the ground. And of course, it could do that by leaping from limb to limb through the dense cover of trees. Well, we are about to change our current situation so that a squirrel will once again be able to do that, from Toronto to CFB Trenton anyway, 170 km of the Highway of Heroes.
“But there even may be a better reason for doing what we’re doing. The Living Tribute that acknowledges the sacrifices made by so many Canadians paying the price for our freedom, for the benefits of living in democracy. If war represents the price our country pays for peace then let each tree be a living legacy for those who paid the ultimate price.
The Highway of Heroes’ 117,000 trees will be a living, breath monument that cleans the air, filters toxins and converts carbon to oxygen,” said Mark Cullen, horticultural writer and Chair of the HoH Living Tribute Committee, at the ceremony.
The ceremony in Toronto attracted political figures like Steven Del Duca, Provincial Minister of Transportation; Eleanor McMahon, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; and MP Michael Levitt.
The ceremony at CFB Trenton was attended by military officials and local politicians.
“It’s not just about the ones that we brought home recently, it’s about the literally over 100,000 laying at rest somewhere else in the world and the fact that we can plant trees here in Canada as a living tribute to them, I think that’s exceptional. It’s an honour for us to start it here where so many young Canadian men and women came home. I think it’s a fitting tribute that it’s here. it’s really important for us here at 8 Wing Trenton…,” said 8 Wing Commander Col. Colin. Keiver
Going forward, Keiver believes the base will partner with the City of Quinte West to ensure the trees are planted and maintained. Both volunteers and donations are needed to turn the sides of the Highway of Heroes into a lush canopy.
With the Living Tribute campaign underway, the committee will now focus on the phase two: planting more than two million trees on adjacent lands to represent each person that has ever served in the CAF.