Vimy oaks planted at Manitoulin District Cenotaph

Little Current Legion Chaplian Diane Musgrove and Secretary-Treasurer Linda Bowerman plant a red maple at the Manitoulin District Cenotaph. photo by Betty Bardwiich

MANITOULIN—A beautiful tree planting ceremony of an oak sapling and a red maple, a symbol of Canada, was held September 17 at the Manitoulin District Cenotaph. The event was hosted by the cenotaph committee consisting of Jim Corrigan, Linda Bowerman, Jeff Marshall, Alan Tustian and Donna Foster, and was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Vimy Ridge battle and Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Ms. Bowerman, the secretary-treasurer of the committee, welcomed guests and introduced Chaplain Diane Musgrove for an opening prayer and singer Kieran Harper, accompanied by her mom Angela Harper, on guitar, for the singing of the national anthem.

Ms. Bowerman then gave a history of the Vimy Oaks Legacy saying, “the Battle of Vimy Ridge in northern France, April 9 to April 12, 1917, is considered to be one of the defining events in the history of our nation. Where Allied troops had struggled and failed, the Canadians overcame great odds and eventually captured the Ridge at a cost of some 10,600 casualties. After the battle, Lieutenant Leslie Miller of Scarborough, serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, gathered up a handful of acorns from a partially buried English oak on the Ridge. He sent the acorns home to his family with instructions to plant them. In 1919, Lieutenant Miller returned, was given a 25 acre section of his father’s farm and transplanted the oaks along the borders of his woodlot. He named his farm Vimy Oaks. Today, a number of these majestic oaks are thriving in the same but smaller woodlot under the close care of the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church that purchased the farm property in 2002.”

In January 2014, a group of volunteers, the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation, decided to repatriate offspring of these descendent oaks back to Vimy Ridge, whose oak trees had all been destroyed in the First World War. These Vimy oak saplings will be planted in the Vimy Foundation Centennial Park, adjacent to the Canadian national Vimy Memorial site, as part of centennial commemorations in France in 2017 and 2018.

The non-profit Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation has undertaken to offer Vimy oak saplings grown in Canada for sale to qualifying organizations and individuals to be planted at commemorative sites throughout Canada to honour the soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge and other battles during the First World War.

Ms. Bowerman also expressed her thanks to Sue and Joe Morin who donated the oak tree in memory of Ms. Morin’s father, George Bury, and to Dave and Cheryl Harper of Har-Cor Greenhouse, who donated the maple tree.

Legion member Dennis Blake also spoke at the gathering as he had attended Vimy ceremonies in France, along with his son and the sea cadets of which he had been an officer for 12 years.

“Nothing has made me so proud to be a Canadian,” he said. “Not only this trip, but also to read about Vimy.”

He went on to say that the Vimy ceremony was an amazing experience. “It was a long day, but very well organized. The prime minister was there as well as the president of France and other dignitaries.”

Mr. Blake, his son and the cadets also toured France, including a trip to Paris. Wearing bright red tunics with a maple leaf on the back, they were stopped more than once by people who wanted to thank Canada for their contributions. Indeed, a five-year-old boy, crossing the street with his mom said, in French, “Look Mom, it’s the Canadians.”

Mr. Blake finished his remarks by saying, “This was a moving experience for the kids and they will remember it as we remember 1917.”

Ms. Musgrove then did the blessing of the trees by opening with an Ojibwe prayer. Tobacco was placed around the trees and Ms. Musgrove blessed the saplings by touching them with a feather and asking them to grow strong and powerful.

Janet Linton, of Port Perry, attended the tree planting ceremony and told. The Expositor that she was visiting a friend on Manitoulin, but added that she used to play in the acorn forest in Scarborough and remembers putting the acorns in little buckets for distribution.

The tree planting ceremony ended with Ms. Bowerman thanking everyone for attending and to say that it was a real honour for the cenotaph committee to apply for the purchase of a Vimy tree and to have the application accepted. Ms. Harper then led the audience in the singing of ‘Highway of Heroes.’