Published in the Toronto Star October 22, 2016
“Freedom is never free.” ~Author Unknown
During the Afghanistan war, Canada lost 158 men and women in the conflict. Their bodies, once repatriated at CFB Trenton were driven to the Coroner’s office in Toronto.
A very Canadian thing happened during those years: people gathered on bridges along the 401 to wave flags, shed tears and quietly acknowledge the value of the sacrifice of those who died in Afghanistan. The 170 km stretch of the 401 became known as the Highway of Heroes.
More to the Story
About two years ago a bunch of tree-loving people thought that it would be a wonderful enhancement to the Highway of Heroes if it were planted with trees. They would clean the atmosphere, cool the environment, provide a more attractive drive down an otherwise ugly stretch of asphalt AND would create a living legacy to our war dead.
The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute was born.
This coming November 4th marks the first anniversary of the official launch of the Highway Of Heroes Living Tribute and much has happened since. As we enter a new chapter of the campaign, here is my update:
- 11,700 thousand trees. This past spring we planted 3,000 trees on lands adjacent to and on the Highway of Heroes. By this autumn we will have planted another 8,700 trees in various places along the highway and on adjacent lands.
- $1 cash meets $3 ‘in kind’. The members of Landscape Ontario have stepped up to the plate. On a sunny Saturday in May this year, we planted 350 large trees at Glen Miller Rd. and the 401 in Trenton (northwest corner). Members of Landscape Ontario arrived with 7 pieces of heavy equipment to dig holes and move earth and mulch. For every dollar in cash that we invested in trees that day, another $3 was donated ‘in kind’ from landscapers, nursery tree growers and others. Landscape Architect Scott Wentworth deserves special mention for pulling this one off.
We have been able to multiply cash donations by using the resources offered by Landscape Ontario in every case. What a great investment! What generosity!
- Volunteers. We have seen corporate-sponsored groups like Corix Water Services from Toronto who brought over 25 people out on a rainy day in mid May. Military ‘families’ have shown up in work boots to make a contribution on our work sites. Like the Vardy family who came from Innisfil to the Keele street location on that same rainy day. When I think about the outpouring of support that we have received, I want to cry. But I won’t. Not yet.
- Volunteer organisations. The Garden Club of Toronto has a long history of giving back to the community. This year, they donated cash and their own ‘in-kind’ services. 20 Garden Club members showed up, many with their husbands willingly in tow, to help plant and mulch over 400 trees and shrubs at the Coroner’s office in May. Amazing.
The Ontario Horticulture Association has raised more than $30,000 …. And this is their first year at this! We are overwhelmed by the gesture.
- Doing it Right. This year our campaign received a huge boost when we received a ‘research grant’ from Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The goal is to use the resources at Vineland Research Centre to determine ‘best practices’ for planting on highway right of ways. Highways are notoriously hostile towards tree growth.
Dr. Darby McGrath, who leads this program from Vineland, is excited that we will finally have protocols in effect that will ensure an acceptable measure of success when planting on highways.
$75,000 has been set aside to create a plan for planting, prepare planting sites and of course to pay for trees. As Darby says, “With the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, we have identified key barriers to tree survival and have developed methods for remediating urban soils and improving tree survival.”
We do not want to plant trees that will die, but rather, thrive and grow for generations.
Darby is an enthusiastic supporter of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute. When asked what her personal motivation is for being involved she says, “I love trees and I love Canada. I am so grateful to live in a country where we show a respect for the sacrifice of our fallen by planting a tree in their honour. I think it is quintessentially Canadian to create a tribute to the loss of a soldier through the planting of a tree. As a tree symbolizes life, strength and peace.”
This is a massive tree planting project that provides all of the environmental benefits imagined plus a living acknowledgement of a very important element in our history.
On November 4th, the Ontario minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca will join me at a planting in Toronto to provide the media world with an update on our campaign. Cobourg will follow, the birthplace of the Highway of Heroes for a tree planting and CFB Trenton for our final ceremonial tree planting.
All of this is to say that we could not do this without you.
Your interest in our campaign.
Your volunteer hours.
Please visit www.hohtribute.ca and sign up for our monthly newsletter and to learn more.