A Tree For Every Hero

With two years to go, The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign is transforming our continent’s busiest highway into the world’s largest living tribute to veterans.

Our relationship with trees can be quite personal. The volunteers at the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign have certainly found this to be true.

When we began five years ago with the goal to plant 117,000 trees on the Highway of Heroes—one tree for every Canadian lost at war since 1812—we had no idea just how personal the experience would become.

We discovered that 117,000 trees fit nicely along the Highway right-of-way, between CFB Trenton and the coroner’s office in Toronto. As word spread that we needed to raise ten million dollars to get the job done, volunteers and donors came out of the woods (pun intended). Members of Landscape Ontario, a strategic partner, have provided our campaign with donated trees, mulch, soil and labour—and many more Canadians have donated their hard-earned cash.

Over 4,500 amazing people also put their hand up to say, “I want to be a part of this.” We’ve had whole teams of junior hockey, baseball and soccer players, teachers and students, church groups and social clubs alongside people who stood in respect on the bridges during the Afghan conflict, local Legion members and active service personnel by the bus load, and of course, most powerfully, Silver Cross mothers (and fathers) coming together to plant trees together.

For decades, the seemingly ever-expanding Highway 401 was nothing more to Canadians than a ribbon of asphalt to be travelled on. That was until our nation deployed our troops to Afghanistan.

In all, 40,000 men and women from Canada’s Armed Forces served in the Afghan mission between 2001 and 2014.

Beginning in the region of Northumberland, Ontario, first responders began to gather to express their gratitude and grief, as 159 fallen Canadian heroes made their final trip home.

Soon after, many thousands of us joined them to pay quiet tribute to our fallen.

Highway of Heroes tree campaignPhoto: Jordon Rolph

The Maple Leaf Forever

The Afghan conflict marked the first deployment of service personnel where the bodies of our fallen would be repatriated to Canadian soil. Now, it is our mission to honour their legacy.

We are planting two million trees for two million heroes. In addition to the 117,000 trees we are planting for our fallen heroes, we are planting over 1.8 million more trees in the communities along the entire 401 freeway—one for each Canadian who volunteered for service during times of war.

Our trees stand as a living tribute to those who gave their lives to protect the land they are planted on; they too continue to protect us and our land. The trees along the highway also become an integral part of our transportation infrastructure—blocking wind, drifting snow and preventing flooding.

By the end of 2020, we will be approaching the halfway mark of our two million tree goal. Inspired by yellow ribbons that are often tied to trees as a tribute to support those who serve, the trees we plant on the highway have all been given a yellow wrap at their base. The wraps not only protect the trees from rodent damage, but also make our trees easier to spot from the highway.

Off the highway, private landowners living within 30 kilometres of the highway along the entire 401 corridor have the opportunity to have a piece of this living memorial to call their own. Our Private Landowner Partnership Program, which would not be possible without an imperative partnership with Forests Ontario, supports tree plantings for qualified landowners at a substantially reduced cost.

In just over two years, our final tree will be planted, and our work will be complete, but we still need the help of all Canadians to get the job done.

First, please spread the word. Our campaign has the power to unite Canadians. We know that the more people who know about it, the more effective we will be at honouring our veterans, protecting our environment and expanding our natural heritage.

Also, until the end of this year, donations will be matched by an anonymous Canadian donor. For a donation of $150, you can help us plant a single tree, dedicated in the name of your choice and in honour of a Canadian veteran.

Generations United

Our natural heritage is not ours alone. We inherited it from our grandparents and the Native Peoples of Canada who stewarded the land before Europeans arrived. We have a responsibility to care for it today so we can pass it on to our grandchildren. As a community and from one generation to the next, we are accomplishing amazing things. I hope you will join us.

To learn more, visit the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign online.

Next, read this letter from a Canadian soldier that explains the sacrifice of veterans everywhere.

Originally Published in Our Canada