Monty McDonald holds an oak sapling at Connon Nurseries in Flamborough. Professional growers at the Hwy. 5 West facility grafted scions from mother trees, products of acorns collected at Vimy Ridge nearly 100 years ago, to sturdy root stock. The trees will be shipped to France, where they will be planted as part of a living memorial at Vimy Ridge. – Catherine O’Hara • Review
The Waterdown Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion will celebrate the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge with a visit from the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles Association on June 16.
Bob Thomas, a vice president and veterans’ services officer at the Waterdown Legion, added the event will also include the planting of a Vimy Oak tree at the branch.
He noted things came together as the Mounted Rifles Association was doing an Ontario tour and approached the legion.
“We didn’t do anything at the branch this year for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge and we saw this as an excellent opportunity,” he said. “They’re doing an Ontario tour this year and a national tour next year.”
The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were formed in November 1914 and were later converted to infantry. They fought with distinction in a number of battles, including Vimy Ridge.
While the battalion was disbanded in 1920, the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles Association is a group of volunteers who commemorate the deeds and history of the unit through re-enactment, education and memorials. At the Waterdown event, the group will be dressed in authentic First World War uniforms and have two replica 1917 Douglas Dispatch Rider motorcycles on display — complete with sidecars
As part of the event, the Waterdown District High School Museum and the Flamborough Archives will have displays.
In addition, legion member Garth Wetherall, who as made 17 pilgrimages to Vimy, will have a booth set up.
“We saw it as an opportunity to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Vimy and it all fell into place,” he said.
He said originally the Mounted Rifles tour was to honour Victoria Cross winners — one of whom is Waterdown’s Leo Clarke.
Clarke, born Lionel Beaumaurice Clarke in Waterdown in 1892, moved to England as a youth, but his family returned to Canada, settling in Winnipeg in 1903.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour, for his actions in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916, where he killed 19 enemy soldiers and captured one. He died due to injuries sustained in action, just over a month later.
Thomas said as the event was coming together the Legion was approached by the Flamborough Horticultural Society, who asked if they’d be interested in a Vimy Oak tree.
“We said, ‘Yeah, we sure would,’” he said. “It’s really exciting (for the Legion) — that’s a piece of history.”
The Vimy Oaks are a project that grew out of acorns taken from Vimy Ridge by a Canadian soldier in 1917. Leslie Miller sent them home to Ontario, where his family planted them near Scarborough.
Monty McDonald worked on the Miller farm and grew close to Miller. Later, when McDonald travelled to Vimy he didn’t see any oak trees so he developed a plan to grow trees from the original Vimy stock in Scarborough and repatriate them to France.
In 2015 cuttings from the trees were grafted onto rootstock from British Columbia and raised at Connon Nurseries. However, due to the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen ravaging trees in Europe, the Vimy Oaks were not allowed into France.
As a result, the oaks are being sent to communities across Canada to be planted near cenotaphs or legions — like in Waterdown.
The event will take place from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday evening in the front parking lot of the legion.
The tree will be planted at the corner of White Oak Drive and Hamilton Street North at 5:30 p.m., Thomas said, adding both Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge and Flamborough-Glanbrook MP David Sweet will attend.
“Come out and see us,” Thomas said of the event, which will also include a barbecue and refreshments. “Bring your children and they can learn a little bit about history.”