Horticulturist Arie Vanspronsen and Watertown Legion veteran officer Bob Thomas with their Vimy tree, planted at the branch. – Barry Gray,The Hamilton Spectator
A two-metre sapling that is a direct descendant of the English oaks at Vimy Ridge is the only tree in Hamilton to receive heritage designation.
While planted on the grounds of the Waterdown Legion only in June, the Vimy Memorial Oak Tree is significant because of its lineage.
The fenced-in sapling is one of approximately 100 oaks sent across the country to commemorate the more than 10,000 Canadian casualties in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
“Hopefully it will be a memorial for many years to come for all those who fought in our area in World War I.”
The story of the trees stems from acorns collected by Canadian soldier Leslie Miller, who survived the First World War victory won by Canadian troops April 9 to 12, 1917.
After picking up the acorns scattered around an oak tree destroyed by shelling, Miller — who died in 1979 — sent them home.
They were planted on his rural Scarborough property, where they grew into a forest of oaks on land now owned by the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church.
For the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, efforts were made to grow offspring trees by grafting hundreds of branches from the tips of the trees to saplings of English oaks from British Columbia.
The local sapling found its way to the Waterdown Legion after a phone call Thomas received from Arie Vanspronsen of the Flamborough Horticultural Society, asking if he would be interested in a Vimy oak tree.
A quick internet search solidified his answer.
“Wow, I’m real interested,” Thomas recalled thinking. “Let’s do it.”
Thomas reached out to the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation, where he had to apply for a tree, and received his approval within 24 hours.
Conveniently, the Legion was planning an event in June to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.
They were able, with the help of the horticultural society, to get the sapling in time for the event at which the tree was planted just east of the Legion’s sign.
It was at this event that Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge suggested putting the tree forward for heritage designation.
“I thought it was quite important for protection in the future,” she said. “One hundred years from now that tree is going to be still standing, and I think it’s important that no one be able to come along and just chop it down without adhering to the heritage designation requirements.”
The Legion agreed, not knowing at the time the tree would be the only tree or landscape designated a heritage property in Hamilton.
A double trunk maple tree was designated by the former Township of Glanbrook before being cut down in 2002 because of safety concerns.
Partridge said another Vimy oak tree was planted in the fall at Waterdown Memorial Park. She intends to bring forward a motion this spring to have that tree designated as well.
A notice of intention to designate the Vimy Memorial Oak Tree was posted on the city’s website Dec. 22, starting a 30-day appeal process.
Council approved designation of the tree on Nov. 8 — in time for Remembrance Day — but once that process is over, it can officially be documented on heritage lists and registers, said municipal heritage committee chair Alissa Denham-Robinson.
Denham-Robinson said this is precedent-setting for heritage planning staff who, for the first time, went through the steps of designating a tree.
While it’s not unusual across Ontario or the rest of Canada, it’s the first time Hamilton has been presented with a request, she said.
“It allows us to look at other areas of the city,” said Denham-Robinson. “There’s other significant, more established trees that probably should have some protection.”
Most interesting in the designation of the Vimy Memorial Oak Tree is that it’s a sapling, she noted.
Often, thoughts of a heritage tree conjure visions of something “stately” that’s been around for hundreds of years, she said.
But this tree is significant because of the historical context — its roots to the Battle of Vimy Ridge — plus its location on the grounds of the Waterdown Legion, said Denham-Robinson.
“It’s created a landscape in Flamborough that’s going to highlight the military history for Canada,” she said. “It’s something that’s leaving a legacy … Future generations are going to be able to see that tree and understand that story.”
On the grounds of the Legion, a green wrought iron fence donated by Versitech Industries Inc. encloses the tree to provide protection. One acorn fell from it last fall.
A small plaque has been put up, but the Legion intends to raise money for a large boulder with a plaque that tells the whole story, Thomas said.
“Boy, we’re real proud of it,” he said. “We’re so pleased to have the tree.”