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Vimy Oaks legacy lives on in Centre Wellington

Vimy Oaks - The Rotary Club of Fergus Elora, with the Township of Centre Wellington, planted two “Vimy Oaks” legacy trees at Victoria Park in Fergus on May 16.  Photo by Olivia Rutt

Vimy Oaks legacy lives on in Centre Wellington

by Olivia Rutt

CENTRE WELLINGTON - A little piece of the Battle of Vimy Ridge will now grow into mighty oak trees in Centre Wellington.

The Fergus Elora Rotary Club, as well as the Fergus and Elora Legions, are planting “Vimy oaks” in various places around the township as a way to remember how the First World War battle shaped this county.

Canada was just shy of the 50th anniversary of confederation when the battle erupted on Vimy Ridge in northern France on April 9, 1917. About 3,600 soldiers lost their lives during the battle, which decimated the landscape.

The Vimy Foundation tells the story of Lieutenant Leslie Miller of Scarborough, who, after the battle, gathered a handful of acorns from a partially buried English oak on the ridge and sent them home to his family.

The acorns were planted and grew on his farm “The Vimy Oaks.”

These oaks are still thriving on the same lot now under the care of the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church. However, no original oaks grow on Vimy Ridge.

In 2014, a group of volunteers, the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation in partnership with the Vimy Foundation, decided to grow descendant oaks to be planted at the 1.8-hectare Centennial Park adjacent to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial site in France.

The trees are being planted this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The group is also distributing commemorative “Vimy oak” saplings across Canada, eight of which will be planted in Centre Wellington.

Rotarian Jim Gibbons heard about the trees through family. He has a personal connection to the First World War so he wanted to get involved.  

“We lost 3,600 soldiers - volunteers, they weren’t drafted. They volunteered to go over and fight; it was the first big battle that Canadians won,” he said.

“Personally I had an uncle there and I was over there two years ago. I went through the trenches and the tunnels. It was very emotional.”

Gibbons’ uncle David Allan Robertson fought at Vimy Ridge and later died at the age of 26 in Belgium, mere months prior the end of the war.

“That’s why I got involved,” he said.

“I thought it was great for our community to recognize (the sacrifice).”

Two of the three Fergus-Elora Rotary Club oak trees were planted in Victoria Park in Fergus, the third tree was planted at the Fergus Cenotaph. Gibbons is hoping to construct plaques to be installed near the trees so that anyone can read the story as the saplings grow.

The two oaks received by the Elora Legion were planted at the Salem cenotaph and two of the Fergus Legion’s oaks are to be planted on the county museum grounds.

Jim Dixon, veteran services manager for the Fergus Legion, said it was important for the Legion to be involved.

“That was the start of Canada really, was Vimy Ridge,” Dixon said.

The oaks planted in Centre Wellington will grow and hopefully be around to mark the 200th anniversary of Vimy and the 250th year since Confederation in 2117.

May 19, 2017


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