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Sapling added to Shelbourne Street’s 100-year-old living memorial

A ceremonial sapling London plane tree was planted on the grassy median that separates traffic on Shelbourne Street on Saturday.
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Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, left, Memorial Avenue Committee member Dr. Geoffrey Bird and Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes plant a sapling to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the planting of London plane trees in honour of fallen soldiers, on ­Shelbourne Street on Saturday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A ceremonial sapling London plane tree was planted on the grassy median that separates traffic on Shelbourne Street on Saturday. It joins 200 existing trees that were planted on the same day 100 years ago in remembrance of the Victorians who served and fell during the First World and Boer Wars.

A total of 600 memorial trees were planted on both sides of Shelbourne Street in Saanich and Victoria to honour fallen soldiers and nurses from B.C. in the First World and Boer Wars.

“People at the time were grieving and wanted to find meaning in the losses suffered during World War One,” said Dr. Geoffrey Bird, professor of the War Heritage Research Initiative at Royal Roads University. “The original planting, which attracted close to 5,000 people, speaks of the community’s desire to remember the sacrifices made for the country.”

The 600 trees planted were meant to serve as a living memorial to the 600 Victorians who served and fell during the First World War. Over the years 400 trees have been felled to make way for development in the municipality, leaving 200 mature trees to line the busy thoroughfare, stretching from the base of Mount Douglas Park in Saanich to Bay Street in Victoria.

The stretch of road was dubbed Memorial Avenue and was formally dedicated on the afternoon of Oct. 2, 1921.

At Saturday’s ceremony the District of Saanich, the City of Victoria and the Memorial Avenue Committee commemorated the 100th anniversary with the unveiling of images of new gateway signs.

“The distinct canopy of Shelbourne Street’s London planee trees serves as a daily reminder of our dedication to remembering those that were — and are — affected by war,” said Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto. “We are honoured to mark this 100th anniversary by planting another tree to reaffirm this legacy of remembrance and ensure our continued reflection and appreciation of such sacrifices.”

Since 2018, the Memorial Avenue Committee has worked with both municipalities to install road signs placed along Shelbourne to commemorate Memorial Avenue. Work has started on the installation of gateway signs both in Victoria (at Shelbourne and Albert Street) and in Saanich (at Shelbourne and Cedar Hill Road). In Saanich, eight historical themed interpretive panels have been installed alongside trees.

While the original intent of the plantings was for those who fell during the First World War, more recent plantings have been dedicated to remembering Greater Victoria residents lost in all the conflicts Canada has been involved in. In 2010, a teacher and Grade 7 students at Gordon Head Middle School planted two trees to honour area residents, Andrew Nuttall and Myles Mansell, who were killed in Afghanistan.

To highlight the history of the trees Bird has produced a documentary entitled Trees of Remembrance: Shelbourne Memorial Avenue, Saanich. It can be viewed at Royal Roads University’s War Heritage Research Initiative website, warheritage.royalroads.ca.

parrais@timescolonist.com