By Kathryn Stocks
A dedication was held on October 29 for the two Vimy oak trees purchased by the Tony Stacey Centre. Bob Domoney from the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation called the oaks a living memorial to all Canadian soldiers who fought in World War I. At the dedication and in an earlier interview, Bob recounted the story behind the Vimy Oaks project.
Monty McDonald, founder of the project, was driving north on Kennedy Rd. with his father, mother and brother one day in 1951. They were intrigued by a farm named The Vimy Oaks so they stopped in and met Leslie Miller, the Canadian soldier who survived the Vimy Ridge battle in 1917 and sent acorns from one of the fallen English oaks home to his family to plant on their farm. When he returned, his father gave him 25 acres where the oaks were growing and Leslie named his farm after them.
Monty’s family and Leslie became close friends and they helped him on the farm. Monty treated him like a grandfather, Bob said. Leslie died at the age of 90 in 1979. When Monty was at Vimy Ridge in 2004, he noticed there weren’t any English oaks there. “He thought, wouldn’t it be great to come back on the 100th anniversary of the battle and plant a few of Leslie’s acorns here on the ridge,” Bob said.
Ten years later, Monty contacted the Vimy Foundation proposing to plant 100 oaks near the Vimy Memorial in time for the centennial celebrations in 2017. The foundation suggested building a four-acre park near the memorial for the trees. Monty formed a volunteer team to help him and called it the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation.
Right away the group ran into problems. “They were going to collect acorns from the trees in the fall of 2014,” Bob said. “But that was the year after the ice storm and there weren’t many acorns.” So they hired a nursery to take clippings from the tops of the trees and graft them onto similar root stock. They were growing about 450 oaks that way. But they couldn’t get a permit to send them to France because of pathogens in the trees.
So in 2015, the group collected 2,000 acorns from the oaks, refrigerated some and planted 1,250. But those trees weren’t acceptable to the French either. So Monty ended up taking 600 acorns over to France and found a nursery there to grow 300 trees.
Unfortunately, there were delays in building the park so it wasn’t ready in time for the centennial in April, and the trees weren’t tall enough to plant. Bob said the current plan is to have it all done in time for Nov. 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.
Back in Canada, the Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation still had 1,700 oak saplings they couldn’t use. So Bob wrote an article for the February/March edition of the Legion magazine this year asking branches if they’d like to buy a tree. By October 29, they had sold 532 trees to commemorative sites across Canada. “It has been quite successful,” Bob said. “And any surplus money will go to the park in France.”