Representatives of the Class of 2017 planted a Vimy Oak, a little tree with a big history, in the Alumni Gardens as part of convocation celebrations May 11.
Class president Ellen Sharp, life secretary Mark Trenholm and valedictorian Holly Fisher piled a commemorative shovelful of dirt around the seven-foot white oak, writing the latest chapter in a story going back 100 years to the First World War.
A Canadian soldier, Lieutenant Leslie Miller of Scarborough, Ont., was looking for a souvenir of what he’d just been through at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Everything on the ridge had been blasted to pieces but Miller found a shattered oak and put a handful of acorns in his pocket.
He planted those acorns on a farm back home in Ontario, a farm he called Vimy Oak. Monty MacDonald, now 72, worked for Miller on that farm with those oak trees.
Ten of those trees, now 100 years old, are still growing in Scarborough even though the farm is gone.
MacDonald visited Vimy 12 years ago and was sad to see no oaks growing there – he has been trying ever since, working with the Vimy Foundation, to get descendants of the Vimy Oaks planted in France.
In 2014, hoping to get some trees to Vimy before the 100th anniversary of the battle, MacDonald was going to harvest a pile of acorns and plant them – but the oaks barely produced 10 acorns that year.
So, plan B, he had hundreds of cuttings from the white oaks grafted onto Canadian rootstock.
It turned out to be overly complicated to get approval to import those trees into France and in 2015 the oaks dropped hundreds of acorns – which are now germinating in France.
So MacDonald and the Vimy Foundation are distributing the graftlings around Canada – 40 of them are coming to Atlantic Canada.
The first to be planted in Nova Scotia was the one in Bible Hill.
“The Class of 2017 is extremely proud to be able to present one of the Vimy Ridge Oaks as our gift,” said Sharp. “We are all here today as the future of agriculture because of the sacrifice of people in our past, people who gave everything for us to have the rights that we are so fortunate to have.”