Native trees living tribute along Highway of Heroes

An illustration depicting the Highway of Heroes planted with native trees.

Illustration courtesy of Highway of Heroes.

Imagine driving along the Highway of Heroes (a portion of southwestern Ontario’s Hwy. 401) knowing that the trees lining this multi-lane corridor were planted in tribute to every fallen Canadian soldier since Confederation. Thousands of trees for thousands of soldiers. In fact, one hundred and seventeen thousand of them. The Highway of Heroes Tribute project has been three years in the making and now the tree planting has started. It will take five more years to complete and your help is needed.

Inspired by the Veterans Memorial Parkway in London, ON, 170 kilometres of Highway 401 from Trenton to Toronto now has over 200 specific planting sites designated. The Landscape Master Plan, designed by Ron Koudys, an award-winning landscape architect, identified the sites based on factors that included topography, soil, prevailing wind and weather patterns, views from the highway, ground and surface water, setback distance and how much room was available for planting. Experts from Landscape Ontario (the trade association), Forests Ontario, and the Maple Leaves Forever Foundation have joined forces to get the ground prepped, the right trees chosen for the right sites, and a watering and maintenance program put into effect.

Given that the trees will face some of the harshest of growing conditions in southwestern Ontario, from compacted soil to salt spray to air pollution, only those hardy native species that have passed rigorous field testing will be used. Interestingly, some native trees, such as Red Oaks, (Quercus rubra) are quite tolerant of road salt, smog, drought and poor soil drainage–all issues that are likely to confront the Highway of Heroes Tribute trees.

But even though the Highway of Heroes Tribute has an impressive group of professionals finding the right trees, the right sites and getting the trees to the sites, the project is ultimately meant to become an historic, living expression of respect and remembrance from everyone.


Leverage your expertise: Horticultural groups, garden clubs, professional landscapers, nurseries and garden retailers can play significant roles as thought leaders and getting-your-hands-dirty volunteers in this initiative. You can:

  • organize events to spread the word
  • donate as a group towards seedling purchases
  • get a group together to help plant trees at a community planting event
  • volunteer to help keep a part of the Tribute alive and well.

• Show up and start planting: A ceremonial planting already took place in Trenton on April 11th but community plantings events are starting up at the end of this month (April, 2016). These will be in areas along the transportation corridor, on lands adjacent to the highway. You can come to watch and lend your support or get into it and start digging. (Tree planting on the “right of way”, the highway itself, will be left exclusively to industry specialists working in cooperation with Forests Ontario, Landscape Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.) Here’s a partial list of public events so far:

  • April 30th: Oshawa
  • May 14th: Toronto
  • May 21st: Trenton
  • May 28th: Whitby

Check the HOH calendar page for details about times and exact locations for each of these free events plus upcoming events in other locations along the Highway of Heroes.

Donate: The HOH Tribute must rely on public support to help pay for trees, amend the soil at the designated sites and ongoing maintenance of the transplanted trees. Check out the Highway of Heroes Tribute website for information on mailing a cheque or donating online. You can opt for a Gift Of Remembrance (donations over $150 Cdn) to honour a family member, a specific fallen soldier or the tribute in general.

Stay in touch: Sign up for the HOH Tribute newsletter. You’ll get lots of backgrounder information about the project, updates on the public events and insights into how the project is coming along.

For a good overall explanation of the project, watch this CTV news video which aired last November (2015) when the project was officially launched to the public.

Some big ideas successfully communicate worthy messages and help to make the world a little better but seem distant and abstract nonetheless. But this is different, I think and I hope you think so, too. As a gardener, a citizen concerned with the welfare of our environment and a member of a family who lost a loved one in WWII, I’m moved by the the Highway of Heroes Tribute using native trees and I’ll be helping to make it happen.

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