Garden Expert: Tree Of Life

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Highway of Heroes Living Tribute

During the war in Afghanistan, Canada lost 159 men and women in the conflict. Once repatriated at CFB Trenton, their bodies were driven to the coroner’s office in Toronto.

A very Canadian thing happened during those years: hundreds of people turned out to stand on bridges at points along Highway 401 to quietly reflect on the meaning of this sacrifice, hold flags and salute the fallen heroes passing by in hearses. This was a very personal experience for all. Since then, the 170-km route has been known as the Highway of Heroes.

As the volunteer Chair of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, I am passionate about a living tribute to our fallen, and those who volunteered to serve during times of war.


We are planting 2,000,000 trees between Trenton and Toronto, one tree for every Canadian that has served during times of conflict since Confederation and including the war of 1812. 117,000 of the most prominent trees will be planted along and near the stretch of the 401 known as the Highway of Heroes, one tree for every life lost while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and protecting our country.

This tribute offers an opportunity to tell the story of those that have served in the Armed Forces, and remind travellers along the highway of the great debt we owe these courageous Canadians. It will also provide a myriad of environmental benefits for generations to come. Here at the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign, we are grateful for every Canadian who has supported our efforts to plant a tree for each of Canada’s war dead.


In the spring of 2018, we completed the first planting season of the year and we are happy to report that we planted over 3,000 trees on the Highway of Heroes, bringing us that much closer to our goal. We now have over 17,000 in the ground on the highway and over 100,000 planted just off the highway. We are currently preparing and planting at sites that will ultimately be home for up to another 15,000 trees this autumn.

And these are still the “early days” with many more tree-plantings to come beyond this year.


Volunteer-planting events near the highway educate Canadians about the benefits of reforestation, the importance of native trees, and why, as a nation, we need to embrace measures that protect our environment from the impacts of climate change.

As Canadians, we’re proud of our values that guide us to respect green spaces and wilderness, yet too few of us realize we have the highest carbon footprint per capita in the world. We can and will do better. Those who serve in our military protect our land and our freedom. I feel that we have a responsibility to protect the land that many Canadians have defended over generations.


The goal of the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign is to raise $10 million by 2020. To date, nearly one-third of that has been raised or about $3.2 million. Hitting this goal will ensure that our final trees are planted by 2022.

As we approach Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, let us ensure that we never forget the many courageous Canadians who enlisted to serve during this time. During the First World War, over 600,000 Canadians would join the battle overseas and over 66,000 paid the ultimate sacrifice. For a young nation of just under eight million people, this contribution is nothing short of remarkable.

Please consider making a donation to ensure that a living tribute can be built to honour these brave Canadians who helped pave the way for us to live in this great country we share today.

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Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at . Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.