Meet the man behind 15 Vimy oak trees planted on P.E.I.

·4 min read
Jim Landry in front of the newest Vimy oak seedling planted at the A.A. MacDonald Memorial Gardens in Georgetown.  (Isabelle Gallant/CBC - image credit)
Jim Landry in front of the newest Vimy oak seedling planted at the A.A. MacDonald Memorial Gardens in Georgetown. (Isabelle Gallant/CBC - image credit)

The newest oak tree to germinate from an acorn collected at the battle of Vimy Ridge 104 years ago is now planted in fresh dirt behind the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown, P.E.I.

This Vimy oak seedling only stands about eight inches tall, but according to Jim Landry, who has been planting these trees in P.E.I. and New Brunswick for three years, it represents a mighty connection between Canada's history and future.

"Trees like this kind of come at the intersection of hope and remembrance. So this particular tree connects us with our past," said Landry, standing next to the seedling at the A.A. MacDonald Memorial Gardens in Georgetown.

"As we plant it, we have hope in mind, you know, hope for the environment, for ourselves, for the tree to grow."

Isabelle Gallant/CBC
Isabelle Gallant/CBC

Landry, like so many Canadians, has a family connection to the battle of Vimy Ridge, where his great-uncle fought and died.

As a landscape horticulturist with Landscape New Brunswick, he also has a professional interest in planting trees.

Those two connections came together when Landry heard about a repatriation project to bring those original Vimy acorns, which had grown into large oak trees in Ontario, back to Vimy Ridge to create a park there.

"What a wonderful idea, considering, if you've ever seen pictures of the battle itself, everything was completely decimated," said Landry.

It was such an uplifting experience that I knew I wanted to be part of as many of the plantings as I could. — Jim Landry

As part of the repatriation project, commemorative Vimy oak saplings were also sent across Canada to plant at Royal Canadian Legions and other locations to tell the story of Vimy Ridge.

When Landry heard about the project, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

"I first got involved as a way to honour my great-uncle, who left Sussex, New Brunswick, and went overseas and was killed along with his best friend on the first day of the battle there," said Landry.

He planted his first seedling in Cardigan in 2018.

"Once I planted that one tree, along with pretty much the whole community of Cardigan, it was such an uplifting experience that I knew I wanted to be part of as many of the plantings as I could," said Landry.

Over the past three years, Landry has continued to plant about 15 Vimy oak seedlings across New Brunswick and P.E.I.

Along with Cardigan and Georgetown, there are trees in Borden, Malpeque, O'Leary, St. Anthony, Tignish and Charlottetown.

Submitted by Jim Landry
Submitted by Jim Landry

Now, Landry is planting what he calls second-generation seedlings, which were germinated from acorns he's collected from the first trees he planted three years ago.

"I'm very particular about it. I want to take the acorns off the tree. Once they hit the ground, then it's possible they could have come from another tree. So I'm just trying to maintain some integrity," said Landry.

'Teaching moments'

Landry tries to plant many of the Vimy oaks with schoolchildren or groups from Legions, something he finds rewarding.

"I use these trees as teaching moments because they are a good opportunity to talk about trees, the importance of the urban canopy, how we do need to plant more trees," he said.

As for Landry's Vimy connection, he knows very little about his great-uncle who died during the battle.

"I think maybe that's the reason that I want to talk so much more about it now," he said.

Growing up, the wooden cross commemorating his great-uncle's death was in his grandmother's house, but Landry didn't understand the significance of that until he was an adult, and ended up donating the cross to the Canadian War Museum.

"I went to France as the first family member to visit my great-uncle's gravesite. And I mean, how fortunate am I to be able to do that?"

'It just keeps going'

Kurt Laird, the owner of Laird Tree Care, was on site to plant the tree in Georgetown and has helped Landry plant several other Vimy oaks on P.E.I.

"It's an amazing project," said Laird.

"The reason I like it? Well, the original reason was because of the commemoration of Vimy Ridge and the battle. But now Jim's made it so that it just keeps going," he said.

Isabelle Gallant/CBC
Isabelle Gallant/CBC

Jonathan Schurman, forestry co-ordinator with the Office of Net Zero, a new division of the P.E.I. Department of Environment, was equally impressed with Landry's dedication to the project.

"It was very moving to see someone who is so inspired to plant trees," said Schurman.

"Most people grasp the importance of planting trees, but to take it to a semi-spiritual and historical and such an optimistic kind of forward-looking ... that's unique and inspiring for sure."

Landry plans to keep planting Vimy oak saplings, and spreading awareness to the younger generation about the importance of tree-planting.

"I just want to keep this story going for very selfish reasons. I love planting trees."

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