The lives of 72 local residents were remembered at the annual T.R.E.E.S.’ A Living Memorial’ Dedication Service on Sunday, September 17.
Family members gathered at the T.R.E.E.S. Memorial Forest on Marsh Street to reflect on their loved ones who have passed and had trees planted in their memory from September 1, 2022, to August 31, 2023.
Ken Poole opened the service with a bagpipe prelude.
Nathan McKinlay, President and General Manager of McKinlay Funeral Homes, welcomed the families to the ceremony on behalf of the tree committee.
“It is our aspiration that this service of dedication today will offer each and every one of you comfort as we pause and think about the lives that have lived,” McKinlay told the audience. “Because someone dear to us has lived, a forest has begun to grow.
“We are confident that you will not only see this service as a service of remembrance but also an affirmation of the future,” said McKinlay. “It has been said that no one plants a tree for himself but one plants trees for the generations to follow him.”
He said the tree project can potentially improve the quality of life in the community and help ensure children’s future on the planet.
McKinlay acknowledged the late Doug Smith, who understood the problem of shrinking forestation and bird life and presented a solution to the town’s Senior Citizens group at their 1988 annual meeting.
“We thank the seniors for recognizing this need for including the whole community in this project and having the patience while the committee organized,” McKinlay said.
He also thanked Jim and Jeff Brown at the Ridgetown Independent News and Pete Laurie at the Blenheim News-Tribune for their interest in the tree project and all the local reporting they provide to their communities.
He also thanked his uncle, Rob McKinlay, for his vision to make the tree memorial possible.
“Because of your efforts, thousands of trees now grow across our three tree parks,” McKinlay said of the tree memorials in Ridgetown, C.M. Wilson Conservation Area, Merlin Conservation Area and Skakel Conservation Area in Thamesville. “You’re one of the pioneers for the concept of these memorial forests who have spent countless hours putting these projects in motion and creating meaningful tree planting services for the families.”
“We want to thank you for your stewardship in these projects and your mentorship to all of us,” he said of his uncle.
McKinlay also acknowledged the former Town of Ridgetown’s generous gift of land for the T.R.E.E. Memorial Forest and local municipal staff to prepare the Sunday service site.
Since the first tree planting at the entrance in 1990, over 2,500 trees have been purchased for planting in the memorial forest, all native trees to this area.
McKinlay credited members of the tree committee, past and present, who continued to work when the original portion of the T.R.E.E. Memorial Forest ran out of land.
“With the enthusiastic support of our community service clubs and groups, money was raised, and the committee arranged for the purchase of approximately 35 acres of land from the Green family,” he said. “This land connects to the existing memorial forest, and by obtaining this land, we have guaranteed the future of this forest through the continuance of the pathway system and the addition of some untouched wetlands. Our committee made this dream and this purchase a reality.”
McKinlay said Ducks Unlimited had been a valued partner as they preserved the wetlands as an educational tool for the community.
Dan Ouimette, funeral director and a funeral celebrant with McKinlay Funeral Homes, delivered the devotional message to the gathering.
“Every day that we stand to honour the ones that have passed is a special day in everybody’s lives,” Ouimette said.
“When I worked at the Chatham-Kent Hospice for a short bit, there were nurses and directors that told me that every individual has a story,” he said. “And that’s true today; everybody that’s passed has a story, and everybody here today has a story.”
Ouimette shared the story of 20 years ago when he was 24 and lost his own father, who would have been 84 today.
His father was sick, but Ouimette thought he would get better, but was sad, hurt and angry when he didn’t get better and died.
“Grief has a terrible way of sneaking up on you and smacking you right in the face, and this happened to me that day. I was completely devastated; I was lost. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
He said Rob McKinlay and his staff helped him and his mother throughout the process and with the grief.
A few weeks later, Ouimette and his mother were invited to the Tree Service, where they saw other families honouring their loved ones.
“The atmosphere, the natural environment, the birds chirping brought peace,” he said. “And the bagpipes, they brought comfort. That day, I began to understand a little better, and today, I understand it even more.”
He said the ceremony was about remembering and honouring special individuals no longer with us.
“We do this as we spend time with others who share that same feeling of loss. We are brothers and sisters of grief,” Ouimette said. “We all know the pain of losing someone, but we are a community of resourcefulness, compassion and empathy, and we gather today as a united family. They are still there as long as we remember, and I hope today becomes a good memory in your grief journey when you look back on it years from now.”
He said the trees planted on this day will be unique, “just like your brother or your sister aunt and uncle mother and father or your sibling your child or your friend. Those for those who we remember today, they will all be unique, and they are all loved, and they will always be loved always and forever,” Ouimette said before offering a prayer.
McKinlay returned to the podium to read the names of those honoured by trees planted in their memory and invited families to help plant the trees.
“Today, we plant three trees together,” he said.
The names of those who live in this forest are listed in the memorial book prominently displayed in the foyer of the McKinlay Funeral Home in Ridgetown.
Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News