Vimy oak saplings not approved for planting in France

Members of the Canadian armed forces take part in a Sunset Ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Photo from Getty Images

In 1917, Leslie Miller, a Canadian soldier who took part in the capture of Vimy Ridge, picked up a handful of acorns and took them back with him to his farm just outside Toronto. A century later, the saplings of those trees were going to be planted in the same soil they once came from. But that never happened.

The oak saplings are staying in Canada, according to the Ottawa Citizen , after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ruled that they could not be exported. The Vimy Foundation had announced plans to take some of the oaks from Miller’s old home to France to be planted on the ridge where Canadian forces fought and died together for the first time. The oaks were also meant to symbolize the fraternal bond Canada and France share through their wartime experiences.

“I unfortunately must inform you that it will not be possible for the CFIA to certify the oak trees for export to France,” wrote the CFIA wrote to the Vimy Foundation last fall. There was concern that the presence of diseases specific to Canada would contaminate trees in Europe.

“The EU has strict phytosanitary import requirements for oak trees to prevent the introduction of several regulated quarantine plant pests, especially Cronartium spp., Cryphonectria parasitica, Bemisia tabaci and Xylella fastidiosa. These pests are all know to be present in Canada,” explained the letter.

The French have historic reasons to be worried about diseases contaminating their environment. The country almost lost its wine industry in the mid 19th century due to an invasive insect called phylloxera and is currently involved in EU efforts to kill the Xylella bug.

So while it was the CFIA that broke the news to the Vimy Foundation, the agency was only passing on the message it received from its European counterparts. Canada has no policy in place for the monitoring of the arboreal pests and diseases that EU is concerned with.

But the foundation had a back up plan. It would instead send acorns, which are not subjected to the same rigorous regulations, despite lacking the symbolism associated with century-old oaks. “I understand the concern that acorns in the ground will not be as appealing as trees for the 2017 ceremonies at Vimy, but the CFIA has reviewed all the information available and this is the only feasible option,” the CFIA wrote to the Vimy Foundation, according to the Citizen.

There were concerns that the foundation would go to the press with the latest development in the oak trees saga. But such fears did not pan out. In the end, Jeremy Diamond, executive director of the Vimy Foundation, said,” At the end of the, descendants from those acorns that were collected by that soldier will be planted in the park.”