Vimy oaks to put down roots at Ottawa high schools

Students in Ottawa are about to be given a unique learning opportunity, thanks to a handful of acorns collected by a Canadian soldier during the First World War.

Trees descended from acorns gathered at battle site in 1917 to be planted at local high schools

'We just thought it was a wonderful idea to be able to bring some of these oaks to Ottawa,' said Jean Begin, president of the Rotary Club of West Ottawa. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

Students in Ottawa are about to be given a unique learning opportunity, thanks to a handful of acorns collected by a Canadian soldier during the First World War.

Twenty-four "Vimy oaks" are being brought to the city by local rotary clubs and will soon have permanent homes on the lawns of Ottawa high schools.

The trees are descended from acorns gathered by Lieut. Leslie Miller, who fought at Vimy Ridge. He found them in a half-buried oak tree on a nearly obliterated landscape after the battle was over in 1917.

Miller sent them back to Canada and asked his father to plant them on the family farm. Later on, he moved the saplings to his own farm.

The Vimy Oaks Legacy Corporation now works to make sure the descendents of those trees are distributed across the  country.

'A wonderful idea'

"We just thought it was a wonderful idea to be able to bring some of these oaks to Ottawa," said Jean Begin, president of the Rotary Club of West Ottawa, in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

The trees were grown in a nursery in Dundas, Ont., and will be planted at high schools. Plaques will also be installed inside the schools, allowing people to learn where the trees came from.

"It's not appropriate to put a big plaque on a little tree," Begin said, "so this was the best alternative."

Initially the rotary clubs thought about planting the trees at cenotaphs, but the trees have a span of up to nine metres and there just wasn't room. Planting them on school grounds offered the bonus of providing the opportunity for education.

"Children would learn the history behind the tree and perhaps remember the soldiers from the First World War," 
Begin said.

We hear the story of a project connecting students with war veterans a century ago through greenery. 6:21

A personal connection 

It will be at least a couple of weeks until the saplings are planted. In the meantime, Begin is keeping them in her garage until other rotary club members pick them up for planting.

While her effort is about making sure future generations have a connection to the war, her interest is also partly 
personal.    

Her father served in the First World War.

"There is that connection and wanting to make some memories from that and do our part," she said.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning