British Columbia

Charlie's Tree, a fighter pilot memorial, falls after 300 years

A 300-year-old memorial to fallen fighter pilots crashed onto Highway 1 in Surrey B.C. Saturday night setting off cries to replace 'Charlie's Tree' in some way.

Experts say the tree died too soon, perhaps doomed by ivy planted at its base

Charlie Perkins transformed an old fir tree into a memorial and it became a bit of a highway icon, until it crashed onto the road July 31. (Christopher Green/Greenlaw.com)

Charlie's Tree survived near-bulldozing for a highway and several fires, but in the end, the 300-year-old Douglas Fir, which served as a memorial to fallen fighter pilots, may have fallen because of the ivy lovingly planted at its base.

Charlie Perkins trained fighter pilots during the First World War, and survived horrific injuries himself. When he returned to farm in Surrey B.C. he used the old tree to create a memorial to the young pilots he'd trained who were lost.

Anybody driving east on Highway 1, just before Langley B.C., could see the massive fir with three small flags, a white cross and a sign: Charlie's Tree. There it stood as a memorial for 97 years.

Charlie's Tree fell across Highway 1 in Surrey B.C. after 300 years as a memorial to pilots who died in World War 1. (CBC)

The Douglas Fir stood for years, memorial wreaths at its base and a year marker, skirted by ivy that Perkins had planted around the tree.

A tree falls

Then Saturday night just before 8:30 p.m. PT the tree fell, blocking two eastbound lanes of Highway 1 in Surrey.

Crews worked for hours to remove what took 300 years to grow.

Larry Perkins said his dad saved the landmark from the very highway where it eventually fell.

"Dad wrote a letter (to the highways minister) and he came out and walked down the skid road with my dad to the tree. It was in commemoration to past pilots and fighters. Phil Gaglardi (then highways minister) said .. that's no problem we will go around it," said Perkins.

Ivy may have choked it slowly

So the tree survived, as it would several fires, its survival credited to the ivy wound around it.

But that ivy may have been its downfall.

Charlie Perkins survived multiple crashes before retiring from pilot training and heading home to Surrey B.C. to farm. (Larry Perkins)

Douglas Fir trees can survive up to 1,000 years.

Shade-tolerant English ivy — an exotic invasive species in B.C. — is known to climb, cover tree canopies and reduce light to the forest floor while strangling its host tree by eventually girdling it.

Once a tree is girdled, meaning the bark is damaged around the circumference of the trunk, the tree will eventually die.

Ronda Murdock of Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours said in an email that the tree could have survived many more centuries if it had not been girdled by the ivy, which chokes the nutrients to the tree.

People who loved the tree are calling for something to replace it.

Roy Knott used to lay wreaths at the foot of Charlie's Tree wants a plaque at the site.

Charles Carroll, an old friend of Charlie, wants a parking lot so that Charlie Perkins' wish to honour his fallen comrades does not fall with the majestic tree lost this weekend.

Charlie Perkins trained fighter pilots in the First World War. (Larry Perkins)

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