'Future generations will know what happened here': Tree memorial honours mosque shooting victims

A blue spruce tree now stands near the entrance of the Ste-Foy mosque in Quebec City, where six men were killed in Jan. 2017. The U.S. Consulate donated the tree along with a plaque honouring the victims.

U.S. Consulate donates tree and plaque for victims of January 2017 attacks in Quebec City

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Cultural Islamic Centre (left), U.S. Consul General Allison Areias-Vogel and vice-president Boufeldja Benabdallah. (Julia Page/CBC)

Boufeldja Benabdallah's passion for trees and nature is contagious.

The vice-president of Quebec City's Cultural Islamic Centre studied forestry engineering at Laval University in the 1970s.

As he touched the needles of the blue spruce that was planted steps away from the side entrance of the Sainte-Foy mosque, he explained the symbolism this tree now carries.

Mohamed Labidi takes a first look at the plaque donated in honour of the six men who died during the attack on Jan. 29, 2017. (Julia Page/CBC)
''Trees are witness to humanity's history. This tree will live on when we are gone to tell future generations what happened here.''

The U.S. Consulate General in Quebec City donated the Colorado spruce, also unveiling a plaque on Friday in honour of the six men who were killed in a shooting at the mosque on Jan. 29, 2017.

At the inauguration ceremony, Benabdallah said the mosque chose to plant the tree near the side entrance, steps away from where one of the victims fell.

''We planted it here out front, where there is light. The blue spruce can live 150 years," he said. "It will turn blue and reach for the sky."

Allison Areias Vogel and Mohamed Labidi during the inauguration of the memorial on Friday. (Julia Page/CBC)

'Show of solidarity'

At the ceremony, U.S. Consul General Allison Areias-Vogel paid tribute to the victims, those injured during the attack, as well as their families.

"These families are also heroes. They get up every morning knowing they have to continue on without their loved one,'' Vogel said during her speech.

The tree was entirely the idea of Areias-Vogel, said Benabdallah. 

Allison Areias Vogel, fourth from left, with families who attended the ceremony at Quebec City's Grande Mosquée, as well as president Labidi and vice-president Benabdallah, far right. (Julia Page/CBC)
Areias-Vogel said she originally tried to bring flowers in the hours following the shooting but was unable to get near the mosque, which was cordoned off by police.
It will provide shade and beauty, protection, all the things that the people who died provided for their families,- U.S. Consul General Allison Areias Vogel

''So I thought rather than give flowers that will eventually fade, why don't we give a tree, something that will live on in their memory,'' Areias-Vogel said.

She said the Colorado spruce happens to be her favourite tree, and was chosen because it keeps its needles in winter.

"We wanted something that was positive," she said. 

"It will provide shade and beauty, protection, all the things that the people who died provided for their families."

Zahia Sais with her daughter Yasmeen, right, and friends of the family who were at the memorial ceremony on Friday. (Julia Page/CBC)

Families grieving in private

While families were grateful for the gesture, Benabdallah said they continue to grieve in private.

"It is still very difficult for them,'' Benabdallah said. "They must take care of the kids, of everything, and their husbands aren't there when they wake up to say good morning."

Zahia Sais, who attended Friday prayer at the mosque, wanted to stay for the ceremony with her daughter.

"It's still so difficult, nine months later. But seeing that people are still reaching out to show support is comforting," Sais said.
The Cultural Islamic Centre said it wanted to plant the tree in the sun, near the side entrance where one of the victims died. (Julia Page/CBC)

The six men who died during the attack on Jan. 29, 2017 are Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Azzeddine Soufiane.