On the surface, Shelbourne street’s collection of towering London Planetrees provides an ideal setting for a scenic drive or midday stroll. But beyond the majestic greenery lies a backstory of courage, bravery and sacrifice.
“It’s a very powerful story,” said Geoffrey Bird, director/producer of the newly released documentary Trees of Remembrance.
On October 2nd, 1921, thousands of people gathered for a special tree planting memorial service on Shelbourne Street, honouring the region’s 600 lives lost in WWI.
“Victoria was just a small town back then and Saanich was very rural and five thousand people made their way out here,” said Bird, who adds that the community was also battling the Spanish Flu pandemic at the time.
Bird, a professor at Royal Roads University, said his film received funding from several local groups including the District of Saanich and property management company Wesbild.
“I think it just gives us a sense of the importance of remembrance and the fact that sacrifice is made in the community for the greater good,” said Bird.
The original 600-tree memorial lined Shelbourne from Mount Douglas to Bay Street, however, Bird says due to housing and commercial development, just two hundred trees remain standing.
“The majority of the trees have been cut down over the years,” said Bird.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes says despite growing demand for development, the area will continue to serve as a special place in Greater Victoria’s history.
“What we see here is the opportunity to keep the memory alive,” said Haynes. “Soldiers who laid down their lives so that Canada can be what it is. We need to preserve it.”
Over time the memorial expanded to represent fallen soldiers from all of Canada’s wars, with new trees planted as recently as 2010.
“It’s inspiring to think about how these trees live on and continue that memory for us,” said Bird.
A street where a majestic tree landscape meets Canadian history — immortalizing those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Trees of Remembrance will air Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on CHEK, CHEK+ and YouTube.