PORT KELLS — Cloverdale’s Mike Perkins was struck with sadness when he got the news that his grandfather’s First World War memorial tree fell over on the weekend.
But he said his grandfather, veteran Charlie Perkins, would’ve had a positive spirit about it.
“My grandfather was a realist,” Mike told the Now Tuesday. “If he was still alive he’d say, ‘That’s just nature doing its thing.’ He was a naturalist long before the term really existed.”
“Charlie’s Tree,” as the memorial is called, was his grandfather’s tribute to those lost at war when he returned home to Surrey in 1919 after serving as a pilot.
The historic Douglas Fir tree was on the family property in those days, but today it was visible along the south side of Highway 1 just west of 192nd Avenue, though it was hard to spot when driving by.
In front of the tree, a white sign identified it as “Charlie’s Tree.” The ivy that Charlie planted decades ago had grown thick and climbed up the tree.
On the tree was a Canadian flag, a cross, a plaque that read “1919,” a wreath and other tokens. A few wreaths always seemed to pop up around Remembrance Day, though the family isn’t sure who brought them there.
It fell Saturday night (July 30), backing up traffic and reportedly causing a minor accident.
Mike said the tree’s demise was inevitable, seeing as it was topped about 50 years ago.
“I was a little surprised it came down as soon as it did,” he remarked. “But I drove by it (after it fell) and yep, it was rotten to the core.”
A common misconception is that Charlie planted the tree. The family says it was actually about 300 years old.
And interestingly enough, the memorial wasn’t actually the tree, Mike revealed.
“The memorial is the ivy itself,” said Mike. “That’s what my grandfather planted. So that’s saveable. I’m probably going to go do something about that in the next day or so. Get cuttings of it and replant it and keep it alive.”
Mike would like to see the ivy continue to grow at the site, and when the area is inevitably developed he hopes access can be created so the public can stop at the site instead of whizzing by it.
“We have some ideas of what we’d like to see there but I’m going to keep them tight to the chest for now,” he added, cheekily.
Not only did Charlie create the memorial site, he fought for it.
When plans were announced for the Trans-Canada Highway (now Highway 1), Charlie learned it was set to run right through his property – and the area including the tree.
Charlie rallied the community and contacted “Flying” Phil Gaglardi, head of the highways department at the time. As a result, the highway was built around it.
Though the tale goes that Charlie sat in front of the tree with a shotgun in an attempt to save it, his family insists that was not the case.
In 2005, then Fleetwood-Port Kells MP Nina Grewal lobbied the federal government to make the Charlie Perkins Tree a national historic site.
“If a national highway was diverted for this tree and what it represents, surely it is fitting to be a national symbol for Canada,” she said at the time.
Time will tell what becomes of the site, said Mike, but he’s encouraged by the community support since the tree fell.
“It feels great. For the longest time it didn’t seem like a lot of people knew about it,” he said. “If (my grandfather) was still alive he would have just said, ‘Well, that’s the way it goes,’ and done what I’m going to do. Replant the ivy.”