September 1, 2019
David Piccini
David Piccini

Living tributes line the Highway of Heroes

More than just a tree

Editor’s note: Mr. Piccini came to Landscape Trades’ attention as an outstanding consensus builder within the Ontario legislature toward furthering the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign. 
So we invited him to write a guest commentary.

“When is a tree more than just a tree?” This question started the conversation I had with Mark Cullen, campaign chair and co-founder for the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign. As Mark shared with me their goals for 2019, to continue to honour each Canadian that has served in the Armed Forces by planting a tree in their memory, I knew I had to be involved and a catalyst in growing the movement. 

The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, in partnership with Landscape Ontario and the Ministry of Transportation, is planting two million trees along Highway 401 as a tribute to the men and women who fought for Canada in our wars, and a living memorial to the 117,000 who sacrificed their lives for freedom. 

In early 2018, the Ministry of Transportation contributed $1 million to support the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute initiative. To date, the campaign has raised $7.5 million of their $10 million goal and planted nearly 100,000 trees. 
  As the MPP for Northumberland – Peterborough South, I regularly travel the 170-km route between Trenton and Toronto. I am reminded each day of the Canadians that lost their lives while serving because of the newly planted trees that stretch along each side of the 401. 

The tribute is made possible through the hard work of partners such as Landscape Ontario, Tree Canada, Every Tree Counts, and horticultural professionals across Ontario. The support of landscape contractors and garden centre owners, such as the Home Hardware in my riding, has been instrumental in promoting the Highway of Heroes. They generously donate their time and resources to plant trees as efficiently as possible, and make the most out of every dollar.

Collaboration at all levels is key, including with the provincial government. I was honoured to host a Highway of Heroes event at Queen’s Park in March 2019. Members of Provincial Parliament gathered to show support and learn more about getting involved in the tree campaign. We were privileged at the event to have Canadian military heroes and Silver Cross Mothers in attendance. 

This event was not my first involvement with the campaign. In October 2018, I was one of the volunteers planting trees in Cobourg, Ont. Communities across Ontario actively participate in these grass-root initiatives, and through their hard work, help raise awareness, funds and demonstrate support in building a living national memorial. 

The landscaping along the 401, through the living memorial, provides a myriad of environmental benefits for generations to come. It increases the greening of highway, provides canopy cover and erosion control, helps reduce climate change effects, sequesters tonnes of carbon dioxide, cleans particulates from the air and naturally filters our water.  
The impression visitors take away from a community is often shaped by their experience driving through it. The living tribute is cooling the environment and beautifying North America’s most travelled highway, all while honouring the brave men and women who serve and protect our country. We continue to work cooperatively with the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute to identify locations and coordinate plantings along the corridor.

Ontario values the bravery, commitment and sacrifice of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Respecting veterans is a non-negotiable principle of the provincial government. Our government introduced legislation that ensures all Ontario Royal Canadian Legion branches pay no municipal property tax. More than 270 legion halls across Ontario will benefit from property tax exemptions provided by amendments to Ontario’s Assessment Act.

We are also committed to building a new memorial to honour Canadian veterans who served in the war in Afghanistan. During the war, Canada lost 159 men and women in the conflict. The new memorial would join the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial, a 30-metre granite wall that lines the south lawn, in the legislative precinct at Queen’s Park. It would be great to work with the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign and Landscape Ontario on the design, to incorporate the living tribute into the Queen’s Park memorial. 

When is a tree more than just a tree? The answer is when the tree is a part of a memorial to honour Canada’s military heroes.