The Chilliwack presence in Vimy, France, one year from now at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge will be powerful in three coincidental ways.
Three Chilliwack representatives—an amateur poet, a porcelain artist, and a plant propagating nursery—all independently are now involved in the Vimy Foundation’s project to repatriate the so-called Vimy Oaks to France.
Tony Peneff, Linda Phelps and Mosterman Plants out of Greendale all have a part in the important ceremony, if in very distinct ways.
The Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project is a 100th anniversary commemorative to honour the April 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge. It was at that historic battle, which killed so many but also wiped out all the trees in the Vimy area, that Lieut. Leslie H. Miller, a soldier with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, gathered up oak acorns and brought them back to Canada.
He planted those acorns at his farm, a site that is now home to the Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church in Ontario. They are now mighty oak trees.
The Vimy Oaks project, working in partnership with the Vimy Foundation, aims to repatriate these oaks from Ontario back to France for the 100th anniversary.
And while the cuttings for the new trees came from the crowns of the oaks in Ontario, they were grafted on to a root stock provided by Mosterman Plants in Chilliwack.
These English Oak seedlings were grown from seeds collected at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Agassiz. That parent tree is one of the original trees planted shortly after the research station opened in 1888.
“It is an outstanding specimen tree today and contributes its excellent heritage and traits to the project,” the Mostermans say in a press release
That’s one Chilliwack connection to the Vimy Oaks project.
In 2015, Ontario-based Patricia Sinclair from the project asked the Porcelain Artists of Canada to contribute to the memorial. Looking for presentation pieces to contain the oak seedlings, six “cache pots” were purchased from Gerard Chastagner, a maker in Limoges, France.
These six pots were distributed to porcelain artists across Canada, one in New Brunswick, two in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and . . . Linda Phelps in Chilliwack.
“This is a big deal,” Phelps says of her involvement with the project, which has had an increasingly coincidental Chilliwack connection.
First the grafting, then the porcelain art, then a poetry contest held by the Vimy Oaks Team to find a poem to evoke the meaning of the repatriation of the oaks to France.
Amateur poets and poet laureates from B.C. to the Maritimes took up the call and wrote heart-felt poems expressing feelings about the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers in the First World War.
The winner of the competition, and the third local connection to the Vimy ceremony, a poem by Tony Peneff of Chillwack was chosen for the 2017 commemoration.
His poem, Windbreak, evokes the harshness of war and yet is strewn with the metaphor of growth and the rise of the trees under pressure.
Peneff, currently volunteering at the Chilliwack General Hospital and heading to school to study healthcare, said he was shocked to learn his verse was chosen.
“I’ve never entered a competition before,” he told the Times. “I used to write a lot but it’s the first time I’ve ever tried to submit to anything.”
Peneff said he was inspired and touched by the original story of Miller and the acorns.
“It was something that really spoke to me,” he said.
As for what’s next, he’s not sure, but his understanding is that his poem will be read at the site in France in April 2017.
And as for Phelps’s pot, hers and the others will be on display in Montreal at the Porcelain Artists of Canada Convention and then in Toronto at the Gardiner Museum Oct. 31 to Nov. 13, with the hopes they will be displayed in Paris before being presented April 2017 to The Queen and President of France, among others, with the oak trees in them.