SURREY (NEWS 1130) – It once stood as the tallest war monument in the Lower Mainland, and now, a little over a year since a storm caused Charlie’s Tree to topple, the highway-side pilots’ memorial is getting new life etched in stone.
With the help, time and funds of the Friends of Old Canada, a monolith now stands next to the fallen Douglas Fir on the eastbound lane of Highway 1, just past Golden Ears Way. The monument’s history is carved in both official languages, written below the symbol of the Royal Flying Corps.
“The stone stands out, the inscription on it is correct and we’ve planted a new Douglas Fir so we’ve started a whole new era down there,” Mike Perkins, Charlie’s grandson said. “I think it’s just great. The ivy is going to continue to grow there on the old stump.”
Charlie Perkins planted English Ivy at the base of the towering tree on his private property in 1918 as a dedication to those he taught to fly in Ontario and Texas during the First World War, many of whom went off to fight and never returned home.
While Charlie himself never served outside North America, he sustained several flying related injuries, including two crashes and a broken leg. When he came home after the war, he realized many of those he taught had died.
“For my grandfather, it was a very personal monument. If that freeway had never gone through there, no one would know about it. That would have been his private little spot,” Perkins said.
Charlie defended the tree from a forest fire in the mid-1920s, and convinced the Ministry of Highways to build around it during the construction of Highway 1 in 1964. It survived vandals setting it on fire in the 1970s and was eventually topped, but last year, the entire remaining tree, some argue choked by the ivy, fell over in late July.
The tree was estimated to be about 300-years-old and over the years had accumulated flags, wreaths and crosses from those who came to pay their respects.
“My grandfather, I don’t think he would have shed a tear over it. If he would have done anything he probably would have done the same things as us; gone down there, cleaned it up a little bit, dug a hole in the ground planted another tree and carried on,” Perkins said.
Charlie’s surviving family hadn’t given much thought to a replacement before they were approached by the Friends of Old Canada, Perkins said. That, coupled with the desire to set the record straight on the origin, reason, and history of the memorial, prompted them to work with the group to create a permanent structure.
The memorial was installed two weeks ago, just in time for Remembrance Day.
“It creates a bit of a record and what I like is that it’s there, and it tells the story, not the legend,” Perkins said.
One day, Perkins says he may fabricate a steel replica of the Curtiss Model J planes his grandfather, friends and students flew and add it to the memorial, but for now he’s happy his grandfather’s history and story has another monument that may stand for another 300 years.