Plant a tree, honour a hometown hero

MARK & BEN CULLEN groundskeeper @markcullengardening Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of G



SaltWire Network


“When a tree was planted in my honour, I felt like I was receiving a big hug of thanks. It reminded me that what I do is important in improving the health and well being of the patients that I serve. It encouraged me to continue to do the most that I can every day to help make the lives of my patients the best they can possibly be.” — Dr. Nora Park, a health care professional. COVID has occurred at a cost. Our observation is that there are fewer blue ribbons on trees and front yard tributes to our COVID heroes. There are more than two million Canadians working in the health care profession who carried on through the ups and downs of a health crisis in Canada for the last two and half years. We have a suggestion. Let’s plant a tree that sends a message to the people who have been there for us. Health care workers, first responders, teachers, personal care workers: you can finish the list based on your own experience. Trees For Life, Trees For Heroes is a program that provides a living acknowledgment to those we want to send a “thank you” to. We are planting trees in the urban environment, where Canadians live, work, and play. Full disclosure, Mark is the volunteer chairperson of this new organization. For the last two years, Trees For Life has quietly gone about its business planting more than one million trees with the support of the 2 Billion Tree program at Canada’s Ministry of Natural Resources and private Canadian donors. This year, Trees For Life will receive $2.4 million in support from this program and it has pledged to match this money through the Trees For Heroes program. When you donate $150 for a tree, you can attach a name to it. A certificate is created and sent to the person you honour with this living tribute to them. At the end of the year, you will be informed as to where your tree is located. All trees are native to Canada, planted according to strict planting protocols that ensure maximum chances of survival. The genesis of the idea started here, in this column, more than eight years ago, when Mark wrote about the value of a healthy urban tree canopy. That column generated the interest of 14 not-for-profit tree planting organizations that met for two years to discuss what they could accomplish by working together. Forests Ontario and Landscape Ontario took the lead in a campaign to reforest the Highway of Heroes — 170 kilometres of highway between the Coroner’s office at Keele Street and the 401 and CFB Trenton. At first progress was slow, but as word spread, we gained traction and credibility for doing what we promised: to plant two million trees on and near the Highway of Heroes, one for each Canadian lost at war and one for each who volunteered for military service during war. That campaign is wrapping up now, with our last official tree planted on Nov. 2 by previous Governor General David Johnston, in Toronto, at Old Fort York. The successful campaign to reforest the Highway of Heroes included more than 825 planting sites, 4,000 tree planting volunteers, 3,200 donors and $10 million, half of which came from private Canadians and corporations and the other half from government sources. The experience of the Highway of Heroes tree campaign provided many lessons but most of all it has left the volunteer and staff team at Trees For Life, Trees For Heroes inspired. We are taking urban tree planting to a new level, investing in community-led, volunteer-driven tree planting in every province in the country. Currently, we are planting in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and, of course, here in Ontario. Trees For Life, Trees For Heroes: a truly national effort to plant trees for our Canadian heroes. Details at