After more than a decade of looking after Charlie’s tree, Langley resident Dave Manson is turning over his lawn mower, weed eater, hearing protection and other gear to a new generation of caretakers.
At 81, Manson said, he has health problems that have slowed him down to the point where someone else needs to take on the task of caring for the roadside memorial to Canada’s fallen soldiers, which stands on Highway 1 just west of 192 Avenue.
“I’m not like I was a year ago,” said Manson, who has been driving from his Langley home to the site every two to three weeks to maintain the site.
On Sunday, Manson made a final trip to the memorial to give his equipment to a group of air force cadets.
“I’m sure they can handle it,” Manson said.
“It’s not hard, if there’s a couple of guys.”
Charlie’s tree takes its name from First World War pilot and flight instructor Charlie Perkins, who planted ivy around the base of a centuries-old Douglas fir tree on the family farm in 1919 to honour Canada’s fallen soldiers.
Perkins served as a Royal Flying Corp flight instructor in Ontario during the war.
In the 1960s, when the proposed route for the new Trans-Canada Highway would have run the freeway right over the tree, Perkins convinced then-highways minister Phil Gaglardi to bend the route around the memorial instead, resulting in a permanent eastbound curve in the road.
Manson says he started looking after the tree because he got tired of seeing how neglected and overgrown the memorial had become.
Much of the tree was obstructed by overgrown bushes.
After getting permission from a local Royal Canadian Legion, Manson attacked the bushes with a “chopper” and went after the crab grass with a weed-eater.
Once the site was cleared, he estimated he spent about two hours on maintenance every visit, cutting grass, chopping down encroaching bushes, looking after the flags that fly on the site and other tasks.
The tree was not in the best of health, Manson says.
The ivy surrounding the base likely caused the trunk to rot, hollowing out the tree, Manson said.
It had survived an arson attack by vandals that saw it topped, leaving just the trunk.
So when the tree fell in the summer of 2016, it was not a surprise.
It came down hard, blocking two eastbound lanes of Highway 1 while crews worked for hours to remove the splintered wood.
The project was expanded to include replacing the fallen Douglas fir.
Over several days, the Friends smoothed out the uneven ground around the stump, poured concrete to support the marker and a flag and scooped out a space in the stump of the fallen tree, where they planted a new Douglas fir.
They installed a chest-high granite marker that says (in both official languages):
“The ivy planted at the base of a giant Douglas fir on this site was a memorial to North American WW1 Royal Flying Corp pilots. The pilots were trained in Canada and the United States by lifetime British Columbian Charlie Perkins, the man behind the memorial.”
Manson said the new fir tree appeared to be thriving, but it won’t be as tall as the original.
“The tree is growing well,” he said.
“It’s not going to amount to much (in terms of size) but it’s there.”