Published On: Friday, 23 November 2018

Victoria Chamber: Chamber Businesses Helped Create WWI Memorial Lane

Victoria Chamber: Chamber Businesses Helped Create WWI Memorial Lane

Almost 100 years ago in Greater Victoria, business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce decided to help memorialize the fallen soldiers of World War One.

The city must have been reeling after the end of the Great War in 1918. So much sorrow and yet so much hope for a better future.

Of the 600,000 Canadians who fought in WWI, about 65,000 were killed in battle and a further 172,000 injured. Among the dead were 600 soldiers and nurses who never returned home to Greater Victoria.

Businesses provide leadership for communities in many ways. We employ people, pay taxes and provide services as the market demands.

A century ago, it was the business community that stepped up to help find a way to heal and carry on. The armistice of Nov. 11, 1918 brought an end to unimaginable misery, and the sacrifices of Canadians fundamentally changed the way the world thought of us.

At home, a growing sense of nationhood would manifest in many ways. In 1921, H.B. Thomson pitched an idea to The Chamber. The vision was to create a Memorial Avenue that might rival the Champs-Elysées. The plan was to create an avenue lined on each side with majestic trees, each bearing a small plaque with the name of a BC soldier lost to war.

Shelbourne Street was chosen as it offered enough space to commemorate every soldier from the province who died. Chamber members went to work, planning the project. Business owners dug holes and planted trees along with members of the community and workers from Saanich and Victoria.

On Oct. 2, 1921, Canada’s first Road of Remembrance opened on Shelbourne Street. More than 7,000 people turned out. A symbolic tree was planted by the Lt.-Gov. of the day, with subsequent trees planted by the Prince of Wales, Lord Byng of Vimy, Sir Arthur Currie and Field-Marshall Haig, among others.

Former Chamber president James H. Beatty, who served from 1921-22, wrote about the project in 1963, as part of The Chamber’s 100th anniversary book. Beatty noted that London planetrees were chosen for their longevity. Trees were planted 60 feet apart with “quick-growing Mountain Ash between.”

About 600 trees were originally planted, less than half of the original grand plan. Over the decades, development along the route and changing social priorities resulted in the loss of hundreds more.

Today, there are about 200 trees along Shelbourne that offer a glimpse of what H.B. Thomson envisioned.

Thankfully, there is a renewed interest in preserving and enhancing this historic Road of Remembrance. Through the effort of the tireless Ray Travers, chair of the Memorial Avenue Committee, a new generation is learning about this tribute to WWI. Along the route, the District of Saanich has placed 30 signs depicting poppies, the leaf of a London planetree and the words “Lest We Forget.”

On Sept. 29, a rededication ceremony was held. Dignitaries included BC Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, as well as representatives from First Nations, Saanich Council and the provincial and federal governments.

Through the efforts of volunteers like Ray, and the leadership of our region’s business community, Greater Victoria continues to shine as place we are proud to call home.

Catherine Holt is the CEO of the greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce