Hundreds of people gathered at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., Nov. 8 for the official opening of the Afghanistan Memorial Forest.
The memorial forest, which recognizes and perpetuates the memory of those who fell in Afghanistan, was a joint initiative between CFB Petawawa, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa, and Ontario Command of The Royal Canadian Legion. The trees are planted around a large marble monument, unveiled in 2010, in the shape of a maple leaf with the names of all the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan (Journal, March/April 2011).
The idea was developed about two and half years earlier when Lieutenant-Colonel Keith Rudderham, then the base commander, felt something permanent at Base Petawawa was needed to commemorate the sacrifices made by fallen soldiers in Afghanistan.
Rudderham asked the superintendent of roads and grounds and the design horticulturalist for the base, Kelly Russell, to find hardy trees that would live at least 100 years. Red and white oak, as well as red and sugar maple trees were chosen for the forest and the walkway leading to the monument is lined with native ash, ironwood, linden and ginkgo trees.
Each tree has a plaque bearing the name of the soldier, his or her unit, date of birth and death. Families were contacted as to the type of tree and placement within the forest that they would like in remembrance of their son or daughter.
Rather than go to individuals to raise the money, Ontario Command agreed to provide $40,000 to cover the costs of the project, subsequently leading to the project becoming a reality.
Kyle Taylor, a retired major, was deputy base commanding officer at the time and remained heavily involved in the project. “Almost everyone on the base has a tie to some of the members of the forces,” he said. “It is very hard to handle grief and this memorial forest has gone a long way to help families deal with the grief and healing process.”
Ontario Command President André Paquette said, “[The forest] will pay tribute to the 158 men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice while attempting to restore peace in Afghanistan. These individuals are a part of the fabric that makes this country what it is today. They accepted their mission as did many prior to Afghanistan.”
To make the opening official, a ribbon between two trees was cut by Dominion Vice-President Ed Pigeau who had been Ontario Command president at the time of the original commitment.
Large stones with bronze plaques are inscribed indicating the joint project between the base and the Legion.
Future plans for the forest include mulch for the natural walkways and benches for visitors to spend time in reflection.