A sign at the south end of Memorial Avenue explaining the Memorial Avenue of Trees leading to the Woodlawn Cemetery. Francois Biber/News Talk Radio
What began with a group of women is now the last remaining Great War memorial in Canada.
In May 9, 1922 the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) sent a letter to council suggesting a good commemoration of veterans of the First World War would be to plant a row of trees down both sides of 3rd Avenue into the heart of the city,” Jeff O’Brien, City of Saskatoon archivist, said.
After looking at the logistics of the proposal, city council decided to create the memorial north of 33rd Street and have trees lead up to the gates of Woodlawn Cemetery.
In June 1923 Memorial Avenue was opened. There were 265 trees dedicated in the first go. Nowadays there’s more than 1,200 trees, which are all along the cemetery with the names of veterans from all of Canada’s conflict up to and including the Afghan War.
In 1994 the avenue was recognized as a national heritage site; and after similar memorials across Canada have dwindled in favour of urban development, the Memorial Avenue of Trees remains.
The name of a Saskatchewan soldier memorialized in the Memorial Avenue of Trees at the Woodlawn Cemetery.
O’Brien said the IODE deliberately chose trees for the memorial because of the symbolism and the longevity of trees and the service it provides the world.
“The IODE said trees are a symbol of service. They provide shade and oxygen and even in death they serve.”
So what better symbol to commemorate than a tree – there is no other avenue of trees in Canada today.
Don McDonald, 82, has marched up and down Memorial Avenue with the North Saskatchewan Pipe and Drum Regiment. He said after his older brother Hugh Fraser returned home from the Second World War, he found his new calling.
“I started learning in 1946 -- my brother came home from overseas and I was bagpiping whether I liked it or not,” McDonald said.
“So I learned and we starting coming up here every year on Decoration Day, we would pipe up from the downtown legion on 19th Street and Second Avenue all the way up to Woodlawn and back down again.”
McDonald said he’s proud and honored to have such a significant memorial in Saskatoon because the depletion of veterans from the First World War – these trees is all we have left. All we can do now is dedicate and remember those brave men.
“They're all gone, there are no survivors of the First World War so you can't relate to them,” McDonald said adding he’s not encouraged by the dwindling crowds on Decoration Day.
“We used to have big crowds now we get less than 100 people. It's a case of people not willing to give up a couple of hours to come out.”
McDonald and other veteran advocates made way for a new Veterans Gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery. Next door to more than 4,000 veteran burial sites, making it one of the largest veteran cemeteries in Canada.
Saskatoon will hold Decoration Day on Aug. 17 at Woodlawn Cemetery.