Charlie's Tree – located alongside Highway 1 in Port Kells – fell last month.

COLUMN: Spirit of Charlie’s Tree should be preserved

City of Surrey should make concrete plans to honour veterans with an accessible memorial somewhere near the site Charlie's Tree.

The fall to the ground of “Charlie’s Tree” along Highway 1 in Port Kells attracted a lot of attention last week.

The 300-year-old Douglas fir came to public attention in the early 1960s, when it was scheduled to be cut down to make room for the new freeway. Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi, who had been compared to Roman road builders by his boss, Premier W.A.C. Bennett, was determined to have a straight-as-an-arrow road running into the Fraser Valley.

However, he hadn’t reckoned with Charlie Perkins. The longtime Port Kells resident and First World War flying corps veteran had a special area at the rear of his 96 Avenue property that was dedicated to his fallen comrades.

Here’s how he described it when speaking to Fern Treleaven, author of The Surrey Story.

“So many of my chums had been killed and I missed them. There was a beautiful big tree back on our place and I planted ivy around that tree and made a little natural park. There were beautiful ferns, and the vine maples when they turned red and gold in the fall made it a lovely spot.

“I didn’t put their names on anything. It was just my own tree and my own memory. A big fire went through my place (shortly after the war) and they pretty much lost me and my dog but I managed to keep the fire from getting my park.”

Naturally, after 40 years of paying tribute to his comrades at this special place, he wasn’t ready to just let it go just because a highway was being built nearby. He met with Gaglardi, and also let the media know what was planned.

Gaglardi was willing to relent. He agreed to let the highway curve around the tree and preserve at least a portion of Charlie’s park area. However, it was now cut off from the remainder of the Perkins property and wasn’t easily accessible from the highway, which was designed for through traffic and not for roadside stops.

Nonetheless, people made their way to the tree anyway. For years, there have been a number of informal tributes to veterans placed on the site. Some vandals also did damage to the tree, which was now viewed by thousands of people each day. It was topped many years ago. It fell on the night of July 30, as it was rotten and could no longer stand.

The Perkins family would like to see some sort of memorial to veterans continue at the site.

Grandson Mike Perkins said the real tribute to veterans was the ivy his grandfather planted. He said the area will inevitably be developed, and it would be good if there is access to the area and a park or some other sort of memorial at or near the site of “Charlie’s Tree.”

He has a great idea. Unfortunately in Surrey, veterans only get the most basic lip service of remembrance.

While the city has created a great memorial plaza outside the Surrey Museum, where the original First World War cenotaph is now located, it rarely gets much attention or use.

The veterans themselves also get little attention. Although their names are on the cenotaph, few are remembered in any other way. A notable exception is Arthur Thomas Fleetwood, whom the community of Fleetwood is named after.

“Charlie’s Tree” has once again attracted media attention, as it did more than 50 years ago when Highway 1 was built. This would be a great time for the city to take advantage and make concrete plans to honour veterans with an accessible memorial somewhere near the site of the private park that Charlie Perkins set up so many years ago.

It would be a fitting tribute to him and all those who have served in the armed forces in the Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Korean War, peacekeeping assignments and most recently, in Afghanistan.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

Ivan Scott. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Surrey mayor enters word war with speakers, councillor

McCallum calls brief recess after asking two speakers to leave chambers

Montreal-based writer Michael Foy grew up in the Newton area of Surrey. (submitted photo)
Surrey-raised writer Foy really loves to set his short stories in the city

His latest is published in ‘Canadian Shorts II’ collection

The site of the former Rona store in Newton could be home to a park and civic amenities, in the 6900-block of King George Boulevard. (Photo: Google Street View)
Surrey buying 16 properties in Newton for parkland, civic amenities

Mayor Doug McCallum says project will be ‘fast-tracked’

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
White Rock dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives at Luxton Hall to cast their votes in advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Pandemic election prompts voter suppression claims by B.C. Liberals

‘These emergencies require in us a maturity that has been lacking in politics for so long’

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Most Read