Driving East along Highway 1 through Surrey you may have spotted what used to be a tree, now covered in ivy, a Canadian flag, and sometimes a sign or two. Ever since I was little, and we would drive out to my grandmother’s house in Langley, we would pass this tree and I wondered — was it a memorial? What made this tree special? Turns out, it’s Charlie’s Tree.
Many decades ago Charlie [Perkins] and four of his chums used to splash and play in a small swimming hole near that tree. All five went into battle when the First World War began. Only Charlie, a flight instructor with the Royal Flying Corps, returned. As a remembrance of his friends he planted ivy around the base of the tree and dedicated it to the memory of his friends.
Then, in 1960, Highway 1 began to be built through Surrey. Its proposed route would put it right through the little glade Charlie had cleared. The memorial tree would have to go. Charlie, now a senior citizen, protested, and friends and neighbors joined him in that protest. They were heard by Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi, and the highway engineers curved the road to go around the tree.
This is perhaps the only instance in Canadian history where a major highway was diverted to avoid harming a tree. You can see the bend in the road to the right of the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada between the 176th Street and 200th Street exits. [Source: KnowBC, Chuck Davis]
According to Surrey History, “Charlie took action and sat in a chair with a gun across his knees defying the bulldozers.” This bold act to save a 210 foot Douglas Fir changed the course of the Trans Canada Highway as we know it.
In 2005, MP Nina Grewal (Fleetwood – Port Kells) began a campaign to get Charlie’s Tree recognized as a National Historic site.
— Surrey Archives (@SurreyArchives) July 11, 2012
Charlie’s Tree doesn’t look much like a tree anymore as vandals set fire to it years ago and as a result, it was topped. However, every year the Whalley Legion places a wreath at the tree and recently a sign that reads “Charlie’s Tree” has been added. Some leave flowers, flags, or other tokens near the site. Next time you drive by, just East of the 176th exit, you can think of our veterans, cherish your friends, and remember Charlie.
Thanks to Alex for emailing me about Charlie’s Tree and to Antonio for letting me use his photo in this post.