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Forest conservation at Canada’s First World War memorials

Thousands of Canadians and Newfoundlanders served overseas during the First World War (FWW). Many never returned. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France stand as a tribute to them.

The forests surrounding these two Canadian national historic sites have come to represent renewal and peace.

Update on the forest conservation at Canada’s First World War memorials

In 2021, Veterans Affairs Canada announced a 10-year forest conservation initiative at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France.

The first step: de-mining

A worker located on the former battlefields outdoors at Vimy in search of First World War remnants
Deminetec inspects the forest at Vimy as part of the de-mining process.

It took two weeks to complete the de-mining process—an important step that includes detection of ammunition and potential explosives from the First World War.

More often than not, Florian Debacker—the lead de-miner for Deminetec—and his team find First World War remnants throughout the former battlefields.

“Due to its weight and mode of firing, the ammunition is generally found at characteristic depths. On this site, a safety depth of 50cm was required, which explains the discoveries of German defensive grenades and 3-inch stoke mortar shells. If greater depth had been requested, we would have begun to discover artillery shells with greater and greater caliber.”

Next up: planting

Two people planting a seedling on the grounds at Vimy
Pascal Fourmy's team hard at work.

After the de-mining process comes the planting of the trees. Pascal Fourmy is the head gardener for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at Vimy and is responsible for the planting of more than 2,000 trees during this phase of the project.

This is very important to Fourmy – not only for the commemorative aspect, but to conserve and revitalize the forest at Vimy.

“For me, it’s very important because I’ve been based here as a gardener at Vimy for a few years and I realize that the forest is dying more and more. If we don’t replant, what will we be left with. The forest is a very important part of Canada’s National Vimy Memorial site. If we continue to plant every year, it will regenerate the forest and we will continue to enjoy it for a long time to come. I am happy to be able to participate in this project,” he says.

Several thousand trees have been planted to date. The program aims to plant between 3,000-4,000 trees every year for the next decade.

Learn more about this project by viewing the infographic.

Did you know?

  • The forests and trees are an integral part of these two historic battlefields.
  • The Vimy site covers 117 hectares of mostly forested area.
  • The Beaumont-Hamel site is 30 hectares.
  • A large majority of the forested areas at Vimy consists of Austrian Pine and Scots Pine.
  • VAC can no longer preserve the forests through annual maintenance.
  • A large-scale initiative is required now to rejuvenate and replant the aged forests.

Safe tree planting

Land projects along the FWW’s Western front are very different than those in Canada. Even 100 years later, the French soil continues to turn up dangerous remnants – like artillery and gas shells, grenades, and other FWW remnants and artefacts. We must identify and safely remove any potential explosives that may be still located in the areas where digging is required for safe tree planting.


For decades, millions of Canadians and people around the world have visited these remembrance sites. Like the monuments themselves, the forests that surround them are a living reminder of those we’ve lost.

A natural-based solution will:

  • help address climate change by absorbing and storing greenhouse gases,
  • provide habitat for many species, and
  • support biodiversity and forest resilience.

Preserving a legacy - video

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