On Wednesday, November 9, 2022, the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign (HoHTC) held two special events hosted at the Ontario Port Hope and Trenton (North) ONroute plazas to unveil an art installation at each location titled ‘Presence in Absence’, created by renowned sculptor Ruth Abernethy.
The new art installations commemorate the incredible success the HoHTC achieved after recently surpassing its goal of planting over 2 million trees along the Highway 401 corridor to honour every Canadian Armed Forces member, past and present. The campaign began in 2015, and is the world’s largest living tribute with nearly 2.5 million trees planted in total at over 825 planting locations across Ontario.
“Until recently I could not allow myself to imagine that this day would come, that we would reach and surpass our tree planting goal that was set as part of the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign,” said Mark Cullen, Chair/President & Co-Founder Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign & Trees for Life.
“Now, we add to our legacy by unveiling these spectacular installations that commemorate the fact that the highway corridor is reforested with a tree for every military hero. These installations will continue to educate future generations of travelers about the incredible accomplishment of this campaign and ensure the stories of our heroes are never forgotten.”
The duplicate artworks unveiled, ‘Presence in Absence’, are thoughtful and thought-provoking. They feature the silhouettes of heroes from the Canadian Armed Forces. 67 profile portraits are revealed in the negative spaces of the design. Between these ‘absent’ characters, delicate structures were carved and cast as entwined leaves, branches and bark. ‘Presence in Absence’ honours the inspiration behind the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign. A list of the 67 Armed Forces individuals who are part of the piece’s design is available here.
“ONroute is honoured to host this beautiful tribute to our fallen soldiers at both our Port Hope and Trenton North plazas,” says Melanie Teed-Murch, CEO of ONroute.
“It is with both admiration and appreciation that we thank those who have fought for our country, and those that continue to do so. We take pride in giving back to those who have given so much to this country, through our partnerships with Support Our Troops, and now Trees for Life for the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign. We are truly grateful to be a part of this monumental celebration.”
Abernethy joined Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign representatives and many campaign supporters and local dignitaries to unveil the sculptures.
“Bonds that grow between people are formative and forever,” said Ruth Abernethy, as she spoke of the inspiration behind her design. “Every tree planted as part of this campaign represents a life story. Here in bronze we celebrate the structures of our enduring connection to these lives.”
The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign is a project of Trees For Life, a national charity committed to inspiring, supporting and mobilizing, community-led tree-planting initiatives across Canada.
The HoHTC plantings across Ontario were done in partnership with many municipalities, sponsors, donors and landowners, and over 4,000 volunteers helped plant trees. As a result of the campaign there are over 117,000 trees planted along and near the highway in honour of all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Additionally, there are over 2.3 million “service trees” within 30km of the Highway 401 corridor, in honour of all those that have served since Confederation and including the War of 1812.
The trees are not only a way to honour heroes, they also leave a lasting legacy in communities across Ontario. The HoHTC trees will clean particulates from the air and naturally filter water, including over 900,000 tonnes of carbon sequestered over the next 50 years, and produce the same amount of oxygen that 8 million people breathe in one day once fully mature.
Though the HoHTC has reached its goal, Trees for Life is dedicated to continuing its work to create greener, healthier, and happier Canadian communities.