While some of the trees in the Newcastle Memorial Forest had already lost their leaves earlier last month, a number of oak and maple saplings were making up for it.
Sporting brilliant cloaks of red and yellow, their leaves dancing in the afternoon sun, the young transplants couldn’t have been more vibrant on October 23rd. They were a fitting tribute, each one a living memorial, meant to commemorate the life of someone who died.
The symbolism was not lost on the group responsible for planting these trees, as they gathered that Saturday at the Memorial Forest for a dedication service. At least 150 people came out to mark 24 trees planted as a memorial for their loved ones, according to Newcastle Lions member Terry Graham.
Graham, who is also a Past International Director of the Lions Club, acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the dedication, and was joined by Mayor Jim Abernethy in welcoming attendees.
“Each tree in this forest will be in memory of a Lion or a past member of our community,” Graham said at the dedication. “A tree symbolizes strength, shelter and durability. Planting a tree is a symbol of hope, a sign of a new beginning and a living tribute. It will be a source of comfort and meaning to those who have suffered a loss.”
This planting was just the latest batch in the ongoing project of the Newcastle Lions Club, Graham later told the Orono Times. “We have a total of 173 trees we’ve planted over the course of three to four years,” he said. The project will likely be completed in the next two to three years, he noted, adding, “We actually have about 50 trees left to plant.”
The special forest is located at the south end of Cobbledick Road in Newcastle, at the start of the Samuel Wilmot Nature Trail (main west parking lot). The first tree was planted in memory of deceased members of the Newcastle Lions Club. And while many Lions are memorialized there, the project is not restricted to Lions. Everyone is invited to participate, and a memorial tree may be planted through this program regardless of when or where a loved one died, or where the funeral service was held.
Graham said the project started in 2005, at the site of the original homestead of the Lovekin family. According to an historical plaque on the property, it was in 1796 that Irish immigrant Richard Lovekin and his family, some of the first pioneers in this area, settled what was then a dense forest overlooking the Wilmot Creek valley. The location is now home to the Samuel Wilmot Nature Area, with the Memorial Forest taking up a seven-acre parcel just north of that.
“The Municipality of Clarington owns all the property down there,” noted Graham. “They gave us permission to plant the forest there.”
Long-serving Newcastle Lion Murray Paterson, who Graham credited with selling many of the trees, said the project is popular because it is comforting to people as well as good for the environment. “We plant trees in memory of people who have died. People think it’s great.”
Paterson said it currently costs $200 to have a tree planted, and a small memorial plaque is placed under each tree with the name of the deceased person or persons being commemorated. The rest of the cost goes into maintenance, such as cutting the grass and replacing trees if they die. The planting of a tree can be arranged through any member of the Newcastle Lions Club, he said.
A grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation helped the Lions Club with the cost of building trails, arbours and signage, including a permanent legend of who is memorialized where on the grounds, according to Graham.
“This past summer we were able to put two new arbours up, in addition to the one we already had leading into the forest,” he stated. “The Ontario Trillium grant was very helpful. And the Municipality was very generous as far as helping us with the design and layout.”
The species and location of the trees are determined solely by the Newcastle Lions. “The forest was originally designed so that the trees are all native species of oak and maple and basswood,” said Graham.
“We have a committee working on the forest,” he said. “Gord Whealy and I form work parties that go down periodically over the summer to put wood chips down around the trees, and keep it in good shape.”
According to Graham, the idea for a memorial forest originated from a Past International Director named Art Woods, from the Elmira Lions Club. Woods started the Lions Foundation Memorial Forest in Breslau, just outside of Guelph, Ontario, where approximately 2,000 trees have been planted. Next he started a memorial forest in his hometown of Elmira, and from there the idea caught on. There are now Lions Club Memorial Forests in cities across Ontario, and a number of other provinces.
Wilmot Creek resident Peter Ellis was out walking his miniature collie dog Peaches at the Newcastle Memorial Forest last Friday. He said he walks there two to three times a day, and sees a lot of people using the area. As a regular visitor, he has met some of the people who have loved ones memorialized there. “I didn’t know anyone who had a tree planted here at first, but I’ve gotten to know some of them,” he says.
The path is popular with not only dog walkers, but nature enthusiasts, joggers and cyclists starting out on the Waterfront Trail, and the forest has been well received by the community, said Graham. “We’ve had good responses from people, and a lot of them are excited about the forest,” he stated. “This memorial forest not only pays a significant tribute to the memory of a loved one, but also assures a better environment for generations to come.” And so life goes on.
For more information about the Newcastle Lions Club Memorial Forest, call 905-987-5239 or 905-987-4628.