Ray Travers, chair of the Memorial Avenue Committee, stands near the memorial trees on Shelbourne Street commemorating Canadian war deaths during the First World War. His group wants to turn the street into a larger commemorative space that would add more memorial trees to the street. Black Press File

Saanich moves ahead with Shelbourne war memorial plans

Local group wants to complete work that started nearly a century ago

Plans to transform Shelbourne Street into a commemorative space in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War are gaining momentum.

Council Monday unanimously tasked staff to review plans by the Memorial Avenue Committee, a group of local volunteers, who want to complete work that nearly began a century ago, when Shelbourne Street became Canada’s first Road of Remembrance in Oct. 2, 1921.

These roads commemorated Canadian war deaths during the First World War by planting trees along major suburban roads like Shelbourne Street, and some 5,000 people, including then-premier John Oliver and Lieutenant-Governor Walter Nichol, attended the dedication, which also commemorated British Columbians, who died in Boer War (1899-1902).

Saanich built Shelbourne Street in 1916 as a major north-south road from Mount Douglas Park to Victoria. Plans to plant memorial trees on both sides of Shelbourne Street to honour British Columbian war deaths started around the same time. Proponents wanted to plant one tree for each killed soldier, a goal eventually rendered unfeasible by the number of British Columbian soldiers (6,000) killed.

Available space permitted 800 trees, and a total of 600 trees eventually appeared, running from Mount Douglas Park to Cedar Hill Cross Road in Saanich, and from Hillside to Bay Street in Victoria. Of those, 500 trees stood in Saanich.

However plans to plant trees along Shelbourne from Cedar Hill Cross Road to North Dairy never materialized, and as urban development intensified during the 1960s, Saanich cut down some 300 trees from Cedar Hill Cross Road to Torquay to widen Shelbourne to four from two lanes.

Saanich also contemplated but never completed re-naming Shelbourne Street to Memorial Avenue.

Plans proposed by the Memorial Avenue Committee call on Saanich to plant new London Plane deciduous trees along Shelbourne Street running from Pear Street to North Dairy, as part of the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan. The plan also calls on Saanich install interpretive panels in prominent locations along Shelbourne Street and include the phrase ‘Memorial Avenue’ in Shelbourne Street signage.

Council’s decision to send these plans to staff came after a presentation from Ray Travers, the committee’s chair.

“I think it will be a wonderful legacy to leave for future generations,” said Travers, who pegged the total budget of the plan at $139,000.

He said the project would attract tourist, raise property values, and increase historical awareness. Travers said it would remind people of the “enormous sacrifice” that the First World War demanded. Some 600 soldiers from the Greater Victoria area died.

Councillors praised the initiative, but also pumped the breaks.

“It really helps us understand our history and background,” said Coun. Karen Harper. But she — like others — also said that she looks forward to seeing the final details.

Coun. Colin Plant said it would be “premature” for Saanich to support this plan beyond “in principle” without having all of the facts. “I would like to know exactly what it costs,” he said.

Coun. Susan Brice said this project might unfold over multiple years.

Saanich’s decision to examine these plans came after the District had completed improvement to the Gore-Peace Memorial Park.

Dedicated in July 1919, the location hosted Remembrance Day services until about 1960. Three years earlier, Saanich placed a peace memorial made out of granite in the park. In 1970, it moved to Saanich Municipal Hall, the current location of Remembrance Day services.

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