An Environmental Game Changer

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER, 20 Mark and Ben (his son) Cullen are seen in the Star studio for logo photos. The two will be co-writing the weekly Urban Growth column in Homes & Condos. September, 20 2017

by Mark and Ben Cullen

July 12, 1940.  This was the date that the first Canadian casualty in World War Two occurred. He was Pilot Officer Duncan Alexander Hewitt, 501 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, a 20-year-old native of New Brunswick.

Hewitt was one of 3,050 Canadians who were lost while serving in the air force, during the war, whose bodies were never found.

There is a tree planted in his honour on the section of Highway 401, known as the Highway of Heroes. Officer Hewitt has been memorialized as a part of the HoH Tree Campaign – ­a project that was successfully launched more than 7 years ago by volunteers with an interest in honouring our war dead and giving the environment a lift at the same time.   We are active volunteer supporters of the campaign; Mark is the Chair.

We plant trees to fight climate change.  Trees are, after all, a miracle of nature that has not been matched for efficiency and economy by anything created by the hand of humankind.  Nothing we have made comes even close. 

By planting 117,000 trees on the right of way of the Highway of Heroes, one for each Canadian lost at war since 1812, and more than 1.8 million more trees just off the highway, we acknowledge and remember Canadians who volunteered for military service during times of war.  We are also combating the negative effects of human activity on our environment. 

Thanks to many generous partners and donors, we have exceeded our initial goal to raise $10 million to pay for the tree planting.  By Remembrance Day, November 11, 2022, we anticipate that all two million trees will be in the ground.  We will commemorate this day by planting the last tree, while remaining committed to their stewardship.

As we near the completion of this campaign, and celebrate its success and especially its supporters, we look to the future.  We will take what we have learned from the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign, add the experience of our partner organization GrandTrees, and plant native trees and shrubs, many more of them, across the country where Canadians live, work and play. We can do this.  We can use trees to make a greener, healthier Canada for us and for our children.

The initiative, called Trees For Life, is the umbrella organization for these two projects – a national charity committed to mobilizing, empowering, and inspiring urban tree-planting across Canada. 

We are working with municipalities, conservation authorities, citizen groups, and many others who want to harness the power of trees to address the climate crisis, clean our air, shade our streets and homes and playgrounds, give habitat to our wildlife. And in the beautiful new tradition of HoH Tree Campaign, we will also create permanent, living acknowledgements of the great work and sacrifice made by Canadian heroes, including our military, and our front-line workers since the pandemic started in March of last year. What if we planted a tree for every doctor, nurse, personal care worker, ambulance driver and, well, you could complete the list. What a tribute we can create.

Through the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources and the government’s 2 Billion Tree program we have a running start to our campaign: 2 million dollars is committed by Ottawa to get our national tree planting efforts off the ground.   In addition, private donors have pledged several more hundreds of thousands of dollars and several industry professionals are willing to share costs and provide in-kind support to maximize our impact.  If we raise $1 million in private donations, we will be able to triple this impact through various matching opportunities.  But we need your help to do this. 

We hope you agree, this is a compelling case for support for any Canadian who understands the environmental value of trees.  If that is you, we urge you to visit to donate.  Soon, when we can physically connect, and our partner tree-planting organizations will be holding public tree planting events that you can join.

The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign, a concept inspired by Canadian service and sacrifice, was introduced in this newspaper, the Toronto Star, over 7 years ago. Today we proudly celebrate the success of that Campaign, and hope that you will help us continue the legacy with Trees for Life, and the millions of trees we intend to plant with partner organizations, including in tribute to heroes all across our country. Join us! Trees For Life, Trees For Heroes.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.