Brockville – From an acorn brought to Canada from Vimy, France some 100 years ago to a sapling from a tree grown from one of those original acorns now planted near the gravesite of Lt.-Col. Thain Wendell MacDowell VC, DSO, a veteran of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
MacDowell’s family along with local dignitaries and members of the local legion and Brockville Rifles were on hand on Saturday morning at Oakland Cemetary for the Vimy Oak Tree dedication.
One of only four Canadians to win the Victoria Cross at Vimy, MacDowell was the only one to survive the battle.
In 1917, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Leslie Miller, a 28-year-old solider from Milliken, Ont., searched the battle-damaged ridge for a souvenir of the historic battle. With not much left after the battle he managed to find a half-buried oak tree on ridge, and picked up a number of acorns. Back in Canada, he planted the acorns at his farm outside of Toronto, calling the property the Vimy Oaks Farm.
Over the years the farm was taken over by the ever expanding area of Scarborough, but a few of the original Vimy oaks still stand on the edge of the parking lot of a Chinese Baptist church.
In 2015, the Vimy Oak team, a partner of the Vimy Foundation, took cuttings from the oak trees and carefully grew them into saplings in a nursery. The foundation’s idea was to plant the trees back on Vimy Ridge to replace the original stands of oaks that were destroyed in the battle 100 years ago. But the French government refused to allow the Vimy oaks into the country because of fear of blight. The Canadian Vimy team decided to offer the saplings to Canadians instead.
Brockville city Councillor Jeff Earle was able to obtain some of the oak saplings through his contacts and it was decided that the MacDowell grave would be a fitting place for one of the Vimy oak samplings.
MacDowell was one of the “fighting MacDowells,” four brothers from Maitland who were renowned for their war exploits, which were followed in the local press.
At the gravesite ceremony, Charles Dumbrille of Vancouver, great-nephew of Thain MacDowell, recounted his famous ancestor’s battlefield heroism.
MacDowell died at the age of 69 in 1960. The upper hall at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #96 in Brockville is named after him.