Here’s how the story goes: It was World War I, and Charlie Perkins and his four friends were sent to the Front. Only Charlie – a flight instructor with the Royal Flying Corps – came home.
But he wasn’t going to let the memory of his friends die. On returning to Canada, Charlie created a memorial from the tree – a glorious old Douglas fir – that stood near the swimming hole the five use to play in as children. He planted ivy around the tree’s base; laid wreaths; hung flags. And with time, his heartfelt memorial became something of a local institution. But trouble lay ahead…
In 1960, the Surrey leg of Highway 1 began construction and its proposed route ran right through the glade in which the tree stood. By now, Charlie was a senior but that didn’t stop him protesting. In fact, he hauled a chair out into the middle of the road, placed a gun across his knees and didn’t budge. It wasn’t long before he was joined by friends, neighbours – true Surrey citizens. Folks who valued this living epitaph enough to make a stand. And amazingly, they won!
Highway 1 weaves around Charlie’s tree to this day.
The bend in the road is visible to the right of the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway between the 176th Street and 200th Street exits. Sadly, Charlie’s tree doesn’t look much like a tree these day. Vandals set fire to it years back, necessitating the need for it to be topped. Despite this, the Whalley Legion places a wreath at the base of this old Douglas fir every year. Today’s true Surrey residents leave flowers, flags, trinkets… objects of remembrance, tributes to Charlie Perkins and the four childhood friends that he wouldn’t let be forgotten.