Memorial Drive trees

Running alongside the Bow River, Memorial Drive is one of the most scenic car and bike routes in Calgary, and the trees planted here serve as a living commemoration to the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Learn about the Landscape of Memory project.

About the trees on Memorial Drive

After the First World War, a number of groups and individuals came together to plant a tree for each fallen soldier of the Great War. The hope was that a living memorial would bring solace to grieving families who did not have graves to visit. On May 11, 1922, the first tree was planted on Sunnyside Boulevard (now Memorial Drive), between ninth and nine-and-a-half St. N.W by Mayor Adams. Planting continued steadily through until 1928 and a grand total of 3,278 trees were planted.

As many of the original trees are nearing the end of their lifecycle, The City is spearheading the regeneration and revitalization of Memorial Drive. This plan will concentrate on improving the aesthetic value of the landscape by introducing a variety of new tree species, while protecting the existing legacy and continuing the historic, environmental and cultural integrity of Memorial Drive. The City is collaborating with external partners and interest groups –many of which have members who were involved in the original planting – to assist in developing the plan for the future of Memorial Drive.

Sunnyside Flood Barrier – Tree Removals

The City will be removing trees on the north side of the Bow River as part of the Sunnyside Flood Barrier work.

The City of Calgary works to preserve as many trees as possible throughout construction, however we know it will be necessary to remove trees in various areas of the Parkway due to the health, species and locations of these trees. We are reviewing the tree proximity to construction activity to ensure long-term viability of the trees once construction is complete. Following this review, trees in poor condition or those negatively impacted by construction will be removed.

We are committed to repurposing and replanting trees whenever possible and are currently researching options. Current plans are to re-purpose the trees for bird and fish habitat, as well as to be implemented for use as construction materials. As a proactive measure, The City has also secured 150 new Memorial Trees from the nursery in Grand Forks, BC for replanting in various locations along the Parkway in the future.

The total number of impacted trees will be confirmed as the program team finalizes the design for the flood barrier in early 2023.

Memorial Parkway Program

Memorial Drive is one of Calgary’s most cherished corridors and must be protected and where possible enhanced. Given the area’s importance and the role of Memorial Drive and the river embankments as the home of the Living Memorial, The City recognized the opportunity to enhance the natural environment and public spaces along the corridor in conjunction with the upcoming construction of the Sunnyside Flood Barrier. This project provides an opportunity to build upon improvements to this area that have happened over the last 10 years and continue to enhance the entire public space surrounding Memorial Drive from 14th Street to Centre Street while adding critical flood protection.  

As part of this work, we are working with various Veterans associations and organizations in Calgary to plan improvements to memorial areas along the corridor. Through incorporating improved access, mobility and places to gather, we are working together to enhance community connections and introduce current and future generations to the importance and meaning of these memorial spaces.  

Facts on Memorial Drive's trees

  • Following the First World War, poplars were planted on either side of Sunnyside Boulevard (later renamed Memorial Drive) to commemorate soldiers killed during the war. This was part of a larger effort across Canada and other parts of the commonwealth to create Roads of Remembrance to memorialize the dead: “Future generations of Canadians will be reminded of the part that Canada played in the world’s fight for democracy …, not in ornate stone but in nature’s noblest gift to her people—the gift of trees such as no other country has.” (Canadian Municipal Journal, 1922). 
  • The majority of trees planted from 1922 to 1928 were Populus wobbstii – more commonly referred to as poplars. These poplars are now at, or nearing the end of their lifecycle.
  • The trees are thought to be wild trees brought to Calgary by miners returning from Drumheller.
  • In 1922, the trees were sold for $1.
  • Metal discs were attached to stands in front of each tree. The discs were inscribed with the year, the donor's name and a tag number.
  • City of Calgary parks began cloning the original poplars in 2001 to continue the tree’s heritage. Today we have 1,500 offspring growing in Grand Forks, BC.
  • All the poplar trees along Memorial Drive are female, but one. Female poplars bear the cotton – which provides food for ducks, carries tree seeds and provides nesting material for birds and animals.

Fallen Soldier commemoration

At the 2003 Calgary Stampede, a commemorative poplar trunk from Memorial Drive was carved into the likeness of Sergeant George Ross Thompson, one of the fallen soldiers of the Great War. Sergeant Thompson enlisted in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in August 1914 as a private soldier. He was killed in action by enemy machine gun fire on September 28, 1918 near Tilloy, France. Thompson died in the last hundred days of the war after serving in many of the Regiment's most difficult battles.

The City would like to thank the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition Board, the Royal Canadian Legion Centennial Calgary Branch #285 and Lynx Fencing for making this important commemoration possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many trees will be removed as part of the Sunnyside Flood Barrier construction?

The total number of impacted trees will be confirmed as the program team finalizes the design for the flood barrier in early 2023.

What will be done with trees that are removed?

We are committed to repurposing trees whenever possible and are currently researching options. Options may include donating to locate high school shop programs, repurposing for use in the area or mulching to be used for landscaping.

We will be working with local community groups and organizations to discuss these options as we move forward.

Is there a full record of all Memorial poplars that have been planted?

The project team has done a complete assessment of the memorial trees, including a review of historical records and images, to ensure a complete record of memorial poplars currently on site.

What are the conditions regarding the removal of Memorial trees? How will Memorial poplars be treated differently from standard tree removals?

Clones have been made of the memorial poplars to ensure that they can be replaced in an appropriate location when construction is complete. It will take several years for these clone seedlings to reach maturity at an off-site nursery, so we have started the process of requesting these replacement memorial poplars.

Can the design of the flood barrier be altered to avoid removing so many trees?

The City looked at many different options for the design of the flood barrier (1 in 20, 1 in 100, 1 in 200-year flood options). The 1 in 100 barrier was chosen as it provides the best balance between social, environmental and economic considerations. Additionally, the 1 in 50 and 1 in 100 design options require 50 per cent fewer trees to be removed versus the 1 in 200 year option.

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