A Personal Tribute to Royal Galipeau, Founder of National Tree Day

Tree Canada

I still remember the unique way my 10 year friendship with Royal Galipeau began.

After his first election as a federal Conservative M.P. in 2006, Royal Galipeau began a nice tradition of planting a tree in his Orléans riding during National Forest Week. He approached me with a request.  He wanted my help to make sure these plantings were a success.

So was to begin over 10 years of a unique and wonderful friendship.

Despite his elected office, we never talked much about politics. Sitting in his Parliament Hill office once though, my curiosity got the better of me. I wondered aloud at the full-size photo of Pierre Trudeau which stood behind his desk. “I have tremendous respect for him” he answered simply. He admitted to me that many of his fellow Tory caucus members bristled at the picture. It was to be my first personal relationship with a Member of Parliament, a relationship which some within Tree Canada probably saw as Mike’s “successful lobbying”. Little did they know.

Royal Galipeau was born in St-Isidore in eastern Ontario. A proud Franco-Ontarian, he brought together interests that made our relationship special: a love of trees, a love for the Jewish people, Francophilia (love of things French) and a love for having fun. It made both of us want to see each other as much as time would allow. He was amazingly bilingual and a real authority on parliamentary history and procedures.  He was also, as even he himself would admit, a “character” in the best sense of the word.

His love of trees came from his youth in eastern Ontario, where by his reckoning he planted 52 000 trees on various properties with his family adding another 23 000 to his total.

His love of the Jewish people came from a friend, Carl Rosen (no relation) whom he greatly respected. Given Royal’s quick mind and propensity for learning, he acquired many Yiddish expressions, Jewish holidays and other aspects of Jewish culture. He used the number “18” (the spiritual number in Judaism) on his license plate and phone numbers among other things. I still remember that upon meeting my parents during Tree Canada’s 15th anniversary in 2007, he looked them in the eye and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Rosen…your son…is a mensch!” (“a good person” in Yiddish). They were flabbergasted. Later that day, he took them on the “Royal Galipeau Tour” of the parliament buildings, yelling, “Zaida! (grandfather) Booby! (grandmother)…Come!

In 2010, he was presented with a rare opportunity to move forward on a private member’s Motion on any topic of his choosing. A lesser, more petty person might have used the opportunity to needle his political opponents or to advance a pet local cause. But Royal told me right away that he wanted to use the opportunity to do something for trees in Canada.

We together thought up the idea of declaring a “National Tree Day” and after much work, on March 2, 2011 the House of Commons passed Motion-575 to declare the Wednesday of National Forest Week as National Tree Day. The proclamation stated proudly that this was so that, “all Canadians can celebrate and share their passion for our nation’s forests and trees”. There were only three dissenting votes to the Motion – all of whom who ended up either being defeated in the next election or retiring from politics. Royal would humorously allude to this in subsequent speeches: “The lesson in this my friends,” he would begin, “is to never vote against the trees!”

Royal Galipeau, former Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Orleans and founder of National Tree Day died on January 27, 2018. He was 71. He was, as he often said, “a friend of the trees”. He was also a friend of mine. My sympathies go to his wife Anne and family.

I last saw Royal on January 5th, his 71st birthday at the Ottawa Hospital where he was being treated for cancer. It was far from a joyous occasion, but I do remember him grabbing my arm and saying, “Michael, it’s 2018 you know…2018.” Well, it’s 2018 all right Royal but sadly, we will all have to spend the next 11 months of it without your wonderful sense of humour and joy for life.

I only hope that we at Tree Canada will succeed in making National Tree Day the day Royal envisioned for Canada and that we can establish something special to support his legacy. And in a last, unbelievable case of irony, Royal’s funeral in Ottawa was held at sundown on January 30, 2018 coinciding with the beginning of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish Festival of the Trees.

Salut, mon ami.

Michael Rosen, R.P.F.

President, Tree Canada


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