Remembering Alan De Jonge

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Article By: Alex Peters

Ontario is notorious in the treeplanting community. Many Ontario planters get a season under their belt and then diversify their treeplanting resume in a new province with the hope of earning more than 8 cents a tree.

In my first season we faced the usual mental and physical treeplanting challenges; rain, snow, stuck vehicles, and wildlife. But preparing for these certainly could not prepare us for the brutal reality that hit everyone in camp during the last few days of our summer contract.

The camp was running in late August, somewhere near Sudbury. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I woke up and got my gear together, getting myself hyped up for another day on the block. Our summer contract wasn’t going so smoothly and at this point no one was prepared to wait for more reefers as we got closer and closer to Sept.1… the day the last of the student planters would leave, causing the contract to drag on slowly. I was starting to think about missing class to plant trees in the middle of nowhere which wasn’t so bad, except for the fact I’d already been doing it for three months.

As people quietly filtered into the mess tent the planters were told there would be no planting that day or possibly the next. I was all shook up by the prospect of another lost day and possibly even two, so I began to voice my complaint which a later felt very guilty about. Everyone was urged to sit down together after breakfast and that’s when we found out Alan did not make it back from work the night before.

At 21, Alan was the youngest crew boss – and the most helpful. I’m tempted to say ambitious, but as a crew boss the extra work he did wasn’t for himself – it was for those around him. The night he passed away Alan was collecting empty tree trays from the block alone. It wasn’t his job, but he wanted to give the deliverers a chance to rest. He had come head on head with a logging truck and he veered his ATV off the road in order to avoid the collision.

My first impression of Alan came when I arrived at a new camp in Thunder Bay. Everyone was splashing around trying to get dinner in the mess tent that had become a mud pit. Alan began moving mud covered skids creating a walkway. I noticed he was the only one to do anything and maybe that’s why his death has made such an impression on me. I didn’t know Alan as personally as many people did, but living with someone even if only for several weeks can give you a great deal of insight into their personality. Alan was always smiling and hardworking in an environment that can sometimes make that seem impossible.

In the days following Alan’s death things were tragically different in camp. Alan’s family came to visit our camp and collect Alan’s things. I remember the whole camp standing around a huge fire holding lit candles. We had heard Alan’s family had arrived and we wanted to give them something, or anything. We stood for a long time in near silence hearing only soft crying and the cold Sudbury wind. Alan’s mother and two of his siblings walked by the circle to visit his campsite and later joined us. All the while we waited silently reflecting on the tragedy that had taken place. Suddenly down the road in the dark and out of sight, a violin began to play. Alan’s dad stoically emerged from the darkness and joined his family in the circle, playing the whole time. We were all struck with the reality that we had lost a fellow planter and friend. Many people went home or attended Alan’s funeral, but the contract needed to be finished so a number of us stayed. We planted trees for Alan, donating the proceeds to his family.

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