Cherry Blossoms Are World’s First-Known AIDS Memorial in Vancouver

Add a Comment by Rebecca Bollwitt

There’s a beautiful group of trees on the edge of Coal Harbour in Downtown Vancouver that hold very special meaning: A group of cherry blossoms known as Cherry Grove, located at Devonian Harbour Park near the entrance to Stanley Park, was the world’s first-known AIDS memorial.

Cherry Blossoms AIDS Memorial Vancouver - Miss604

“The first fallen pink petals were followed by too many others. Gone, but never forgotten.”

Cherry Blossoms Are World’s First-Known AIDS Memorial in Vancouver

Musician Mark Kleiner first told me about this memorial in a 2014 interview, and said it wasn’t widely publicized when the trees were planted in the 1980s. When we spoke, it had yet to be officially recognize but he said the Vancouver Park Board was working on getting a plaque installed.

“According to a Vancouver Sun article dated October 21, 1985, four cherry trees were planted near Stanley Park in the memory of four men who died of AIDS. Indicative of the homophobia and AIDS/HIV stigma prevalent at the time, particularly during the onset of the AIDS crisis that ravaged LGBT communities, the men were only identified by their first names—James, Ivan, Gino, and Randy. Furthermore, an AIDS Vancouver spokesperson at the time requested that the location not be revealed in order to prevent the trees from being vandalized.” (Source: AIDS Memorial Info)

A plaque was installed on a large boulder in July 2018:

First Known AIDS Memorial
Planted on October 20, 1985
This grove of cherry trees is a living monument, planted in loving memory of those we lost in the very early days of the AIDS epidemic here in Vancouver.

Cherry Blossoms AIDS Memorial Vancouver - Miss604 b

In Vancouver, there is another AIDS memorial, the steel ribbon installed in 2004, at English Bay.

Vancouver has over 40,000 cherry and plum trees, in urban areas and parks. The city’s original 500 cherry trees were a gift from the mayors of Kobe and Yokohama in the 1930s, thanking the city for honoring Japanese Canadians who served in WWI.

The trees in Cherry Grove usually bloom a bit later than the rest of the city, I have taken photos and video of them in all their glory around mid-April each year. Be sure to stop by next time you’re in the area and admire the love and meaning of these blossoms.

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