When PCL began building a new hospital in northern British Columbia, the team faced a challenge that’s common in logging communities: trees.

The Mills Memorial Hospital Redevelopment project in Terrace, a city of about 12,000 people approximately 1,300 kilometers northwest of Vancouver, entails building a new hospital next to the current, operating hospital. Once the new 360,000 square-foot acute care hospital is built, the existing one will be demolished.

The land for the new hospital, adjacent to a busy highway and a major junction in the middle of town, had to be cleared of a number of trees, bushes and shrubs. PCL wanted to replace these trees as part of the landscaping plan of the future hospital, while keeping the community engaged. That’s how the Mills Memorial Tree Legacy Program was born.

The PCL team went to schools in the area and asked for a favor: nurture seedling trees for two years, until they can be transplanted onto the hospital site when it is ready for landscaping.

“It will be a good reference point for the children and hopefully give them something positive to think about with the new hospital,” says Michael King, PCL’s construction manager on the project. “They’ll grow up in this community. They’ll be there to experience the trees growing with them.”

A total of 600 western hemlock trees are being distributed to students from half a dozen elementary schools in the area.

“It was a different perspective on the effect we’re having on the project. Even to the kids, it’s super interesting. It’s something they will see every day on the way to school,” says Goldy Gill, project manager, who went to the schools to talk to the kids and hand out trees. “They were very enthusiastic about the trees; one of our contractors’ daughters wanted to plant the trees right away.

“It meant a lot to them,” he adds. “The kids felt like they were a part of something big.”

The new Mills Memorial Hospital will bring better patient care and more services closer to home for residents of Terrace and area, and all of Northwest British Colombia. In addition to more than doubling the physical size of the hospital, the number of beds and treatment spaces throughout the facility are significantly increasing. The new hospital will become a regional trauma centre in addition to continuing to serve as a training site for medical students in the Northern Medical Program.

“Everybody has a connection to the hospital, and everyone visits for one reason or another during their lifetime. The children and their families will be able to reflect on how they contributed to the build when they see those trees,” says King.

The hospital is currently over a third of the way to completion, with work, including the demolition of the old hospital, expected to conclude in 2026.