On April 22, park-loving Ottawans will gather at their city’s inaugural Park Summit. The Summit, hosted by Ecology Ottawa and Park People, will celebrate and showcase the ways that Ottawans are animating and improving their parks, and provide a platform to brainstorm how to make them even better.
Before heading to Ottawa for the Summit, I wanted to dig into their parks scene and understand what makes it unique. I was blown away by what I found. Here are just a few reasons to be excited about the future of Ottawa’s city parks – more to come next week because I couldn’t fit them all in one post!
1. They are a city of community gardeners: When Ottawa doubled its number of community gardens in five years and people still faced multi-year wait lists for plots, Jordan Bouchard knew that the city was hooked. The non-profit that Jordan works for, Just Food, helps citizens to build and maintain community gardens. When I met with Jordan and his ED Moe on a recent trip to Ottawa, they shared exciting projects that demonstrated that Ottawa is doing community gardens with distinct flare. There’s a community-built bio-dome in Brewer Park that extends the growing season year-round, a community bake oven built by gardeners to transform their bounty into dishes from around the world, and a community garden that delivers therapeutic and health benefits to patients, their families and staff at Children’s Hospital of East Ottawa.
2. They use parks to celebrate forgotten histories: Have you ever heard of Charles G.D Roberts? If you answered ‘no’ (like me), the Poet’s Pathway Committee would like you to take a walk with them. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, poets like Charles G.D. Roberts and Pauline Johnson wrote poetry with a distinctly Canadian voice. Follow 35 km of walking and biking trails that showcase their work, reading poems on volunteer-built plaques built along the way. In the future, they will add phone numbers you can call to hear the poems read aloud.
3. People in Ottawa really love their trees: Imagine that 25% of the trees in your city disappeared. This is what’s happening in Ottawa as the Emerald Ash Borer takes out large swaths of the city’s urban tree canopy. This challenge has mobilized Ottawans to act to ensure the future of their urban forest. Ecology Ottawa is working with the City of Ottawa to plant a million new trees by the end of this year.
This passion is rooted in a love of urban trees that runs very deep. Tree Fest Ottawa celebrates trees and the people who love them with events and beautiful personal stories about Ottawan’s relationships with their favourite trees. If that hasn’t sated your tree needs, Dominion Arboretum offers 1,700 different species and varieties of trees to engage with.
4. You can meet a muskrat in the heart of the city: The Mer Bleue Conservation Area in the Greenbelt is a northern boreal peat bog landscape that happens to lie unusually far south, right in the heart of a big city. Scientists use the bog to better understand how peat bogs stabilize the climate and citizens head to the bog to see beaver, muskrats, and painted turtles in their natural habitat. It’s one of the places that makes Ottawa’s Greenbelt such an important part of the city’s green space network.
5. Ottawa’s been into nature in the city since the Bangles topped the charts: Concerned about the loss of natural spaces in the city back in the 1980’s, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club decided that the best way to get citizens to care would be to create a place that allows people to experience and learn about different natural habitats. The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is an outdoor environmental centre that features a mature woodlot, a ravine, an amphibian pond, and a meadow that they turned into butterfly habitat. It’s a unique labour of love that reminds us of the power of citizen-led initiatives to shape parks and public spaces.