TD Park People Grants bring groups together on common ground

For the many Canadians who don’t have backyards or even balconies, parks are an important extension of their living spaces. While the environmental benefits of natural spaces are well-known, the social benefits of parks are less understood. From supporting mental health to reducing social isolation, the pandemic helped make the upstream health and social benefits of parks more visible. 

Parks can absolutely make us healthier, happier, and more connected. But, only when they are safe and accessible.  And, we know parks are less safe and quality parks are far less accessible to equity-seeking communities. 

In Park People’s survey of nearly 3,500 Canadians, those who identified as Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour were more likely to report experiencing barriers to park use during the pandemic, such as fear of ticketing (24%) and harassment (22%). 

For the past four years, TD Park People Grants have helped build vital connections between people and parks. While equity-seeking groups have been core to the program from the start, this year, we set a clear target to ensure that 50% of TD Park People Grants were awarded to equity-deserving groups in cities across Canada. 

In Toronto, Youth Leaders of East York and Street to Trail are dedicated to making the benefits of parks, ravines, and public spaces accessible to equity-seeking communities.

Youth Leaders of East York walk on the wild side

At the start of the pandemic, Thorncliffe Park was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Dr. Jeff Powis, the medical director of infection control at the community’s Michael Garron Hospital made this clear, stating:

“It became quite clear to me that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people with health inequities — things such as housing, income, and racialization.”

As the needs of health-care sector, service industry and gig economy workers drew focus, the needs of the community’s local youth receded from view. Elmirah, the co-founder of Youth Leaders of East York, saw a need in her community and quickly banded together with like-minded peers to build a network of support for local youth. As a first-generation Canadian, Elmirah wanted to provide ways for local youth, like herself, to become engaged and active in their communities.

The Youth Leaders of East York help youth connect to jobs and volunteer positions, foster leadership and teamwork skills, learn about a range of topics like accessing funding for post-secondary education, reducing community violence and accessing racism. 

The group launched the ‘Green Team’ to bring youth together to address environmental issues in their community and globally. The Youth Leaders of East York secured a TD Park People Grant to host “Summer Environmental Stewardship Series” events which included a ravine walk with Floyd Ruskin who is a principal member of the volunteer conservation and stewardship group Don’t Mess With the Don and has been actively working to protect, restore and revitalize the Don Valley for more than 30 years. 

I joined Youth Leaders of East York for a stroll through the valley of the Don River. For the Youth Leaders, who grew up in adjacent neighbourhoods like Thorncliffe Park, certain neighbourhood parks are quite familiar. But, this more unruly and hidden space was new, unexplored territory. Along the way, Floyd drew our attention to some of the space’s wilder features. Previous online sessions prompted participants to explore what nature and stewardship mean to them, and what emotions are evoked when they spend time in nature. The walk with Floyd brought these emotions to the surface, demonstrating that terms like stewardship, invasive species management, and conservation may not seem like terms likely to stir up strong feelings, there is no one better suited to make ravines matter than Floyd Ruskin. 

 

We all left the walk with a new appreciation for the valley and had a whole new level of confidence and comfort in the wild and wonderful ravine space.

Street to Trail zooms in on nature with unhoused people

Street to Trail brings homeless and marginalized adults into nature for day hikes and camping trips. They do this to provide people living in poverty and marginalized communities with opportunities to find even temporary relief from “the challenges of city life.”As Toronto’s only wilderness-based organization for marginalized adults, Street to Trail knows that time spent in nature has a multitude of benefits, and that “regular access to nature improves lives with its inherent power to feed an individual’s mind, body and soul.”

Lately, because of the pandemic, their trips have been closer to home. 

Street to Trail received a TD Park People Grant to lead events including a photovoice hike in High Park. Simply put, photovoice uses photography to enable to empower people to document their point of view and share their experiences.  The camera’s lens becomes an extension of participants’ eyes and helps amplify their perspective-both for themselves and others.

By hosting a nature-focused photowalk, Street to Trail offered participants a new way to build connections with the natural world.  After a brief introduction to the core principles of photography, participants were invited to select the camera of their choice – ranging from point-and-shoot to larger professional ones.  

Stopping at several points along the walk, participants put their newly honed photographic skills to good use. By the end of the photovoice hike, I shared participants’ enthusiasm for zooming in on unique natural features that might otherwise be invisible. We each had our own nature narrative and it both belonged to us and to the larger landscape. 

It was a privilege to join both Street to Trail and Youth Leaders of East York on their nature excursions. Participating alongside them made it clear that both community groups are actively and creatively bridging the gap between our city’s most natural green spaces and people who long to build connections to nature. By prioritizing equity-seeking groups in the outreach and granting process, TD Park People grants are helping to integrate ideas of social access into our vision of  “accessing green spaces.”

Community Connections to Nature focus of TD Park People Grant Recipients

Together, Park People and TD Bank Group launched the TD Park People Grants program to help communities better connect to nature and each other. Since 2016, the grants have been awarded, through the TD Ready Commitment, to 365 grassroots community groups and community-based non-profits –the groups that know their communities best. This year, TD Park People Grants were awarded to 72 community park groups in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Greater Toronto Area, National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau), Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax Regional Municipality.

 

Photo credit: Richmond Nature Park Vancouver

 

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been particularly proud to continue supporting impactful events that demonstrate the tremendous creative capacity that lives at the heart of our communities. At a time when many people are understanding and experiencing the benefits of parks more than ever, we have continued to support a National Network of community park groups that nourish the vital connections between people and nature.

Since the program’s launch, Park People and TD have prioritized equity-seeking groups in the outreach and granting process. This year, we established a focus on these groups, ensuring that 50% of TD Park People Grants are dedicated to equity-seeking groups in cities across Canada.

 

Photo credit: Neighbours of Meadowvale Park

 

This approach has resulted in outstanding environmental education, sustainability, and stewardship programs in communities across Canada. Among the groups awarded TD Park People Grants this year are those serving people with disabilities, Latin American and Chinese populations, Indigenous communities, Black-led organizations as well as groups representing people experiencing homelessness, seniors, and many others.

Some of the projects funded with a 2021 TD Park People Grant include:

Join us for more than 216 events hosted by TD Park People Grants, which are taking place from April 17 through December 31. 2021. Visit the TD Park People Grants page to learn about events happening in your community.

 

Feature photo credit: Yoga in Riley Park – Water for Riley.


 

Thank you to our generous supporters:

 

Move over Hygge, Canadians are embracing winter with TD Park People Winter Grants

Over the past years, “hygge” (a Danish term for incorporating coziness and wellbeing into everyday life) has been touted as the antidote for Canada’s long, dreary winters. Staying warm and cozy indoors may have worked for some in the past, but this year we need to find safe ways to get outside in winter. Our cities’ parks and green spaces will be essential to our physical and mental health this winter.

Looking to Indigenous communities in Canada who have thrived on these lands for tens of thousands of years provides a useful framework for how we should approach winter this year.

In a recent Toronto Star article, Alex Wilson, a professor and director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Research Education Centre and a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation recommends:

“focusing on the rhythms and patterns of nature — and drawing meaning from them — is just one of the simple things Indigenous scholars suggest people can do to help get through the long, dark days of winter and isolation during this pandemic.”

In an effort to truly embrace our nature as a winter nation, we are launching the first TD Park People Winter Grants, supporting 15 community groups in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal to deliver awesome nature-based activities that foster environmental education, sustainability, and stewardship in a safe and winter-friendly way.

 

A winter event in Montreal in 2019.

 

Earlier this year, as part of the TD Community Resilience Initiative, a comprehensive program launched through the TD Ready Commitment to address the pandemic’s impact on communities, TD and Park People pivoted the TD Park People Grants to meet the changing needs of communities across Canada.

Now in its third year, TD Park People Grants have provided 293 grants to support over 716 events in city parks. So far in 2020, TD Park People Grants have supported 163 community groups, who hosted over 326 events and programs in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Greater Toronto Area, National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau), Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax Regional Municipality.

 

The brilliant virtual or physically-distanced winter events hosted by TD Park People Winter Grant recipients will include:

 

A winter event in Montreal in 2019.

 

We recognize that getting outdoors this winter will take an extra helping of creativity and motivation. Now certainly isn’t the time to shy away from getting playful with your kids in the snow, going on a winter nature walk, or decorating trees in your neighbourhood. Let’s embrace all that Canadian winters and nature has to offer. We hope that you bundle up, spend some time in your local parks and green spaces, and encourage your neighbours to safely do the same!

Be sure to check the TD Park People Grants website and our social media for details on all the great events in your community.

 

Thanks to our generous supporters

 

Tuning into nature with the 2020 TD Park People Grants

During the COVID-19 pandemic when much of the human realm has retreated indoors, the natural world has reclaimed many of our urban spaces. A family of foxes camped out underneath the boardwalk in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, while a humpback whale was spotted swimming in Montreal’s St. Lawrence River. In this time of crisis and chaos, we can find comfort in knowing that nature is carrying on around us.

Vancouver’s Still Moon Arts Society beautifully weaves together art, nature and community. Typically, events like their beloved Moon Festival happen in person in Still Creek and the Renfrew Ravine.

This year, through a TD Park People Grant, Still Moon Arts Society invited Vancouverites to tune into nature and create a virtual symphony of bird songs.

 

Credit Photo: Chao Cheng

The creative chorus was a way for Vancouverites to celebrate bird month.

“Bird watching and listening are valuable on your own because you can do it anytime anyplace and it helps you connect to our other-than-human neighbours with whom we share the habitat,” says Carmen Rosen, Artistic Director of Still Moon Arts.

The creation of the community and bird collaboration began with an online talk facilitated by environmental educator Sara Ross (RedSara). Participants learned about the birds they might encounter in the early dawn and what birds are singing about as the sun starts to rise. 

 

 

All of this was to help participants become better listeners and observers of the dawn chorus. The real magic happened at 5 am the next day, when people headed outside their homes in the light of dawn to record a minute-long audio clip of the bird sounds in their neighbourhood. They then shared their individual bird recordings with Still Moon Arts, who compiled them into a playlist aptly named Spectacular Dawn Chorus.

Across the country, community park groups like Still Moon Arts Society are connecting people to parks and nature when they need it most.

“We hope that by helping people stay connected to nature, the TD Park People Grants will relieve some of the stress and isolation we know people are experiencing right now. The incredible creativity of Canada’s community park groups shows how they contribute to making our communities both greener and more resilient,” says Carolyn Scotchmer, Executive Director of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. 

Now in its third year, TD Park People Grants have provided 290 grants to support 707 events in city parks. This year, as part of the TD Community Resilience Initiative, a comprehensive program that TD launched to address the pandemic’s impact on communities, TD and Park People pivoted the TD Park People Grants to meet the changing needs of communities in Metro Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Greater Toronto Area, National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau), Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax Regional Municipality.

This year, TD Park People Grants will support 163 community groups, who will host over 326 awesome nature-based activities that foster environmental education, sustainability and stewardship.

Other inspiring TD Park People supported programs across the country include:

We know that connecting people to their parks and green spaces is more important now than ever. Through the TD Park People Grants, we are continuing to make our parks and green spaces equitable environments that foster meaningful social connections and improve the local environment.

Be sure to check the TD Park People Grants website and our social media for details on all the great events in your community.

Thanks to our generous supporters

Cover photo credit: Chao Cheng

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