The most beautiful forest in the world, Boucher Forest, Gatineau

This contribution from Marianne Strauss is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.


I have been involved in the protection of the Boucher Forest for 6 years now. For me, it was like love at first sight. I loved it right away and I love it, even more, today, if that’s even possible! I became the Treasurer of the Boucher Forest Foundation in 2014, before becoming its Executive Director in 2017.

The Boucher Forest is a 300-hectare forest in the heart of the city of Gatineau, Quebec. Its protection is a cause that is particularly dear to the hearts of the people of Gatineau. People care about it and want to protect it. So much so that half of its area will become the Boucher Forest Park in the coming months, a huge 155-hectare park that will be dedicated to nature education.

 

The future Boucher Forest Park also regularly makes the headlines in Gatineau. It is one of the few green spaces in the city that has made a name for itself in recent years. As soon as something is going on there, it’s in the papers, on the radio, on TV. I often had to speak about how we can protect it and enhance it in various forums. I used to share in my public engagements that the Boucher Forest was the most beautiful forest in the world. It makes people smile, every time. They think I’m exaggerating a little. I’m biased, I know that. The Boucher Forest is beautiful, of course, but objectively, it is not exceptional. There’s no spectacular lookout, no hilly areas, no swamp with turtles or ducks, no truly unique feature that would set it apart from any other urban park. Yet every time I come for a visit, I’m filled with admiration, emotions and amazement. I came to the conclusion that if I thought it was so beautiful, it’s simply because I know it and love it so much.

It’s certainly very commonplace to say that we like what we know, but it’s true. The Boucher Forest Park will always be the most beautiful forest in my eyes because it is close to my home, because I go there regularly and because I am lucky enough to bring my children there. That’s the reason why it’s so important for me to protect green spaces in urban settings. In addition to all the natural services they provide us with, they become part of our daily lives and a very important part of our lives. They contribute greatly to our mental and physical health. They are becoming absolutely essential for our personal happiness index.

 

 

Citizens who are connected to forests, wetlands or parks near their homes are the best advocates for their protection. The Boucher Forest Foundation is fortunate to count hundreds, if not thousands, of community members who have a real attachment to this immense forested area in the middle of the city. And I’m almost certain that they too think that the Boucher Forest is the most beautiful forest in the world.

 

 

About Marianne Strauss – Executive Director Fondation de la Forêt Boucher 

Holder of a master’s degree in environment, Marianne Strauss started to care for the environment at a very young age: as the daughter of community leaders who successfully engaged their community and decisionmakers to protect the Ile Bizard Forest, in Montreal West-end. Living now in Aylmer with her family, she fell in love with the Boucher Forest and joined the Foundation to help with its preservation. 


Thank you to our generous supporters


This contribution from Marianne Strauss is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.

A Park Journey: Villa Borghese, Rome & Riverdale Park, Toronto

This contribution from Dave Harvey is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 


I was just out of university when I got a chance to visit Rome. A lot of things were closed on Sunday so I decided to go to Villa Borghese which is a large park right in the centre of the city.

Villa Borghese in Rome

Villa Borghese was so different than the playgrounds, green lawns and sports fields of parks back in Canada. At Villa Borghese, there were beautiful green areas and gardens but also art galleries, boat rentals and cafes. What struck me most, however, was all the people. The park was absolutely packed. People playing soccer or gathered in groups listening to a match. Families, couples, young people, seniors, kids.

This is what you did on a Sunday in Rome – go to the park with everyone else – have a picnic, get a beer at the café, stroll, just be. I always thought of parks as a place you went to escape the city but here was a park where you went to celebrate life in the city. I loved it.

This passion for parks as community building spaces is a key reason I started Park People in 2011.

 

Dave Harvey, Founder and Executive Director of Park People, when he visited Rome 

Rome really sparked my interest in cities – it’s still my favourite city. But it also sparked an interest in parks and how these spaces are so often a direct expression of a city’s society, culture and essence.

One of my favourite urban thinkers, Alan Broadbent, said that “Parks, principal among public spaces, are a telling face to the world.”

I still love to travel to cities and my favourite places to visit are still parks. I’m missing that right now but I’m so lucky to live close to Riverdale Park in Toronto. I’m there two or three times a day with my dog Clarence.

Riverdale Park in Toronto. Photo credit: Jake Tobin Garrett

Riverdale is busier during this crisis than I’ve ever seen it before. Almost since the beginning of COVID, it’s been full of people, almost all respecting social distancing.

To me, it shows the great potential for parks to heal and places people who are instinctively pulled towards. Today, I’m drawn to the park both for a chance to escape the city and my currently isolated, restricted life, but also to be where other people are gathered and remind me that I’m not alone.

This is the kind of park everyone needs but we know not everyone has. When our parks are quality green spaces that are safe, animated and maintained they nourish us. Unfortunately, when parks are neglected and unsafe for people, they can repel rather than attract the people who need them. Ensuring that all Canadians feel welcome and safe in a great park that meets their community’s needs is at the core of Park People’s work. We have much more to do to make that a reality.

As you’ll experience in this series, if our parks are a “telling face to the world” they tell us much about the city we currently live in and the kind of city we want.

Cover photo credit: Fred Romero

 

About Dave Harvey 

Dave has decades of experience working in government on municipal and environmental issues, including as a senior policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario. He excels at bringing partners together and strategic thinking to overcome complex challenges. He is passionate about community involvement in parks, which is why he founded Park People in 2011 under the motto: when communities get involved, parks get better.

 


Thank you to our generous supporters


 

This contribution from Dave Harvey is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

The Forest City: Victoria Park & Doidge Park, London

This contribution from Mary Rowe is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.


I grew up in London, Ontario, in the 1960s and 70s, which at the time promoted itself as “the Forest City”. I’m assuming this was due to the generous tree canopy found in the older neighbourhoods, one of which I was fortunate enough to live. I have vivid memories of parks there.

Victoria Park located in the centre of the downtown, every December decorated its evergreen trees with seasonal lights and turned the pavement facing its bandshell into a skating rink. Every year my sister and I would begin our petitioning that Dad ‘take us down to see the lights’. That same park was host to the Home County Folk Festival – which continues – for an August weekend of open-air music and craft.  Another park we went to as a family was Springbank Park, which included Storybook Garden, a modest children’s fantasy area (with a few captive animals which I suspect are no longer allowed) and picnic and barbeque areas, along with the forks of the Thames River. Perfect for a Sunday drive. Also along another branch of the Thames River was Gibbons Park, a few blocks from our house and home to the coldest swimming pool (and least attractive change rooms!) imaginable. We had family picnics there.

But the most meaningful park by far for me was Doidge, affectionately known as ‘the pit’. Very close to our house, tucked down a dead-end street was a playground and ball fields, with a clubhouse, run by the Public Utilities Commission. Almost a full city block, Doidge was at grade from its main entrance but had two very steep (at least to this 11-year-old) hillsides that led back up to the streets. Perfect for winter tobogganing, or just rolling down in warmer months.

In the summer of 1969, my oldest and closest school chum Kristi told me there was a summer activities program at ‘the pit’ and off we went one morning to check it out. The City had funded a program that included staffing a male and female ‘supervisor’ to create recreational programming for neighbourhood kids. We were hooked from the first moment.

My experiences there – which I returned to for three years – instilled in me invaluable lessons of sports, fun, and teamwork. It was also the only way I met kids not being educated in the protestant school system, gave me a sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, and triumph! It exposed me to role models that made an indelible impact on me as an emotionally vulnerable young person.

I will never forget it, ever, and have remained grateful throughout my adult life of the experiences public investment in that place, program and people gave me. That’s a park!

 

 

About Mary Rowe 

Mary is a leading urban advocate and civil society leader who has worked in cities across Canada and the United States. Mary is CUI President & CEO with several years of experience as an urban advocate and community leader, including serving as Executive Vice President of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MASNYC), one of America’s oldest civic advocacy organizations focused on the built environment. A mid-career fellowship with the US-based blue moon fund led her to New Orleans where she worked with national philanthropy, governments and local communities to support rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Prior, Mary was President of the Canadian platform Ideas That Matter, a convening and publishing program based on the work of renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs.


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Mary Rowe is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.

The Garden of Eden Takes Many Forms in our Minds and in our Hearts: Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg

This contribution from Mary Wiens is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.


For me, one of those eternal gardens came in the form of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, wide-open spaces were as natural to me as breathing. But the man-made landscapes of plowed and tended fields were designed for work.

Assiniboine Park – in Winnipeg, an hour away by car – was another matter. The sweeping swathes of manicured grass and gently curving roads were designed for pleasure – lending dignity and grandeur to family outings, a crowd which included my grandfather, plenty of cousins, uncles and aunts. The aunts brought blankets and picnic baskets filled with egg salad sandwiches, rhubarb Platz, thermoses of coffee and mason jars of lemonade, wrapped in towels to keep them cold.

The one hour drive to the city after the Sunday morning church service must have been carefully planned by our collective mothers. I don’t remember the planning. What I do remember is the expanse of cut grass when we arrived at the park and the view of the Pavilion at the far end. The Pavilion. Even the word was magical – all other pavilions mere shadows of that glorious first one at Assiniboine Park. It was built in 1930, just before the Depression eliminated the possibility of more such grand public gestures.

Mary Wiens’s mother in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg

Part Tudor cottage, part pavilion, its steeply pitched gables, exposed timbers and formal pergolas epitomizi the dignified playfulness of Assiniboine Park. Equally magical was the park’s zoo. The zoo was built in 1904 to showcase a handful of native animals, and expanded over the years so that by the 1960s when I visited as a child, there was a monkey house, a tropical house and dozens of enclosures spread across 80 acres. But all the other animals — ducks, porcupines, gazelles, buffalo, and monkeys — were mere warm-up acts to the true stars — the polar bears. The enclosure for polar bears, the zoo’s most renowned feature, was built in 1967.

 

Wyman Laliberte, Assiniboine Park (1967)

Unveiled in that optimistic Centennial year, it showcased massive polar bears splashing and diving in groovy, water-filled pools painted a brilliant white. Has my imagination added fictitious turquoise to the mix? The bears’ wet coats, gleaming under the blue prairie skies, together with the turquoise pools, made it seem as though the bears, like us, had travelled from a very different landscape for a suburban vacation – the bears as sleekly mid-century modern as their surroundings – their streamlined bodies merging smoothly into small heads and long pointed snouts.

On those golden summer Sundays, we finished with one last gathering around the picnic baskets, the ice cubes in the mason jars long since melted, before we were corralled into our respective fathers’ cars. We were farm families and the milking and chores at 6 couldn’t wait, so we left gazing through the rear windows at the park still glowing in the late afternoon sun. At 17, I left the farm to take my first job in Winnipeg. I lived in Wolseley, a neighbourhood with plenty of cheap apartments on the second floor of houses with fading painted exteriors. By bike, we were only 20 minutes away from Assiniboine Park, cycling past the stately homes and towering trees on Wellington Crescent.

In Winnipeg, where nothing seemed too expensive or forbidding, I began to stretch my cultural muscles. The first time I saw ballet was on a summer evening in Assiniboine Park, the Pavilion serving as a backdrop to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s free performances, attended by thousands of people every year.

Forty years later, I still see that ballet – Rodeo, a playful, contemporary work by choreographer Agnes de Mille, set to music by Aaron Copeland with dancers in cowboy boots and fringed jackets. Another performance of Rodeo was scheduled for the 2020 season – part of a retrospective to mark the company’s 80th anniversary season – cancelled because of COVID.

Today, I live in Toronto, only a few minutes’ walk from High Park in the city’s west end – the private gift, also from an earlier era, of Toronto’s philanthropist architect John Howard. I am lucky to have lived in the long, green shadows of not one, but two great parks. But it was Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park which taught me first, and many more generations of children before and after, to expect largesse, generosity and dignity in public spaces built with municipal funds – and to see summer pavilions as a wondrous architectural miracle.

 

About Mary Wiens

Mary Wiens is an award-winning journalist and producer who can be heard weekdays on CBC Radio One’s most listened-to morning show, Metro Morning, on 99.1 FM in Toronto.

Mary’s journalistic scope ranges from groundbreaking series on transit, such as “Joyless Commute” about the emotional strain of the daily commute, to a series exploring father absence called “Fathering Change: Strengthening the role of black fathers”.

Her feature stories have won numerous regional and national awards from RTDNA Canada – the Association of Electronic Journalists, as well as the international Gabriel award for Metro Morning’s series, “Stolen Children”, about Canada’s infamous residential school system.

Mary’s deep affection for Toronto is also expressed in her work as a community volunteer. As a founding member of Roncesvalles Renewed and RoncyWorks, she has been recognized with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for local projects that help build civic engagement.


Thank you to our generous sponsor: 


This contribution from Mary Wiens is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.

A Party in the Park: Overbrook Park, Ottawa

This contribution from Marie-Caroline Badjeck and her group ‘Overbrook Community Association’ is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.


Overbrook Park is an extension of my house. It’s where my son plays with his friends, where youth play basketball on steamy summer nights, and where outdoor musicals are performed. The park is adjacent to our community center, where the Overbrook Community Association (OCA) meetings take place, where free books are given to kids, and where community members practice music and sports or participate in after-school programs.

But in November 2018 our community was shaken to the core: gunshots were fired at 4 pm in close proximity of Overbrook Park. It was overwhelming – I felt angry that this shooting took place at a time where kids run free in the park, and I felt helpless to see gun violence so close to home. How can such a welcoming neighbourhood be the stage of such a senseless act?

With other members of OCA, we wanted to reclaim our park and write our own narrative, about a community that is strong, diverse, and proud of its youth. In partnership with the Rideau Rockliffe Community Resource Center’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), we applied to a TD Park Grant to organize an event for youth, by youth, and to celebrate youth.

“Party in the Park” was the result of many brainstorming sessions and of a serendipitous encounter in the spring of 2019. After playing in the park with my son, I saw a flyer in the community center, “Free Basketball training for Overbrook Youth. Contact Manock”. I wanted to meet him. With the YAC, we had thought of organizing a basketball competition, but despite my enthusiasm for the Toronto Raptors and my high school days as a point guard, I knew we needed help. In the end, I just showed up to one of his basketball practices, and we started chatting. Five minutes in, I knew Manock was our guy: his passion for the game and the kids, his love for Overbrook and the fact that he did not blink an eye while my son wreaked havoc on his class with his toddler-level enthusiasm.

Fast-forward to September 2019. More than 100 people attended “Party in the Park”, with 40 players participating in the basketball competition, hopefully, the first of many more events of this kind.

The community links forged during this event are enduring. Manock Lual, CEO of Prezdential Media, is now the Chair of OCA’s Safety Committee. Since COVID-19 has forced OCA to cancel all events and find new ways to connect with residents, the Safety Committee launched a fundraiser to provide backpacks filled with school supplies, a reusable mask and a tee-shirt to local youth. OCA also continues to work with the YAC, including on a mural in the heart of Overbrook.

Parks connect us to nature. But they also connect us to each other, weaving the threads of the social fabric that makes our community stronger, no matter what.

 

 

About Marie-Caroline Badjeck and the Overbrook Community Association

The Overbrook Community Association is a group of motivated residents collaborating to make life better for everyone in their dynamic community on the East side of Ottawa. At OCA, Marie-Caroline coordinates special projects with youth and environmental focus. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, the OCA has devoted their volunteer resources to delivering food to community members in need, conducting regular check-ins and providing support with financial aid applications and connecting people with community resources. 

To find out more about the work of the Overbrook Community Association, Prezdential Media and the Youth Advisory Council, follow them on Instagram @613HumansofOverbrook @PrezdentialHoops @ward13yac and on Facebook.

Text edited for length by Marjolaine Provost, Overbrook Community Association.


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Marie-Caroline Badjeck and her group ‘Overbrook Community Association’ is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.

A park named Queen Elizabeth: Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

This contribution from Naomi Steinberg is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.


When I was a toddler, my grandparents, visiting from France, would watch over my sisters and me as we explored the park’s duck pond. Like many children, I tested comfort zones and capacities, hurtling down a steep slope just above the pond on a sled in snowy weather. These days, in my innocence, I peer into flowers, honk at geese, and enjoy hearing families singing together.

As a teenager, I remember a romantic kiss while sitting under the spreading maple trees of the North facing slope, just below that same duck pond. Many fine formative explorations of the semi-wild fringes of the park occurred, basalt outcroppings – volcanic vestiges, with fascinating mossy toppings were found. These days, in my passion, I weep when seeing fir trees more than 150 years old, cut, lying on the ground, sawdust all around.

Now an adult, the formal lushness of the garden, cultivated over the remains of a quarry, pleases and soothes me as much as the cedar and fern stand still growing in remarkable contrast, squirrels and coyotes wild. The park’s tropical plant conservatory sits buckyballish, high above, glowing, a welcome alien. These days, in my inspiration, I can imagine a dragon, descended from an ancient craggy volcano, here to exercise our delight and to nurture right-action.

For four years I have been fortunate to live near QE park, this place where I can move my body, finding solace and respite from the pace of the city, gaining in health and wellness. Yet, when I consider the encroaching condominiums crowding the view, the need to protect, maintain, and enhance green spaces and parks in urban environments seems evident. Concern regarding access to fair and adequate housing arises, as does regard for indigenous Coast Salish protocols. I wonder what could emerge through a community process committed to decolonizing the park’s name. These days, in my desire to weave meaningful inter-cultural and intergenerational relationships off the spindle-whorl of our collective humanity, I asked a question: what do place, home, belonging, and indigeneity mean?

Calling on experience as an arts-based community engagement worker, and focusing on an approach to the park, Dragon Walk inaugurated a pop-up shrine where the Cambie Heritage Boulevard (running South-North) crosses the 29th avenue bike path (extending East-West). This location is within the city’s only heritage designated landscape, which is of city-wide importance and recognition. The boulevard is an extension of QE Park and its intended function as an arboretum and celebratory sightline to the North Shore mountains has been well described by the Parks Board.

Inviting contemplation and conversation, the shrine uses the dragon metaphor to honour the park’s geologic history, to appeal to all cultures, and to call on each person’s inner fire. It is through our innate capacity for warmth and creativity that we can forge resilient, caring communities. I feel strong forces weaving together an irresistible flow.

These days, is it innocence, passion, inspiration, or desire being called in to play? With a dragon’s roar perhaps we can say: civic engagement, fostered through fun, relevant activities are the basis of a healthy, empowered society where folks have agency. I love QE Park very much and celebrate how much has been given me by the plants, animals, earth, air, water, and fire. We are grateful to the TD Park People Grants for supporting Dragon Walk.

 

 

About Naomi Steinberg

Naomi Steinberg is an internationally recognized artist and storyteller. She has brought traditional folk stories, fairy tales and community-based art projects to life in countries around the world since 2001. In 2014 Naomi voyaged around Earth without taking an airplane. She told her hand-spun story, Goosefeather, wherever she went and has since published a book about the experience. www.goosefeather.ca.

Recent projects include Dragon Walk, an opportunity to engage in a joyous celebration of the ecological diversity found in Little Mountain. Recognizing the need to foster resilience and neighbourliness, over Summer 2019, six arts-based community engagement activities culminated in a parade. Ongoing place-making is occurring. As part of this legacy project, Naomi hopes you feel invited into the contemplative space located on the 29th ave. bike path and the Cambie Heritage Boulevard in Vancouver, Coast Salish, supernatural land.  


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Naomi Steinberg is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.

What is a Park? Dawson Park, Edmonton

This contribution from Raquel ‘Rocky’ Feroe is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 


Now that I’m older, my days often start the same way. I take a walk in Edmonton’s Dawson Park with both my two-footed and four-footed housemates. People ask if I get bored going to the same park every day. To which I answer. Does life get richer with time? Can relationships grow?

As is typical, by the end of our walk my husband has carefully selected spots for the dog to “do her business.” She tucks her offerings in the undergrowth. She is discrete, unlike the coyotes who leave their piles right in the middle of the shared path. Because of peer teachings and expectations, I pick up the dog poop but leave the coyote scat alone. Sometimes I feel conflicted putting these “gifts” in the trash can.

When I went looking for the human place to “do my business,” I met two people who were surprisingly friendly and welcoming. “Can we help you?” they asked. They explained they were hired by a social enterprise to help keep the washrooms safe during COVID. “Thanks,” I said, “you give the park an even better vibe.”

It’s so nice to be greeted (Note, my dog taught me that).

I learned later that a social enterprise hires these folks as washroom attendants. They are people who are hard to employ because of addiction recovery issues, legal issues, and the like. After I thanked them for being in the park, we got into a long discussion. I explained that I am used to city staff being in the park with loud two-stroke engines polluting the air in an effort to win the “war on weeds”. The bathroom attendant said, “white man brings the weeds then tries to destroy the weeds, good luck.”

 

Parks are all about relationships and it’s not complicated. Here’s some of what I’ve learned on my walks with two and four-footed companions:

Parks are for people. People can be in good relationship with the land and learn how to be in a better relationship with each other by just being there and observing.

I am left wondering if urban parks could become a model for how we could shift to a new view of prosperity. One that:

Stops the war on weeds and embraces coexisting in the right relationship with nature.

I am going to keep thinking about this possibility and what it might look like. I am going to think more about the question: “what is a park?”.

Photo credit: Marcia O’Connor, Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

About Raquel Feroe

Rocky started as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics before earning a Medical Degree from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, NH. She is a practiced specialist in Internal Medicine in Alberta. Rocky was happy to retire from her medical profession in May of 2018 and focus on SPICE and other projects that advance sustainability.

 


Thank you to our generous supporters:


 

This contribution from Raquel ‘Rocky’ Feroe is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

Rolling down hills and watching the sun rise on New Year’s Day: Uhuru Park, Nairobi

This contribution from Minaz Asani Kanji is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 


What kid doesn’t love rolling down a hill? For me, the best hill rolling was in Uhuru Park in Nairobi. My mum would take me and my sisters to Uhuru park on the bus. We’d climb to the top of the hill and let ourselves go, giggling all the way down. If you went fast enough you could get to the bottom in one roll, if you didn’t, you’d have to stop and start several times. Either way, we loved it and once we got to the bottom we’d rush back up to roll back down again.

There was a small lake in the middle of the park that you could go boating in. We’d sit on the grass watching people in the boats go by wishing that could be us, but I think all my mum thought about was how she’d fish us out if we fell in.

 

Whenever we had playdates or had family or friends come to visit, we’d take them to Uhuru Park to admire the park’s idyllic views of the City.. We kids climbed the arched frames one by one: there was a small one, a medium one and a large one. We always tried climbing the biggest one because being on top of it felt absolutely exhilarating.

Uhuru Park had professional photographers stationed at different points in the park. They had albums on display filled with people posing in the park. My mum took us to take photos in the park on the first day of Primary school, all dressed up in our crisp new school uniforms.

The park was built after Kenya’s independence from the British and given the name Uhuru which means freedom. Independence Day celebrations took place in the park and we would watch the marches, the traditional Kenyan dances and politicians’ speeches on television. I remember watching the first President of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta give his speech and at the end of it yelling his signature ‘Harambee’ which is the motto of Kenya and means “all pull together”. He’d yell it three times swinging his fly whisk above his head and all the thousands of people gathered would yell back each time ‘Hey’.

One of my last memories of Uhuru Park was on New Year’s Day 1987 when I watched the sunrise at 6 am. My friend and I decided we would run down that same stepped terrace my sisters and I had rolled down as kids. So we left our shoes in the car at the top of the hill and ran down the hill and by the time we came back the car had been broken into and the shoes were gone. That year, we greeted the new year with bare feet.

Photo Credit:  Alejandro Cacares

 

About Minaz Asani Kanji

Minaz Asani-Kanji is Park People’s Manager of Outreach. She grew up in Kenya and is an Environmentalist. She manages the Sparking Change program and has worked with 90 local groups in Toronto’s underserved communities to help make their parks more vibrant and their neighbourhoods stronger. 

 


Thank you to our generous supporters:


 

This contribution from Minaz Asani Kanji is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

It Takes a Park: St. Mary Park and Amberlea Park, Toronto

This contribution from Janelle Richards is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 


They say it takes a village to raise a child- that the lessons and love a child receives from the people around them is formative. What you don’t hear as often is that it also takes a park and that these two forces are just as important to new parents. The fresh air can heal, the rustling leaves can soothe and the sun can encourage smiles and discovery for both baby and parent. This is a lesson that I learned first-hand over the last few months.

When I became a new mom in the fall, it wasn’t easy. In the winter as people made their way inside, I found it difficult to navigate motherhood, meet new parents, and get around as I suddenly wasn’t as mobile as I used to be. Add in a pandemic and things didn’t seem as they should. My village was lacking and I was feeling it. Soon, getting outside was the only time I was able to breathe, and one of the only times the baby slept peacefully! So we would walk.

In the snow, I would labour with the stroller over uncleared paths, bumping my bundled baby to sleep. Soon, I learned how to wear her in a carrier, allowing me to walk through the hydro corridor to follow deer paths and test my animal tracking knowledge. In the spring we would go over to the unused sports field in St. Mary Park and practice crawling in the fresh grass to pick dandelions for jelly. Or watch the pond in the nearby Altona Forest transform as it melted and became home to tadpoles. The playgrounds and benches were off-limits but we would set up a blanket in Amberlea Park and watch people pass by- she missed seeing people. When social circles opened, we were even able to safely meet some of our baby friends again thanks to parks!

The postpartum period is one of the hardest, most demanding times in a mom’s life. The addition of physical isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic made it even harder for many. As magical as I was able to make these times with my daughter, I knew I was lucky. I was lucky that I was able to find another way of getting around with Baby to overcome the physical barriers to the outdoors I experienced. I was lucky that I had access to green spaces within walking distance and that I felt safe going there by myself. I was lucky that I knew the healing nature of parks and fought to experience it. Without parks to help raise my daughter, I know this time in my life would’ve been much different. I truly believe that safe and accessible outdoor spaces are critical for the healthy growth of parents and their children.

 

 

So, although my first year of being a parent has been anything other than what I imagined, parks made it something more than I couldn’t have imagined- connecting, healing and growing us both in these unprecedented times.

 

 

About Janelle Richards

Janelle is an environmental educator and a new mom based in Pickering, Ontario. Her passion is connecting all people to nature. She has experience leading school groups, community groups and more in environmental explorations and advocacy. With an education in wildlife biology, she loves insects and teaching whoever will listen about pollinators and interesting plants. She is also finding a new love in watching how little people learn and explore in the natural world.

 


Thank you to our generous supporters:


 

This contribution from Janelle Richards is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

First Photos: Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

This contribution from Zahra Ebrahim is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 


I have few photos of our first years in Canada.

We moved from Nairobi to Vancouver when I was eight months old. It was a time of transition for my parents, both of them in their twenties, carrying dreams and two kids under 3 – trying to figure out how their new life might support both.

Back in Kenya, my grandparents had owned a film and camera shop, which meant that every family moment, every family minute really, was documented. In this new reality of ours, where time and resources were scarce, the taking and developing of photos didn’t happen at the same pace – but I did notice recently, that the precious few photos I do have are always in public parks.

 

Zahra Ebrahim 

Like so many immigrant families, parks were our backyards. Our weekends were filled with their barbecues, jungle gyms, gathering places. It’s where we met friends and the first place we took extended family members who had just landed in town. We were always in the park. This photo, taken in Queen Elizabeth Park – a sprawling, lush, urban park in downtown Vancouver – is one of the first photos my parents took and developed, and every time I see it, I feel such deep joy.

Mostly because the contentment seen on my face is the exact same as it is today when I’m in a park. I know that it was the consistency with which we made public spaces an extension of our home that shaped the sense of belonging I feel today, and instilled in me a sense of responsibility for public space. Growing up, parks were all possibilities: spaces for play, togetherness, reflection, celebration, and creativity. If you see me in a park today, I don’t look much different than I do in this picture – barefoot in the grass and smiling.

Parks remain an essential service for so many individuals and families now. The risks to public health that have us encircling the jungle gyms in caution tape are understandable – there are so many unknowns about the pandemic we continue to face – and yet, at the same time, it’s important that while we tell people what they cannot do, we must also encourage what they can.

The process of rebuilding from COVID-19 will need to include a strategy for leveraging the power of parks to do what they’re best at: bringing us together and holding space for all of our stories.

Cover photo credit: s.yume

 

 

About Zahra Ebrahim

Zahra Ebrahim is the co-Founder of Monumental, an organization focused on bringing justice, fairness and equity to the heart of public and private institutions across Canada. Twitter: @zahraeb

 


Thank you to our generous supporters:


 

This contribution from Zahra Ebrahim is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

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