Ottawa spreads Pumpkin Parade celebrations

The Toronto born tradition of Pumpkin Parades have taken on a life of their own as whispers about the phenomenon have spread across the country. We spoke with Anita Grace, who brought the parades to Ottawa to get the scoop on what it’s been like bringing the Halloween after-party to her city.

 Getting started

“I wasn’t that plugged into local parks until I had kids,” Grace says. “It was because of my kids that I started hanging out in parks, getting to know families in the area and then gradually getting involved with organizing little community park events.”

When a friend shared a story about the large and successful Pumpkin Parade in Toronto’s Sorauren Park, Grace was suddenly inspired to bring the annual event to her own Ottawa park.

She held her first pumpkin parade that same year, and now, nearly five years later, the Pumpkin Parade has become a much-anticipated annual event within her neighbourhood. She has learned important lessons from year to year and put that knowledge to good use to ensure that yearly, each parade has been bigger and better than the last.

“It started out small,” Grace tells us. That first year, the parade was held at Iona Park and there were about 25 pumpkins on display.  In the parade’s second year, Grace thought she would take her chances in a busier area and moved the event to Byron Park. Byron Park is located along an old tramline that was converted into a pathway with greenspace around it. “It’s a totally accessible space with a multi-use path that a lot of people use,” Grace tells us, “hosting the parade there was really good for publicity. That second year we got close to a hundred pumpkins and people who hadn’t even heard about the event just kind of stumbled on the display as they were taking their dogs out or casually walking.”

What a pleasant surprise!

Value to the Community

 Grace says that she started running with this project more or less on her own, but that she has been overwhelmed by the positive response from the community. “I maybe have been the impetus behind these events, but the community has really taken ownership. If it was just me, there would only be my family’s four pumpkins out there, last year there were about 300,” Grace says. People show up to the parade one year and then come back the next year with more family, friends and neighbours.

The Pumpkin Parade has played an useful political role in recent years as developers have proposed projects in the area that threaten the greenspace at Byron Park. “The community has come out to be pretty vocal about wanting to hang on to this space as it is,” Grace says, “by hosting events like this at Byron Park along the pathway, we are drawing attention to this as a highly valued and utilized community space.”

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Learn as you go

 Grace admits that, early on, there were issues with the pumpkin mess that followed the parade. “There’s a hill not too far from one section of the path, kids were rolling pumpkins down the hill and smashing them,” she says. She didn’t let this get her down though. “It’s not malicious, it’s just kids having fun. Sometimes there’s just something about a pumpkin that make it irresistibly kickable,” she tells us light heartedly. To  address this issue, Grace simply reached out to the community via social media asking people who were going to be in the area to keep an eye on things. A very Jane Jacobs approach indeed.

Grace says that social media and local media have been tremendously useful tools in spreading the word and gaining support for the parade. She has made event pages on Facebook and uses Twitter to connect with local community organizations and associations who have re-tweeted her posts to spread the word. Stories have run about the Byron Park Pumpkin Parades in the local Kitchissippi times and also on CBC Radio which spread awareness of the event to new and different audiences.

She has had a lot of success in putting information up on local schools’ announcement boards and leveraging different school and parent networks.

Grace says that she got in touch with her local councilor quite early on. “Having his support has been really helpful,” she says. “I also think it’s really important to foster a good relationship with the city. They have been really great about sorting out permits and helping with the clean-up,” she says.

Volunteer support

Five years on, Grace is finally ready to recruit some volunteers. “I have approached the city councilor to see if we can write off volunteer hours for some high school students,” she says.

I was surprised to learn that until this point, she hasn’t had any designated volunteers or partnerships. “I have sort of been doing it on my own, but it has been amazing to see how many people have stepped forward to help out,” she says. Grace tells us that she has been continually surprised how many people, often whom she doesn’t even know, have seen what she’s doing in passing asked if they can help. “People have really taken ownership of this, and the fact that so many people come out and bring their pumpkins and help get them lit and then hang around and come back the next morning to help pick up all the soggy pumpkins…it’s pretty incredible. It really is a community thing.”

Ottawa’s Park Summit Drives 3 Key Lessons Home

Whether you’re 5 or 55,  when you move to a new place, one of your first thoughts is about the people you’ll find: “Will I be able to make new friends? Will they get me?”

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Park People’s first Park Summit in a new city happened on Earth Day with Ecology Ottawa. We knew from our experience hosting our national conference in March, that there’s something about “park people” that makes for easy connections. However, we were elated and, frankly, moved to see 125 incredible Ottawans gathered together for their first-ever Park Summit. While we’ve hosted six Toronto Park Summits in the past, this event in a new space gave us fresh perspective on what happens when you put park people in a room together. Here’s some of what we learned.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Our goals out of the gate were ambitious but achievable. Ecology Ottawa and the steering committee organizing the Summit hoped that 80 people would turn up for this inaugural Park Summit. After all, it was the first-ever city parks event in Ottawa. Also, it was being held on Earth Day, a day chock-a-block with environmental and community events. We were overwhelmed to find that 125 people showed up. This felt like a strong signal that people across Canada want to talk parks and connect around the issues connected to their public spaces.

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The 125 people at the Ottawa Park Summit represented 50 different community organizations active in parks. Some groups were ‘park friends’ similar to the model in Toronto, but most were not. Ottawa has a very vibrant network of citizens’ associations, community garden groups and ‘adopt a park’ groups that were well represented at the event.  It was cool to learn about these different models and methods that Ottawans use to engage in and steward their parks and public spaces. For example, some citizens’ associations have a parks and green space chair on their board. This person is responsible for thinking about all of the parks and green space in the whole neighbourhood from a citizen perspective. They organise park adoptions, tree planting and events, as well as advocating the city and developers to protect and enhance parks and green space.

Small is beautiful

The Ottawa Park Summit was full of opportunities for interactive participation and networking, including a ‘world café’ showcasing citizen-led park projects from around Ottawa, like a community garden by and for children, a park revitalization project rooted in inclusion, and a biodome! Attendees had the chance to connect and learn in small groups, leading to meaningful connections and conversations, and they got to vote with their feet by visiting the café stations that featured topics they were most interested in. While the Toronto Park Summit brings a grassroots focus to park work in the city, the world café was more intimate and helped create new connections among attendees. This point was noted and will definitely inform our approach to future park events.

Park people need connection:

By the end of the Summit, it was clear that Ottawa’s park enthusiasts were determined to keep the conversation going. The group talked about establishing a local city parks network newsletter similar to Park People’s local newsletter, more face-to-face gatherings, online resources, a councillor relations strategy, and an awards program to recognize great work in local city parks.

The experience of launching a Park Summit in Ottawa not only reminded us that there are Park People in cities across Canada, but that there’s a collective need to recognize and strengthen the work that’s already happening in our city parks.

Read more about Park People’s Ottawa adventures:

 

3 Creative Stewardship Ideas for Your Park

Every autumn, the people of the Renfrew Ravine neighbourhood in Vancouver are busy crafting lanterns for the annual Moon Festival. Under the stewardship of the Still Moon Arts Society, the park is lit up with lanterns and filled with community-led art projects. The Still Moon Arts Society celebrates and stewards the Still Creek watershed in Vancouver, using art to convene community members in this beautiful green space.

This is just one example of a creative approach to stewardship, which Rewilding Vancouver: An Environmental Education and Stewardship Action plan defines as a:

‘Commitment to take active responsibility for human and ecosystem health.’

This can include a wide range of actions by individuals, communities and organizations working alone or together to promote, monitor, conserve and restore ecosystems. The Moon Festival provides a memorable, engaging experience in the Renfrew Ravine to inspire and nurture the community’s passion for nature and to see their role in creating and maintaining the splendor of the space.

Cities and communities are taking astoundingly creative approaches to cultivating relationships between communities and their natural environments. Here are some of our favourites from across the country.

Weaving Art into Stewardship in Vancouver

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Credit: Sharon Kallis

Like the Still Moon Arts Society,  the Vancouver Park Board uses art to engage people in stewardship.The Urban Weaver Project, a partnership between The Park Board,  Stanley Park Ecology Society, artists and community volunteers, transforms invasive ivy pulled from steep forested slopes into crocheted mats. The woven ivy mats, when dried, are laid on the forest floor to suppress the growth of invasive species. This project lives at the intersection of art,community-building and nature, which is fertile ground upon which stewardship traditions can start and grow.

What It Demonstrates:  Participating in stewardship activities helps build and strengthen social ties within communities, and meaningful stewardship programs can give community members a strong sense of personal investment in their parks and green spaces.

Building in Capacity-Building in Montreal

 

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Credit: Matthieu Guyonnet-Duluc

In Montreal, the Ruelles Vertes or ‘green alleys’ program is an incredible collaboration between government and communities. Local governments provide funding to communities to green their alleyways by planting trees and gardens. One of the main criteria for receiving funding, however,  is the formation of a strong citizen’s committee. Communities have to demonstrate strong commitment because they are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the green alleys. In other words, by helping grow citizen committees alongside green alleys, the projects continue to flourish. A stroll through Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood makes it clear how much pride community members take in maintaining these green oases.

What it Demonstrates: Stewardship needs committed support to be sustainable. Consistent City support for and investment in these programs are critical to their success. Cities must be ready to commit to cultivate and sustain long-term partnerships with communities. When municipalities across Canada strive to create strong support systems for community stewardship, parks and communities thrive.

Tapping into Civic Pride in Mississauga

 

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Photo Credit: Gary J. Wood

In Mississauga, the Riverwood Conservancy has an operational agreement with the City of Mississauga to offer programming and coordinate volunteer stewardship in a beautiful section of the Credit River Valley, and the Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens Stewardship Committee stewards one of Canada’s largest collections of rhododendrons. This year, the City of Mississauga will begin developing a Stewardship Plan for volunteerism and community engagement, working with existing partners and exploring relationships with potential new partners through the process.

What It Demonstrates: Collaborative projects between cities and local residents help the city to get out of its four walls and into the community. The can also be an effective way for the city to deliver some services and programs in ways that are more tailored and relevant to the community. On the flip side, the specialised knowledge and passion of volunteers can lend tremendous value to the public’s experience of a park.

 

Jiya Benni is an urban designer and aspiring writer based in Toronto

 

 

 

5 more reasons to celebrate Ottawa’s city parks

Earlier this week I shared five reasons to celebrate Ottawa’s city parks as we look forward to Ottawa’s first Park Summit this Saturday April 22 (register for this free event here). But as I spoke with people in Ottawa, I kept finding more inspiring examples of how Ottawans are making parks their own – through stewardship, education, food and fun. Here are five more reasons to celebrate our capital’s incredible green spaces and the people who love them:

1. Winter opens up new citizen-led possibilities:

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“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that winter sucks” – Groomer Dave.

The SJAM Trail is a groomed, multi-use winter trail connecting the Canadian War Museum with parklands along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway to Westboro Beach, animating spaces that until now have been little used in the winter.

The trail exists thanks to the tireless volunteer efforts of ‘Groomer Dave’ Adams and his team. They groom the trail in a customized snowmobile to make it available for skiing, biking and walking year-round.

 

2. Camp in the city:

Although not in Ottawa proper, Gatineau Park is an enormous urban park, half the size of the City of Toronto, accessible by bus or bike from downtown.

Fall in Gatineau Park. photo credit: Xiaozhuli

Fall in Gatineau Park.           Photo credit: Xiaozhuli

The park has been home to people for more than 8,000 years, but today it is primarily a natural green space that you can enjoy for the day or stay in overnight by camping, renting a yurt or a cabin.

As Ottawa’s population increases by 50 per cent over the next few years, large green spaces like Gatineau Park will be even more critical to ensuring a livable future.

3. Learn indigenous history by taking a walk in the park:

If you are anything like me, your understanding of Ottawa’s history is pretty much ends at the edge of Parliament Hill. Jaime Koebel aims to change that, by leading walks through Major’s Hill Park, Confederation Park and Lansdowne Park that present public spaces from an indigenous perspective. Learn about Ottawa’s social, cultural and political history and present day through stories that centre the indigenous experience.

4. Keepers of the River:

The Ottawa River is a defining natural feature of the city, and it is lucky enough to be watched over by a fiercely devoted group of Ottawans. Ottawa River Keeper uses education, apps, advocacy and even a patrol boat to protect the river and its future. The organization is one of ten water keepers in Canada – non-governmental ombudsmen who serve as the full-time public advocate for a water body. Ottawans and visitors can download their swim guide app to find the best place to take a dip, or serve as a volunteer river watcher to spot issues like toxic algae blooms.

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Ottawa River at Sunset. Photo credit: Bob Kelly.

5. From Burma to Canada:

Of the many working farms in the Greenbelt, the KLEO Karen Community Farm is probably the only place where you can find Chin Baung (roselle) and Mying Khwar (pennywort). These are key flavours in the cuisine of the Karen people, an ethnic minority from Burma who arrived in Canada after fleeing one of the longest-standing civil wars in history. With the help of KLEO, Just Food and other partners, Karen refugees turned to their traditional farming methods, combining them with Canadian agricultural practices to grow high-quality produce for local sale.

Featured image: Sorting the harvest at KLEO Karen Community Farm. photo credit: Just Food.

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