2022 Noojimo'iwewin Gitigaan National Healing Forests Project

2024-05-06 22:18 | Anonymous
What is now the 3,200 square foot Healing Garden beside St. Matthew’s United Church began as a small circle of Sacred Medicines—Tobacco, Sweetgrass, Sage, and Cedar. Under the stewardship of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group (IPSG), the circle expanded to include heritage food plants just as Covid 19 arrived in our midst. Elder Pedhubun Migizi Kwe/Dr. Catherine Brooks (Nipissing FN) gifted the garden the name Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan at our first Fall Equinox Ceremony in 2020, and subsequently  became Elder-in-Residence to the IPSG, thanks to an “Engaging the Spirit” grant from the United Church of Canada.

Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan viewed from St. Clair W., June, 2022. The hand-built fence in the background encircles the original Right Relations Food & Medicine Garden; the Children’s Garden further south along Rushton Rd. is not visible.

Support from Pollinate TO plus Canada Summer Jobs funding helped us take up even more scruffy grass in 2021 and develop the north end of the garden. Focussed on commemoration and Ceremony, the entranceway includes a burlap and sinew Every Child Matters banner and shoe memorial created by Bert Whitecrow (Seine River FN) after Haida artist, Tamara Bell.

A round rain garden and Conversation Circle designed by Whitecrow echo the shape of the full moon in their Ode’min Giizas panel high on the church wall, while half moon gardens continue along the wall and sidewalk. These gardens replaced invasive buckthorn and filled new beds on both sides of the space with native plants for all seasons, including golden alexander, wild columbine, wild strawberry, wood strawberry, joe pye weed, butterfly weed, heart-leaved aster, zig zag goldenrod, heath aster, and more. Bushes include White Cedar, serviceberry, elderberry, red osier dogwood, and nannyberry.

Posters recalling the now-hidden waters of Ziibing/Taddle and Garrison Creeks that flow below this part of the city were also added in 2021, created by Whitecrow’s fellow youth summer staff member, Olivia Dziwak in collaboration with Elder Catherine, Dr. Mariko Uda, and Green Neighbours 21.

Spring Equinox Ceremony in Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan, 2022. Foreground left shows half moon gardens.

In January, 2022, Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan became the first Toronto greenspace to join the coast-to-coast-to-coast National Healing Forests Initiative. As part of this initiative, we ask our community to remember those lost to Residential Schools and other forms of violence as well as celebrate Indigenous spirituality and cultural resilience. Ceremonial songs and drums resound off the surrounding buildings with each change of season, inviting connection with the Land and Waterways of this “urban canyon.”

With the help of Horticultural Society member, Vanessa Barnes, a grant from the Society allowed us to continue to amend our soil in all beds created by the removal of grass or buckthorn or both. In 2019 and 2020, new beds were double dug to break up the deeply compacted soil and add triple mix plus additional manure and city compost. By 2021, we had begun to use the Haudenosaunee method of “hügelkultur” in the Right Relations Garden—the central mound is built up from logs buried 2 feet below the surface—and layered, regenerative methods everywhere else.

Our first Work Bee in the spring of 2022 renewed the top layers of all beds and the protective mulch around the base of shrubs and along garden pathways; the second rebuilt the 80-foot, spiral fence constructed in 2020 to protect the food and medicine plants. Made flexible thanks to electrical ties, the fence is made of “Siberian” bamboo from a neighbouring yard.

Horticultural Society funding in combination with our second Canada Summer Jobs grant for youth summer staff also allowed us to expand programming in the Children’s Garden, located outside the Hippo Nursery School in the church basement. Abby Burns assembled raised beds and designed and led 6 weeks of Land-and-Water-based activities centred around native and heritage food plants and their insect friends, ably supported by fellow staff member Jacob ElzingaCheng together with Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Crew volunteers and the children’s teachers.

Raised beds made of discarded bureau drawers and scrap cedar fencing. The right-hand bed was planted in June with one of the Americas most important crops in the Columbian exchange, potatoes. The children hilled up and watered the potatoes weekly (with additional watering support from the Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Crew and staff), digging them up and enjoying boiled potatoes with their classmates and teachers in October. French marigolds planted by the school’s toddlers were included as “Helper Plants” that repel harmful insects. Thank you to the Horticultural Society for funding safe, child-sized tools.

In addition to growing potatoes, the children grew Canadian Slow Food Ark of Taste red fife wheat supplied by local miller and baker Carole Ferrari of Motherdough. The “We’re Growing Cookies!” raised bed helped children understand the relationship between grain plants and one of their favourite foods. It was also the impetus for many conversations with passersby, conversations being what Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan grows best.

Even though sparrows feasted on wheat before it could be harvested by humans, Jacob took a rainy day to make wholegrain cookies with the Hippo School classes anyway.

Calendula planted at the sidewalk end of the bed offered another example of a “Helper Plant,” as well as many seeds for giveaway tables at Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group events.

Harvesting mint while the bee harvests bergamot.

Maintaining a relationship with another tenant in the church building, The Stop Community Food Centre’s Wychwood Open Door Drop-In, was another 2022 priority. Since the inception of Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan, the Drop-In has been gifted weekly herb bundles and other produce to add to their healthy meals.

The IPSG’s commitment to the National Healing Forest initiative even took us beyond our own project, collaborating on an August 17 celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with Miinikaan Innovation and Design and Friends of Bickford Park with funding from Park People, WWF Canada, and the David Suzuki Foundation. Over 200 people attended, with more than 100 taking away native plant seedlings donated by Pollinator Partnerships.

While the event did not relate to our Horticultural Society grant, we were grateful to Clement Kent for his support throughout the planning and set up, and his invitation to other Horticultural Society members to attend: many joined Clement in touring Bickford’s greenspaces and taking in a talk by Chef, artist, and Miinikaan Co-Founder Johl Whiteduck Ringuette (Nipissing FN). A Ceremony under the rising moon led by Elder Catherine, Isaiah Cada and the 416 Drum, and dancers Nichole Leveck, Nazarene Pope, and Indiana Cada brought the evening to a close with an All Nations Round Dance.

Here is  a little video about the garden made in 2023 by our young Toronto Film School student, LJ Howse, of Conne River Mi'kmaq FN.


Here is more info about the project, linking to the church's website about the garden.


Project address: 729 St. Clair W. at Rushton Rd, Toronto

Project write-up by Robin Buyers.

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