When I review the volume and variety of Plenty Canada projects, it occurs to me that virtually everything our organization does within Canada is a reflection of reconciliation, applied in diverse and creative ways. Several of our projects touch upon the Calls To Action that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued in 2015. Others are the manifestation of good-minded Canadians who felt compelled to get involved — leaders of municipalities, provincial agencies, universities, conservation organizations, non-governmental organizations, art centres, and more — who sincerely seek to engage with Indigenous peoples and organizations like ours to make valuable contributions and play their part toward fulfilling the country’s truth and reconciliation aspirations.
During this time of the year, as we approach the holidays, I’m particularly mindful and grateful of the relationships we have that foster reconciliation. These come in the form of partnerships and alliances whereby we work together toward shared goals and objectives on projects that are deemed beneficial in the fields of conservation, ecological sustainability, and education. Following are three examples, among several Plenty Canada projects, that reflect reconciliation and which are reported in this edition of our Contact newsletter.
With funding provided by the Greenbelt Foundation, and in partnership with Guelph University, along with assists from Brock University, the Bruce Trail Conservancy, and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Plenty Canada has recently completed a survey of Indigenous plant life within the Greenbelt. Our team led by Senior Advisor Tim Johnson, comprised of biologists and Indigenous knowledge holders, researched 23 sites located along historic Indigenous trails analyzing 69 plots and resulting in the collection of more than one thousand herbaria specimens and a significant amount of data that will be useful for years to come.
With the support of Environment and Climate Change Canada our organization is assisting in the development and growth of another organization, the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, which is responsible for maintaining UNESCO’s official mandate and designation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Region. This is hugely important work that we take very seriously. As you will read in the article about the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, it is called a network because it works with dozens of organizations all along the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from Tobermory to its southern terminus in Queenston Heights Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Biosphere Network Board Member Liette Vasseur likes to call it a network of networks, and she’s correct. Only by working together can we preserve precious biodiversity and promote responsible public access to the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere.
Reconciliation also benefits from artful inspiration. In partnership with the Bruce Trail Conservancy and Forests Ontario, we are also pleased to announce that our “reconciliation team” has identified two locations for the design and installation of Indigenous healing gardens, one at Cape Chin in the northern part of the Bruce Trail, and the second at Smokey Hollow in Waterdown along the southern part of the Bruce Trail. Curatorial teams are being formed to begin the conceptualization of the gardens, which we hope to see emerge in 2023, so we are greeting the new year with great anticipation.
These are but three active Plenty Canada projects that we consider reconciliation in action. By working together with others on projects that can be successfully accomplished, the process develops effective relations, nurtures respect, and results in lasting friendships. Along these lines, thank you for your support! Have a warm, safe, and Happy Holidays and a most joyful New Year!
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Maarsii. Thank you.
Plenty Canada has completed Year 1 of its Greenbelt Foundation funded project entitled Nbwaakaawining binjibaamgad Gkendmaawziwin (Wisdom from Knowledge): Documenting and Sharing the Indigenous Biocultural Richness of the Greenbelt. In partnership with Guelph University and allegiance with the Bruce Trail Conservancy, Indigenous knowledge and Western science were used to identify and assess the presence and status of Indigenous plants within Ontario’s Greenbelt. The work involved conducting comprehensive Indigenous ethnobotanical research and biodiversity surveys at 23 sites, analyzing a total of 69 plots, along historic Indigenous trails within the Greenbelt.
The primary goal of the project was to begin restoring Indigenous knowledge, visibility and character to the Greenbelt as an important Indigenous cultural landscape within Ontario. The project has four Activities to be executed over two to three years:
• Research and completion of an ethnobotanical survey of culturally significant plants in the Greenbelt, including medicinal trees and plants (where deemed culturally appropriate and safe) and Indigenous foods and uses in the Greenbelt, e.g., spring ephemerals, summer berries, fruits and vegetables, autumn nuts, roots, and mushrooms.
• The technical adaptation of Plenty Canada’s existing prototype interactive digital map of the Niagara Escarpment to cover the entire Greenbelt region. In using this established platform, which has been developed in consultation with numerous Indigenous advisors over the past several years, the Greenbelt Indigenous plant survey will indicate areas and ethnobotanical plant knowledge and information, and will receive its own name and identity that will be activated during Year 2.
• The development of a pedagogical strategy that utilizes the Indigenous biocultural mapping content to appropriately process and share Indigenous histories, knowledge, and stories of the Greenbelt in ways that will make learning accessible, interesting, enjoyable, and purposeful. Place-based learning, sometimes called pedagogy of place, has gained ascension in teaching practices and educational curricula for its immersive and experiential qualities that connect students to local heritage, cultures, landscapes, ecosystems, and experiences that serve as a foundation for understanding Indigenous histories and scientific knowledge.
• The production of an ethnoecological Indigenous plant field guide in both digital and print publication formats to enhance and support cross-cultural training for the public with particular attention paid to the membership of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance in forging and sustaining partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of the Greenbelt. The web platform will be entitled the Greenbelt Indigenous Botanical Survey and the print product will be named the Greenbelt Indigenous Botanical Field Guide.
Some of the outcomes of this project, prior to publication, are the development and facilitation of relationships between Indigenous knowledge holders and conservation organizations in the Greenbelt. These relationships are significant and burgeoning. The team’s ethnobotanical, archival and field research provides evidence that the Greenbelt is an important Indigenous cultural and biological landscape, and has been, for thousands of years. Thus our project aim and methods are to demonstrate the Greenbelt’s cultural and ecological necessity to southern Ontario, as a landscape that provides critical biodiversity and ecosystem services, but is also a beautiful and accessible public good across cultures, which can be enjoyed and cared for by everyone.
Learning cultural relationships with these landscapes helps empower people to know, appreciate, and protect them. As well, the data we have collected far supersedes the amount we will use. For example, more than one thousand herbaria specimens collected by the team will be useful, for years and years after this project, in demonstrating the plant biodiversity of the Greenbelt. In addition, all of the gathered ethnobotanical and archival data gathered from museum collections is shared among the Indigenous cultural educators on the project, who can in turn use it for their pedagogy.
Our publications, the field guide and digital atlas, will be broadly accessible and aesthetically beautiful productions for the public to use, to engage in place-based learning when they travel to locations throughout the Greenbelt.
We intend for these works to be ready for publication by December 2023. It is also worth noting that some of the sites the team surveyed are in close proximity to areas proposed in Bill 23 to be removed from protection within the Greenbelt (Boyd Conservation Area, two blocks from Vaughan North of Teston Road and East of Pine Valley Drive; Dundas Valley Conservation area in Hamilton, two blocks from development south of Garner road West, between Fiddler’s Green Road and Shaver Road). Thus, the project has generated current data from this year, on plant and tree species diversity and richness of those protected areas.
— Tim Johnson, Jessica Dolan, Yu Zhao (Mia) Ni
Foremost in the minds of the board members of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network is protecting the sanctity of ecosystems that harbour species at risk and advancing conservation ethics and practice. As the grassroots and community-based organization that maintains UNESCO’s mandate and designation of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Region, the Network strives to enlighten and inspire everyone to help preserve the biodiversity of life present along one of Canada’s most magnificent landforms.
Plenty Canada, with support from Environment and Climate Change Canada, is working to nurture and develop the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network. Since its first public launch event held at The Brown Homestead in April of this year, with a second event held at Cape Croker Park in May, the organization has worked diligently to establish a highly credentialed board of directors and identify its operational and program objectives.
Operationally, as a UNESCO biosphere region, the Network has positioned itself at the leading edge of creating an Indigenous co-governance model that both imbeds and ensures that Indigenous leadership and participation are structurally built into the organization. For example, the president and chair of the organization is Patrick Robson, a professor of Environmental Studies at Niagara College. The vice president and vice chair is Charlene Winger-Jones, a water walker and environmental activist from Neyaashiinigamiing (Land Surrounded By Water). The Board includes other Indigenous members and specialists with expertise ranging from municipal government, biology, and community planning to education, conservation, and more.
Cognizant that the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere houses nearly a quarter of Canada’s species at risk, where organizations and landowners require support, encouragement, and sometimes guidance to ensure their continued commitment to conservation, the Network is currently collaborating with partners to ensure that varied ecosystems are valued. This includes considerations around gathering data and information to develop maps, information sheets, and signage that connect the public to sensitive and precious environmental areas. Increasing public awareness regarding the importance of biodiversity and its conservation along the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere is critical. It is envisioned that information sheets will also discuss other aspects such as the role the Biosphere plays in climate regulation and the importance of trees and green infrastructure as expressions of climate action.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived there has been an increase in visitors to the Bruce Trail and adjacent side trails and parks. However, most people don’t necessarily understand the importance of the Biosphere for conservation and the rich biodiversity it contains. The Biosphere is home to many endangered or threatened species including the Jefferson Salamander, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, the Southern Flying-squirrel, and the Eastern Pipistrelle bat. Unfortunately, very little signage and information is available along these trails and parks to inform visitors when they are walking through sensitive areas. Furthermore, most people are not aware that they are visiting a UNESCO biosphere region with a core zone; over 76 percent of the Niagara Escarpment being protected for its biodiversity. Considering the pressures for urbanisation and agricultural expansion, it is urgent to improve the awareness of people to better protect these regions that contain a high level of biodiversity, including several species at risk.
These efforts were all brought to the fore during a Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network conference session held at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines in September. The event featured officials of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network and representatives of network organizations explaining the importance of preserving the Niagara Escarpment. They included Gimaa Kwe Veronica Smith from the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Chief Executive Officer of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Michael McDonald, Network board members Patrick Robson, Tim Johnson, Liette Vasseur, Larry McDermott, Mark Zelinski, Walter Sendzik (then St. Catharines Mayor), and Victoria Serda. Others included Town of Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, Niagara Parks Senior Executive Steve Barnhart, and tourism specialist Michael Hallé. The presentations and conversations were deep and extensive. In an effort to address profound and increasing environmental challenges, a program also featured stunning never-seen-before photography and aerial and drone video of the Niagara Escarpment by Mark Zelinski.
Among a range of other activities underway, the Network is conducting reviews and beginning research for the next Periodic Review of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Region. These reviews take place every ten years and are required for the maintenance of UNESCO’s biosphere designation.
— Tim Johnson, Bradley May, Liette Vasseur
In collaboration with Bruce Trail Conservancy, Forest Ontario, and Indigenous partners, Plenty Canada has identified the locations for two new Indigenous Healing Gardens.
Healing Gardens, also known as Healing Places, are havens used to meaningfully engage Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in a restorative process, creating physical places of healing while at the same time cultivating safe and ethical spaces. They are intended to provide spatial experiences defined by natural elements that convey Indigenous principles and teachings and nurture a healing process of reconciliation.
The identification of the new garden locations took place over a two-day assessment trip during which the team visited five sites along the Bruce Trail recommended by Brian Popelier, land stewardship coordinator and ecologist for the Bruce Trail Conservancy.
The first day of travelling took place in the southern region of Ontario. The group comprised two from Plenty Canada, two from the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, and three from the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The locations visited included Fisher’s Pond, Smokey Hollow, and a section of the Bruce Trail called Woodend Meadows, located near Niagara College.
By the end of the day it became clear which area best suited a Healing Garden. The southern Healing Garden is planned to be located along the Bruce Trail at Smokey Hollow in Waterdown. Our group greatly enjoyed the contours and surroundings of that space, relaxing to the wind blowing through the tall Indigenous grasses while picturing how the land looked and felt like an amphitheatre.
On the second day, the group of seven became eight as a member from Forests Ontario, Emily Hart, joined the contingent. The group travelled to Cape Chin and a meadowland called Vanishing Stream, located near Colpoy’s Bay. Upon assessment everyone in the group agreed that the northern Healing Garden location be that of Cape Chin, which includes a stunning outcrop view of nearly pristine shoreline along Georgian Bay. Not only is the location secluded from bustling city or suburban life, but visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the scenic view of crystal teal waters.
Our group became immediately impressed and in awe of our surroundings. It felt like we had been transported into a place we could all call home. There is the potential added bonus of a house on the property, which could provide support for local Indigenous partners and a space for further Indigenous programming for youth, but plans for the home have yet to be finalized by the Bruce Trail Conservancy.
Both Healing Gardens will help connect Ontario's northern and southern regions. The gardens will provide many programming opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth and provide inspirational spaces for all who visit. The process now turns toward assembling appropriate members from the participating organizations and identifying Indigenous advisors from each of the regions to provide cultural and curatorial guidance. Through this process conceptual content will be determined, Indigenous plants selected, designs considered and approved, and resources procured with installation to begin in 2023.
— Amanda Harwood
Amidst the recent discussions about housing prices and housing availability within Ontario and throughout Canada, it is easy to blindly support the construction of new developments to increase the amount of housing available, ignoring the opportunity to redevelop and renew our existing and thriving neighborhoods to accept more people. Rather than developing new land into sprawling suburbs, we need to renovate and densify existing housing to allow for truly sustainable neighborhoods.
When considering starting a sustainable renovation project, it can be daunting to learn about the many aspects that feed into the broader concept of sustainability. These include health, comfort, durability, energy consumption, embodied carbon, and recycled content to name but a few. However, in every case, it begins with a general mindset towards sustainability and one can commence their project by making many small and interconnected choices. It is important to remember that sustainability is about the journey travelled and not a destination, there is no absolute, only a series of relative choices.
As part of the sustainability upgrades of the Plenty Canada property and developing the Plenty Canada CampUs, we took on finishing and revitalizing the Makwa Inn (Bear Inn) to create a community focused multi-use space in which we will run activities and programming organized and hosted by Plenty Canada. This space also serves as a demonstration project for the community to see, learn about, and experience sustainable and energy efficient construction techniques, materials, and equipment.
The Makwa Inn was originally constructed in the 1980s, but never fully finished. The plan was to complete small upgrades, similar to those performed on Plenty Canada's main office building envelope; namely a new weather resistive barrier (WRB), additional exterior insulation, new windows, and new siding. After some discussion and consultation with local experienced high-performance builders and our energy advisor for the project, it was determined that with some extra effort, the right contractors, and carefully selected materials we could achieve the additional performance targets set by the Canadian Home Builders Association’s Net Zero Renovation labeling program. This would allow us to go through the entire Net Zero Renovation process, document each step, and later showcase the process to guests and visitors, hoping to inspire their own renovations and retrofits and serve as a resource for those pursuing their own projects.
The Net Zero standard is based on achieving an EnerGuide rating of 0. The EnerGuide system was developed by the Government of Canada to rate the energy performance of homes to be able to compare their relative performance and provide a meaningful basis of comparison. To get an EnerGuide label for your home, a registered energy advisor needs to visit your residence, where they will take measurements to determine its square footage, wall perimeter, and volume, and then investigate its construction, generally considering the amount of insulation throughout the enclosed space. Finally, they will use a blower door device to measure the air tightness of the structure. All the information gathered is entered into a software program to generate a model of the home’s performance, yielding an estimate of the number of gigajoules (GJ) consumed per year. Inherent to the model is a base load consumed by the occupants of the house, with the remainder consumed by the space conditioning and domestic hot water systems. By improving the envelope of the structure and selecting high efficiency mechanical units we can reduce the energy consumed by the home to the point where a solar array can generate enough energy to balance out the energy consumed. By achieving Net Zero with our renovation, we hope that more people are inspired as they pursue their own home performance upgrades.
— Kasper Gruszczynski and Aaron Wood-Lyons
The Department of Canadian Heritage has awarded Plenty Canada a grant to support our efforts to reclaim, revitalize, and strengthen Indigenous languages. This grant will build on our work last year when we held several cross-cultural and language workshops on topics such as transportation, canoe-building, traditional hunting, and foods. We also provided online Algonquin language lessons.
Each of the project components is focused on advancing Indigenous languages including Anishinàbemiwin (Algonquin), Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk), and Inuktitut and other Inuit languages, as well as the vast knowledges and cultures of these diverse communities, strengthening the capacity of Plenty Canada to deliver ongoing programs and developing relationships that will further reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
With this grant, Plenty Canada also plans to add more destination sites to The Great Niagara Escarpment Indigenous Cultural Map, a multimedia online prototype resource containing stunning photography, captivating video, and contextual information that identifies important Indigenous historic, cultural, and natural world locations along more than 750 kilometres from Niagara Falls to the western region of Manitoulin Island. Indigenous language sites that are in Kanien’kéha, Anishinaabemowin, and Michif are already implemented into the program, so this is an exciting opportunity to add more.
We aim to create positive momentum for the acceptance of languages that were once prevalent on the landscape in southern Ontario and which have developed a presence in more recent years (e.g., Inuktitut). We aim to connect land-based learning with language, in the spirit of ginawaydaganuc, the Algonquin way of saying "we are all connected". As we develop our program schedule, we hope you will join us for one of our cross-cultural workshops or a language lessons. Please stay tuned for more details.
— Deb Pella Keen