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Indigenous Unity Garden to be unveiled on April 22

The garden, situated in Mel Swart Park, is designed to be an outdoor classroom; 'It’s a place for us to come together and to share our stories'

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: This article was originally published by ThoroldToday on March 28.

It's taken months of hard work and collaboration, and now the Indigenous Unity Garden at Mel Swart Park is finally ready to be unveiled on Saturday, April 22.

“It’s a place for us to come together and to share our stories, our teachings and our ways of working with the natural world,” explains Michele-Elise Burnett, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “We’re hoping that people from Thorold and beyond come and participate in the many different programs we’re going to have.”

Burnett is the president of Indigenous consultancy company Kakekalanicks and she has spearheaded many Indigenous projects in the Niagara region. 

Burnett also sits on the One Thorold Truth and Reconciliation Committee, who collaborated with the city on the project. 

The Indigenous Unity Garden is formed in the shape of a turtle, and is designed to be an outdoor classroom that brings people together.

“We’ll be bringing in elders and grandmothers and educators from the Indigenous lands to teach people,” says Burnett. “During these interactive workshops people will learn a little bit more about our traditional ways and culture.”

The unveiling of the garden on April 22 will involve stories, songs and dances, and planting ceremonies.

 “We’re going to have some of our leaders from the community, our MPs, our MPPs," says Burnett. "It really is about uniting and coming together to embrace our cultural community to strengthen our tribe."

Burnett hopes to have on-going programming for all ages all season long in the garden.

"We want children to be there because that’s going to be the next generation," she says. "That’s who we do this for. I think that’s why it’s important. These are all ways to help bring us together to unite us again."

It’s no coincidence that the garden is situated in Mel Swart Park.

“It’s located around Lake Gibson which was originally a smaller territory to the Grand River,” Burnett says. “It was also part of an old Indigenous trail in that area. There’s a lot of history there, our ancestors are there, so the energy is going to be very strong.”

Building the garden was a real collaborative effort.

Burnett came up with the design, which she fine-tuned with help from the city. 

Perry Hartwick, who is the president of the Upper Canada Stone Company, donated stone and dry stone master craftsman Dean McLellan used that stone to help build the frame of the turtle.

“Dean is non-Indigenous but he hires Indigenous people and teaches them that trade so he brought them all the way in from Saugeen [First Nations,]” explains Burnett. “These men fitted every one of those stones to make them all fall perfectly around the body. That to me is art itself.”

The collaborative spirit that was necessary to build the garden signifies what the project is all about.

“It really amplified that importance of coming together and working together, respecting one another, finding that common ground and friendship,” Burnett says.

Thorold residents are invited to come and participate in the unveiling of the Indigenous Unity Garden in Mel Swart Park on April 22, at 1 p.m.

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About the Author: Bernard Lansbergen

Bernard was born and raised in Belgium but moved to Canada in 2012 and has lived in Niagara since 2020. Bernard loves telling people’s stories and wants to get to know those that make Thorold into the great place it is
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