It was December 2011 in the historic district of St. James Park. That was the year an idea was born – to bring hope and healing to a community in the heart of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The beloved city park was in ruins, and a community was upset that protesters had taken something very important to them. St. James park was more than just a park, and it was in desperate need of extensive restoration, but the City of Toronto was unable to return it to its former glory.
Tree root systems were damaged and exposed, and what was once grass had become mud. It was a big job that would require 26 pallets of sod, truckloads of mulch, professional arborists, landscapers and hundreds of volunteers to do the work.
“Restoring the park so people could enjoy it as part of the regular, daily life again was an easy decision to make,” says Alan White, one of 200 members of Landscape Ontario who responded to a call for help from Toronto’s Mayor.
Reaching out to its network of partners, the group was able to secure generous donations of turf grass and mulch. White and others were thrilled with the results and, uplifted by the potential of helping more urban communities across Canada, he focused his energy on building a charitable organization to do just that. Working with members of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, the group focused on improving people’s lives by improving community and climate.
“There are so many benefits of living, breathing landscapes, no matter the size,” explains Phil Paxton, a volunteer Past Chair of the Board from his home in Alberta. “Plants clean the air, provide shade, cool the surrounding area, reduce noise and absorb excess rainwater from storms.”
In fact, the resounding message from this passionate group is that green spaces are beneficial to our health and wellbeing – physically and mentally – and as an increasing number of people live in cities, increasing and improving public, urban green spaces benefits a great number of people.
After years of planting the seeds of change, the Green Cities Foundation was born a Canadian Private Charitable Foundation in 2018, and it set out to build its first urban green space in 2019.