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Alberta’s first mental health and wellness park breaks ground in northwest Calgary community

It’s the first park in the province designed and dedicated to youth mental health, said Parks Foundation Calgary CEO Sheila Taylor.

Ground broke Tuesday on the Brawn Family Foundation Rotary Park in the northwest community of Hounsfield Heights / Briar Hill, adjacent to the construction of a new Calgary Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH).

“Research shows that there’s a direct link between mental health and nature,” Taylor said.

“Our hope, with the Brawn Foundation Rotary Park is to support the mental wellness of youth visiting the centre, their families and also the community.”

The park will have a main pavilion, a garden space, infinity pathway, a labyrinth, two activity areas, a swing branch, a free-library and more. Many of the spaces are meant for reflection and connection to nature, but also create active spaces.

Brawn Family Foundation Rot… by Darren Krause

“Wellness is at the heart of this project,” Taylor said.

The park is made possible through the combined efforts of the Brawn Family Foundation, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Alberta Health Services, the Calgary Foundation, the Calgary Flames Foundation and the Rotary Clubs of Calgary.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved for creating this incredible space inside our city,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“Families dealing with situation of child and mental health crisis will have a place to seek some solace, to have some conversations, frankly, to shed some tears, to share a laugh and really take a few minutes to collect themselves and think about the journey that they’re on. It’s an opportunity for them to escape the heaviness of their days.”

‘A spark was lit in our family’: Kelley Buckley

Kelley Buckley spoke on behalf of the Brawn Family Foundation, with Dean Brawn in the background. DARREN KRAUSE / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Eighteen months ago, a presentation was made to the Rotary Clubs of Calgary about funding for the park, recalled Kelley Buckley, who spoke on behalf of the Brawn Family Foundation.

Buckley’s dad, Bob Brawn, had been a Rotarian for 50 years.

“After that presentation a spark was lit in our family,” she said.

Buckley said the combination of the two foundations and the Rotary Clubs was an ideal match.

“It wasn’t just the collaboration of the three groups. It was the ability to build a mental health park for children,” she said.

“That was a fantastic opportunity and one that we just could not pass by.”

Buckley said the pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health. She said the issue has come to the forefront and they’re happy to help making an impact to improve wellness.

“The park is just truly a blessing for all three of us to be very proud of,” she said.

Saifa Koonar, CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation said, once complete, the CCAMH would provide thousands of young people and their families ongoing mental health support services.

Her team learned through the process that outdoor spaces were critical to facilitate mental health and wellness. She said the input for the park was provided by youth and family advisors.  

“(It) will be an important outdoor extension to the services and therapies that will happen inside the center’s walls,” Koonar said.

Work will continue on the park through this year. It’s expected to be open by the end of 2022.

For more information, you can visit the Parks Foundation Calgary page.