By June, Calgarians will have a very different community garden experience at Fort Calgary, as a new design that reflects on the city’s past and present.
Designed in concentric circles that from above will look metaphorically like a clock-work gear, the goal said Lindsie Bruns, is to engage with the city’s history while becoming a resource for community groups providing food security in the East Village.
Fort Calgary made the announcement on Earth Day to its volunteers, which also coincides with National Volunteer Week.
“We wanted to welcome old volunteers, new volunteers, and anybody who’s interested in the garden. This was our opportunity to welcome them back, and tell them about our our plans and our goals for this summer,” said Bruns.
“We decided to do it on Earth Day because we figured the weather would be great, and it is, and also it was a great opportunity to invite people to come and clean up garbage on the site, because there is a lot of it.”
Post-welcome-back ceremony, the Fort Calgary volunteers fanned out around the area surrounding the community garden—which abuts the Riverwalk Pathway—to collect the numerous pieces of trash that had accumulated after a long and snowy winter.
The renewed natural beauty of the area surrounding Fort Calgary, and the community garden itself, will be welcoming visitors back to a site that will also have improved social and spiritual significance.
Growing food and sacred medicine
The new community garden will be operating to provide food for social service agencies and their clients, with plans to work with The Alex and the Calgary Drop-in Centre said Bruns.
“Almost everything that we grow here is going to be donated to folks in need. So that is the main goal of the garden,” she said.
Among the vegetables planned to be grown at the garden are potatoes, carrots, peas, greens, and beans, along with perennial fruit plants like Saskatoons, chokecherry, and strawberries.
“Saskatoons, raspberries, and chokecherries have been important food sources for indigenous people for since time immemorial and grow here naturally. So we’re going to be planting some more of those now,” Bruns said.
She said that the circular design will also make the site much more accessible to people with mobility challenges.
The central medicine wheel motif will also be growing sacred medicines used by Indigenous peoples throughout Alberta.
The inclusion of those plants is something that the museum was asked about for their previous garden space, said Fort Calgary Indigenous programming specalist Nicole Henbrey. She said they were asked specifically if they had anything from the land itself to represent Indigenous stories and traditions.
“When it comes to accessibility, it’s very easy to pinpoint stuff. So we started out with tobacco and sweetgrass,” Henbrey said.
The new garden will have tobacco, sweetgrass, mint, and sage.
She said that inclusion from the start, along with conversations about what to include as the garden grows, has been a very intentional process for the museum.
“It’s a lot of community input that we’re working into this design,” she said.
“Something that we’ve learned from the past is it’s better to take a longer time to talk things out than to do something without, and hope people forgive you.”
Gardens as anti-colonialism
Henbrey said that the act of community gardening was in itself, an anti-colonial act.
“Gardens, and especially community gardens, they are anti colonial they go against everything that colonialism capitalism has instilled in our society,” she said.
“This garden itself is a way for people to actively engage with reconciliation, even if it is just weeding. Our goal is to bring in people from many walks of life and get them to connect, because when people connect from different worlds different views you can find humanity.”
She said that the garden being ready for the summer meant that it would be possible for it to take part in increasingly important Indigenous recognitions that occur on Canada Day at the museum.
That shifting importance to the present was something that Bruns said began in 2000 with the garden that served as a living exhibit for the North West Mounted Police and the food they grew for sustenance, like potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage.
“It was just another kind of exhibit at the museum. Sort of like a living history type deal, and now we are still going to be growing those things, just in a new way,” she said.
“We’re at the confluence, so we we want to bring together different cultures that have lived here, different stories, different ways of growing food, different ways of using the plants.”