News / Toronto

Community organizers call for Allan Gardens makeover to highlight Indigenous roots

Cathy Tsong Deh Kwe and other community organizers say the revitalization plan should add necessary amenities that allow Indigenous people to practise their culture.

Indigenous people want Allan Gardens' revitalization plan to reflect their roots.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Indigenous people want Allan Gardens' revitalization plan to reflect their roots.

Ask Cathy Tsong Deh Kwe about Allan Gardens park, and her reaction is categorical.

"There is absolutely no representation of Indigenous history in this park at all, other than the people themselves," she said, pointing out the large number of Indigenous people who call the neighbourhood home.

Deh Kwe, an Anishnawbe woman, is on the advisory committee for Neechi Sharing Circle, a community program that runs weekly events in the park where Indigenous people drum, sing and talk about issues like homelessness and drug abuse.

As the city explores a robust revitalization of the park, Deh Kwe and other community organizers say the plan should highlight Toronto's Indigenous roots and add necessary amenities that allow Indigenous people to practise their culture. That means more spaces to display Indigenous art, build fires and meet for spiritual or prayer purposes, she said.

Local volunteer group Friends of Allan Gardens submitted a proposal to refresh the downtown park, which city council approved last week. The plan includes building an outdoor cafe, reviving heritage features and improving floral and gardening spaces.

"The whole park is in a state of disrepair," said Andrew Sorbara, board chair for Friends of Allan Gardens. He cited the Palm House, a conservatory structure dating back to the early 1900s, as one facility that needs help.

More emphasis could be put on the outdoor experience by adding water features, night lighting and more pedestrian paths, he added.

As an herbalist, Deh Kwe would like to see more Indigenous plants introduced in the park.

"The thing about colonization is that it took away our secret medicines," she said, noting people now have to travel long distances to buy or harvest plants such as sweetgrass, sage and tobacco.

"It would be nice if we could access them here. We don't need more condos for reconciliation. We need more green and accessible spaces for everyone."

City staff will consult with residents' associations and the Indigenous Place Making Council on possible projects to implement. A report is expected back at the city's parks and environment committee this spring.

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