The plan was bold. The preparations had been made. The neighbours and others from the community showed up for the 2019 Jane's Walk, to envision together the future of Sugarbush North this past Sunday. Then, as always, what was meant to happen actually happened.
I say this not because I was disappointed by what occurred. Far from it. I was excited to see how many people showed up for the walk, most from our little enclave of Greenbrier/Longwood/Moccasin Drive on the northwest side of the woods, and a few from the other side of the woods and beyond (including Councillor Henry, who managed to accept a last-minute invitation to come). And it was a beautiful sunny day no less, so much so that I needed my sun hat!
Rather, I say this because I originally had thoughts that we might actually, in written and visual form via pictures, capture what we talked about on the walk. As opposed to using up precious time to talk about this though, at the beginning we instead just introduced ourselves to each other and why we were here. Then, from our starting point in Sugarbush Park, we set off!
The beginning of the walk
At first, to be honest, I found myself feeling like a tour guide. Part of this was due to all the research on the history, geography and ecology of the area that I had done in the week leading up to the walk. Part of this perhaps also was my experience with tour guides from travelling in Europe and elsewhere.
Quickly, though, this gave way to people breaking off into groups, forming connections, and entering into their own conversations. Remembering the advice from the Jane's Walk website, about how the information on the walk would ideally be minimal, and that participants would be given plenty of time to share their own ideas and thoughts, I realized that what was happening was absolutely perfect!
This included some neighbours enthusiastically identifying the lovely plants that we saw in the woods, like the trilliums, wild leeks and trout lilies. As well as others sharing stories about and reflections on their home.
The stories included Brad and Katie Bauer, who reminisced about the potluck they had for the neighbourhood last summer, and how their dog greets, from their backyard, passersby on the path that runs beside their home. Ray and Hélène talked about how their home was the original demo house for the neighbourhood, and that they later had an extension built on top of it while still living there! I found this so interesting, partly because I didn't even know there was ever a demo home for the neighbourhood!
The past, present and future
I did manage to share some of what I had learned through my research and years living in the neighbourhood. Such as how an arborist, who had been invited to visit the woods years ago, found Sugarbush Park to have a rich collection of different types of trees, including not only sugar maple, but black cherry, ash, blue beech/musclewood, basswood, and iron wood. I also shared a little bit on the early history of European settlers in the area, such as how Elias Snider is recorded to have owned this land as far back as 1861.
I even got into some of the more recent history, like how the neighbourhood was built around the late sixties early seventies, and how those who still have their original bathrooms can often date their homes from the year inscribed inside their toilets (I'm sure there's a joke here somewhere).
We also got around to talking a little bit about what we might envision for the future of the neighbourhood, which as I mentioned was intended to be the theme of the walk. Such as how there used to be raspberry bushes in Sugarbush Park that everyone used to pick. And how that might be inspiration for possibly creating a small forest garden in the park someday.
We also talked about how it might be nice to put in a natural playground in the park, as currently children living here have no playground to go to without needing to cross busy roads (those roads being either Blythwood Road, to get to the Winston Churchill School playground, and Albert Street, to reach the playground in the housing complex across the street there). While some concerns were raised about exactly what that might look like, and costs, it seemed as though willingness exists to at least explore the idea further.
More visioning happened at the last stop of the walk of Alice Croft's home. There, Alice generously gave up her time and came outside to talk about the issue of flooding in the neighbourhood. Because the neighbourhood wasn't designed to properly handle storms, the north-northeast side of Longwood often experiences flooding and creates problems for residents. Out of this, we talked about how the City has offered to run a design charrette to help plan a rain garden for controlling runoff on a property in the neighbourhood, such as at Alice’s house potentially.
While most people had gone home by the time it happened, Ray and and Hélène talked at the end about their concerns around unshovelled sidewalks and garbage that hasn’t been picked up. This seemed like an important topic worth exploring in the future too.
Where we go from here
Where all this goes to from here is still uncertain. We, as a neighbourhood, definitely have lots of ideas. AND it takes time, commitment and resources to make those ideas happen. With everyone leading busy lives and dealing with challenges of their own, finding opportunities to bring these ideas to fruition can be hard.
I am hopeful though. While little was going on in the neighbourhood only a few years ago, since then we have had many get togethers, including, as already mentioned, last summer a neighbourhood potluck, and most recently this past winter, the Neighbourhood Skate and Social at Albert McCormick Arena.
As the warmer months come upon us, and the Street Party is under two months away, hopefully more opportunities will present themselves for neighbours to get together and share ideas. The launching of this website for the neighbourhood might also help, as anyone can sign up to blog about their own ideas about what they'd like to see in this neighbourhood.
If you live in Sugarbush North and would like to blog on this site, go to the "Members" area of this website and create an account for yourself. The more people writing for the blog, the better, I think, as it will help us open up channels of communication between ourselves, and explore together what is possible.