City of Toronto allocates additional $2 million to build $17 million Spirit Garden on Nathan Phillips Square

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto City Council has allocated an additional $2 million towards the construction of the Spirit Garden, also known as the Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) Restoration of Identity Project, on Nathan Phillips Square to honour residential school survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

The money will come from Section 37 of the provincial Planning Act – a tool for building sustainable, healthy and complete neighbourhoods. It permits the city to authorize increases in permitted height and/or density in return for community benefits.

The IRSS Restoration of Identity Project, led by Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 82 and aligns with the city’s commitments to Indigenous Peoples.

Action 82 calls upon provincial and federal governments, in collaboration with survivors and their organizations, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools commemorative project in each capital city to honor survivors and families.

“We are inspired knowing that the vision of the Spirit Garden is coming to life. This dedicated space will embody our diverse Indigenous cultures, our teachings and images, our plant life and medicines; and will incorporate the principles of the Kuswenta, to work together in friendship, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Most importantly, this significant project will honor the strength and courage of residential school survivors and inter-generational families,” said Andrea Chrisjohn, board designate at the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.

Residential schools operated in Canada for more than 160 years and were federally funded and church-run. First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their families and communities, put into these schools and forced to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages in order to assimilate them.

In 2018, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre approached the City to partner on the project and to create a peaceful, contemplative space to help advance reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Toronto.

A two-meter tall turtle sculpture, by Anishinaabe artist Solomon King, represents Turtle Island, also referred to as Mother Earth. The turtle, climbing over a one-metre tall boulder, elevated on a platform, will identify the names of the 17 residential schools that once operated in Ontario.

The design revolves around the turtle sculpture and will include elements representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures, including a teaching lodge, amphitheater, a Three Sisters teaching garden, a voyageur canoe and an inuksuk. The spirit garden will also incorporate the White Pine, or Tree of Peace, a key element of the Kuswenta, also known as the Two Row Wampum, which lays the foundation for all relations.

The cost of the project is an estimated $17 million. In addition to the city’s total contribution of $13 million, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre is fundraising to contribute $4 million. In 2017, Ontario provided $1.5 million in seed funding for the project to enable research, design and community consultation.

“We are proud to collaborate with Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre to honour the resilience and vitality of residential school survivors and their families to build this important legacy project and advance reconciliation,” said Mayor John Tory.

Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre is an autonomous, vibrant cultural agency that involves and serves the Indigenous community with confidence for and commitment to their well-being. It is an active member of the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. Visit councilfire.ca/ Opens in new window to learn more.

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