Indigenous Healing Gardens

Creating spaces for learning, connection and reconciliation

The Bruce Trail Conservancy is embarking on a project to create two Indigenous Healing Gardens along the Bruce Trail in a unique collaboration with Plenty Canada, Forests Ontario and Indigenous partners.

Healing Gardens, also known as Healing Places, are intentional, natural outdoor spaces where people can have a meaningful restorative experience in nature. Indigenous Healing Gardens use culturally significant plants to promote this experience while conveying Indigenous knowledge, principles, and connections to the land. These spaces can create a safe place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to learn and reflect, and nurture a healing process of reconciliation. Defined by natural elements and our connections to them, the gardens can be an outdoor classroom and an inspirational space for all who visit. 

The ‘healing’ part of the name can have several meanings. It may reflect the medicinal values of the plants within the garden, the personal healing we experience in nature, the healing of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the healing of the relationship between ourselves and the land.

Healing Gardens take different forms in different locations, unique to the landscape and to the traditions and teachings of that landscape’s Indigenous people. The creation of the Healing Gardens along the Bruce Trail will involve collaboration with Indigenous advisors from Saugeen Ojibway Nation, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and Six Nations of the Grand River, within whose traditional and treaty territories the Bruce Trail runs, and who have deep and enduring connections to the Niagara Escarpment.  

The seed for this project was first planted by Plenty Canada, an Indigenous-led non-profit organization with a focus on environmental stewardship and sustainable activities involving Indigenous peoples. Plenty Canada approached the Bruce Trail Conservancy with the idea of creating two Healing Gardens along the Bruce Trail – one in the south and one in the north. With extensive experience in creating powerful Indigenous legacy spaces through collaboration, and fostering cross-cultural approaches to conservation, Plenty Canada is well positioned to lead this multi-partner project.

The Bruce Trail Indigenous Healing Gardens project is still in its early stages. Two BTC Nature Reserves have been proposed as locations: 
  • Smokey Hollow Nature Reserve near Waterdown (Iroquoia section) in the traditional territories of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Six Nations of the Grand River.
  • MapleCross Nature Reserve at Cape Chin near Lion’s Head (Peninsula section) in the traditional territory of Saugeen Ojibway Nation.
Both locations offer large open areas, a variety of habitats, evocative Escarpment features and opportunities for gathering.
The process now turns toward assembling appropriate members from the participating organizations (including BTC staff and Club volunteers, Plenty Canada staff and advisors, and Forests Ontario staff) and identifying Indigenous advisors from each region to provide cultural and curatorial guidance. Through this process, conceptual content will be determined, Indigenous plants selected, designs considered and approved, and resources secured. The spaces will ideally take shape in 2023-24. The long term goal is to have Healing Gardens in each of our nine Bruce Trail Club sections.

Through this creative endeavour, the Bruce Trail Conservancy and our Indigenous neighbors will be getting to know each other better. We’ll be working together to foster an ‘ethical space’ where Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems are shared and respected, where learning can happen, and important conversations can be had. The result will be an inspirational space that highlights the biological and cultural richness of the Niagara Escarpment, and an important step on the journey toward reconciliation. We look forward to sharing more about this project as it unfolds.

The Bruce Trail Conservancy is grateful to Plenty Canada Senior Advisor and BTC Board Director Tim Johnson (l), and Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott (r) for their guidance and leadership in this project.

This article was originally published in the summer 2023 edition of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Magazine.

Photo: ©2023

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