Thunder Bay, Ontario
Photo Credits: Brook McIlroy
Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault
Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2019
Project: Spirit Garden
Type of Urban Strategy: Indigenous
Type of Project: Indigenous Resurgence / Ecological Remediation
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Date Designed/Planned: 2006
Construction Completed: 2010
Designer: Brook McIlroy
The Spirit Garden is a waterfront park that looks to revitalize the shorelines of Lake Superior, provide access to the water, and create a space of gathering for the surrounding community. The work evolved as a collective collaboration between Fort William First Nation, Robinson Superior Treaty Communities and the Red Sky Metis alongside Brook McIlroy's studio landscape architects. The project looked to become a catalyst for Indigenous urbanism within Canada by implementing shared control over process and product with Indigenous communities to contribute to Indigenous culture and reconciliation. The project features a healing garden which utilizes historical and native fauna of the land to stabilize the river banks, a fire circle for ceremonial practices, medicine garden for land-based education opportunities; and an amphitheatre gathering circle for Indigenous-Settler reciprocity, as well as celebrations and showcase of Indigenous history on the land. The result is a project that respects cultural differences and reclaims Indigenous identity without the use of cliché motifs and allegory. Rather, it is a product of reconciliation through the act of landscape architecture. (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
The power of the design comes through in its process and design development phase which is sensitively organized by Brook McIlroy to bring together community members, Elders, and council members from Fort William First Nation, Robinson-Superior Treaty and Red Sky Metis. As a collective entity, the community and architects began extensive design charrettes to unveil and recover core values from the surrounding urban Indigenous populations of Thunder Bay. (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
The design was activated through three stages which involved:
The assemblage of shared Indigenous histories, stories and values;
Implementation of Indigenous building knowledge; and;
The goal to revitalize important discourse within the City.
Together, these stages began to culturally ground the project and provoked an awakening in the urban fabric of downtown. (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
“Thunder Bay has a significant Aboriginal population, yet the presence of this founding culture (which has inhabited the Lake Superior shoreline for over 9,000 years) is virtually invisible in the fabric of the cityscape.” (Canadian Institute of Planners. 2012)
The Thunder Bay Spirit Garden begins to respond to the cultural and historical roots of Anishinaabe homeland by activating the waterfront and providing safe space for Indigenous place-making. The project is located on a former industrial port within the fringe of Lake Superior just at the tip of the northern downtown core. The garden is a core piece of the Waterfront Revitalization Plan: Prince Arthur’s Landing recreational park and marina, which looks to bring accessibility from Downtown to Lake Superior. The garden acts a mediator between park, waterfront, and community by emphasizing ecological and Indigenous fortitude along the water's edge. (Canadian Institute of Planners. 2012)
The 1.8-hectare project revitalizes the waterfront industrial history through native flora and captures the identity of Indigenous expression within the urban context of Thunder Bay through collaboration between Indigenous-Settler communities. The Spirit Garden uncovers a unique experience to its inhabitants by creating a space for education, growth, and Indigenous resurgence in the city (Canadian Institute of Planners. 2012).
The project was funded under the first phase of Prince Arthur’s Landing Waterfront Revitalization Plan. Contributions towards the project included a $22 million investment through the City of Thunder Bay, $14.65 million each from the Provincial and Federal Government, with an additional $65 million through private sector investment (Archdaily, 2012).
The Spirit Garden is situated in downtown Thunder Bay settled upon a historic industrial port site. As an extension of the Prince Arthur’s Landing project, the project looks to revitalize the brownfield site and capture the native northwestern flora of the city through Indigenous Knowledge. The project overlooks Lake Superior and the sacred landforms of Nanabijou (Sleeping Giant Provincial Park) an important sightline and mythology in Anishinaabe oral tradition.
The former industrial site was a shipping terminus for grain and iron ore which acted as one of the first gateways to North Western Canada. Through extensive remediation and collaborative process, the Spirit Gardens begins to reveal important hidden allegories, identity, and mythology at the shoreline of Lake Superior (Canadian Institute of Planners. 2012).
GOAL OF THE PROJECT
The key objectives of the Spirit Garden project revolved around 3 core initiatives:
1. COLLECT. To encourage growth and reclamation through process and production. Over seven reservations within the Thunder Bay District participated in the collaborative design process – the collections of memories, thoughts and sharing of ideas provoked new ideas on how aboriginal identity should be rectified on the urban landscape (Gorrie, 2014, p.45).
2. SEED. The waterfront design draws people in towards the water and provides a space for education, celebration and adaptability. The community involved in the design process were also used in the construction and crafting of the site and its gardens. This involves local Fort William First Nation wood craftsmen to build the bentwood gathering circle (Ibid., p.35).
3. HARVEST. The project provides an adaptive living landscape for the urban Indigenous populations of Thunder Bay. The gathering circle, gardens and ecology present opportunities for discourse on the reconciliation between Indigenous-Settler people and provides space for a dialogue in the future considerations of urban Indigeneity in the landscapes of Canada.
(Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
GENESIS OF PROJECT
DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DECISION MAKING PROCESS
“What makes for a responsible creative collaboration?
1. Prior and informed consent
2. Control over process and product and attribution for cultural differences and benefit-sharing"
The Simon Fraser University put out guidelines in an effort to mitigate cultural appropriation in urban design. These guidelines promote the advancement of cultural identity within the landscape and provide better vehicles toward place-making and reconciliation (SFU, 2016). The design of the Spirit Garden follows this guideline extensively in order to produce a landscape project that is beyond superficial and acts as a statement to the contemporary thinking and building of Thunder Bay’s Indigenous Populations.
The power of the design comes through its process and design development phase which is sensitively organized by Brook McIlroy to bring together community members, Elders, and council members from Fort William First Nation, Robinson-Superior Treaty and Red Sky Metis. As a collective entity, the community and architects began extensive design charrettes to unveil and recover core values from the surrounding urban Indigenous populations of Thunder Bay. (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
The design was activated through three stages which involved:
1. The assemblage of shared Indigenous histories, stories and values;
2. Implementation of Indigenous building knowledge; and;
3. The goal to revitalize important discourse within the City.
Together, these stages began to culturally ground the project and provoked an awakening in the urban fabric of downtown (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012).
One of the most provoking parts of the project's process was the shared production and creation of the site design and implement. This involved the same collective of Indigenous communities to partake in the construction of the project – which included the following:
- Living Shoreline - Utilizing Indigenous knowledge on ecological systems to address flooding and shoreline restoration. The community removed culturally valuable plants and provided a series of ecologically rich wetland plant lists to the designers to revitalize the shoreline's edge. The use of Duckweeds, Bulrush, Waterweed, Coontail, arrowheads and Blue Flag were all utilized to sieve the contaminated brownfield site (Gorrie, 2014, pp. 56-68).
- A Gathering Circle - The central core of the garden features an open-air bentwood pavilion that was created as an adaptation to traditional Indigenous gathering spaces. This bentwood pavilion was crafted by local Anishinaabe craftsmen (apart of the community) which utilized sustainable and traditional building practices to bend the wood and assemble the structure.
- Fire Circle - was created through the use of locally carved stone, and blessed through ceremonial practices
- Medicinal Garden - was established through Elder consultation and planted by Indigenous youth from the city. This resulted in an educative and meaningful process. Using plants such as American Ginseng, Common Blue Berry, Blue Flag, Fireweed, Milkweed and Wild Blue Flax all of which begin to seed the shorelines of Lake Superior.
Throughout this shared process and production, the Spirit Garden achieves a celebration of culture by showcasing the wide range of techniques, approaches and design considerations that culturally ground the landscape. Together, this process addresses the core values of the community from ecological revitalization, cultural sensitivity and public occupation to create a new dialogue on the expression of contemporary Indigeneity in the landscape (Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012).
ROLE OF DESIGNERS
The garden includes four distinct elements to enhance Indigenous place-making within the City of Thunder Bay:
1. A Living Shoreline comprised of ecologically rich, indigenous wetland plantings to secure, stabilize and decontaminate the landscape.
2. An eighty-foot diameter Gathering Circle to provide inclusivity at the waterfront and provide a space for ceremonies, concerts, theatre and events. The circle provides a podium for a new discourse on reconciliation and resurgence.
3. A Fire Circle to provide views of Lake Superior and Nanabijou landform. The pit provides an area for communities to gather, or for the public to enjoy the scenery.
4. A Medicine Garden which provides medicinal herbs to protect and provide education on plant healing capabilities and their origins in Anishinaabe history.
(Canadian Institute of Planners, 2012)
MAINTENANCE AND MANAGEMENT
PROJECT BACKGROUND + HISTORY
In 2006, the City of Thunder Bay commissioned landscape architecture and urban design firm, Book McIlroy, to oversee and implement a comprehensive master plan to transform the downtown waterfront. The Master Plan would look to remediate a series of declining/dilapidated industrial ports which had been bought out by the City, all the while transforming the formerly industrial waterfront into a “mixed-use urban district” extending the downtown fabric to the once inaccessible shorelines of Lake Superior. The Master Plan was later named “Prince Arthur’s Landing Waterfront Revitalization Plan” which looked to remediate over 13-hectares of the brownfield sites (ArchDaily, 2012). An important discourse throughout the formation of the plan was the underpinning of Indigenous place-making within Thunder Bay. As a city that originates from Aboriginal settlement, it carries one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in Canada, and yet the urban landscape is devoid of cultural artifacts and presence. Indigenous architect, Ryan Gorrie an intern for Brook McIlroy proposed the implementation of a collaborative + collective design space for Indigenous youth, elders and community to gather and reclaim their cultural identities in the colonial landscape. The plan proposed an area of reclamation and reconciliation that would bring to light the virtues of Indigenous Placemaking, Resurgence, and Celebration within the design.