“It was an afterthought,” admits Leaside Gardens arena board chair Paul Burns. That’s why the plantings installed around the building had become overrun with weeds. And that’s why a group of volunteers who tried to clean up earlier this year were initially turned away.
But the problem has been solved and the volunteers are back, hard at work.
“We were focused on getting the new arena built and opened in time for the start of hockey season two years ago and we never nailed down who would look after the plantings, but our expectation was that Parks and Recreation would be responsible. And we simply don’t have the resources to do it.”
Some 8,000 plants were installed in late 2013 on the arena and pool grounds, around the parking lot and along Millwood Rd. But by last summer the deteriorating condition of the beds was becoming a concern to arena and pool patrons. And to neighbours like All Canadian Self-Storage owner Hal Spradling, whose business is right across the street. Last August he organised a clean-up of the sections along Millwood.
“The position of the arena board was that grounds maintenance was the city’s job,” said Ward 26 Councillor Jon Burnside. “And there are lots of other examples across Toronto where community groups have taken responsibility for maintaining city gardens. So I reached out to Parks and Recreation and was given the green light for that to happen here as well.”
That’s where Cate Woodward, who attends an aqua-fit class at the pool, came in. “The beds behind the arena and near the pool are full of beautiful juniper bushes,” she said. “It’s a low-growing evergreen. But the weeds were getting so high you couldn’t see the junipers!”
So Woodward and some of the others in her class decided to do something about it themselves. “Initially we were told to stop,” she says, “I think because they thought we were stealing the shrubs.
“But now that’s sorted out. Councillor Burnside has been very helpful.”
Woodward says there are about 35 people who each spent time there on three recent mornings and who are planning to return. “Hopefully we can sustain responsibility for this area going forward,” she says, adding that “we are treating ‘weeds’ as ‘flowers’ as appropriate.”
And they’re going to do some planting as well. “The city has said they’ll provide the compost and will supply left-over plants. But we’ll have to see what’s available,” she says. “They need to be drought-resistant perennials.” Woodward adds that in one area her group intends to plant herbs “and people can help themselves if they want to.”
Arena board chair Burns says, “This kind of community involvement is exactly what should be happening at a community facility like this.”