Often, the land will tell us what to do.
Such was the case for Lori Woodyatt, Executive Director at The Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum. One fateful day in July 2021, Lori arrived at the Temple to find a 220-year-old sugar maple tree had fallen on the grounds. After having arborists assess the damage to the tree, it was determined that unfortunately, it wasn’t salvageable.
At the same time, national news was uncovering the horrors of residential schools, with graves being unearthed almost daily. What had been known to Indigenous Peoples for decades was now exposed, and people all across the country, including Lori, were affected by the news.
Lori says, “With all the news that was coming out, it really made me think – well, can we pay tribute somehow? Can we create a reflection space so people can come and sit and reflect? And the tree was the idea that sparked this project.”
Though the tree could not be saved in its original form, Lori hoped that what the land had provided could create a legacy, a space for reflection and hope. Rather than discard this once-living piece of the site’s long history, it was decided that the tree should be preserved in the form of a sculpture which would rest on the stump of the fallen tree. Such were the beginnings of The Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum’s Hope & Truth Reflection Garden.
Sitting at the centre of the garden, the carved sugar maple sculpture stands as a symbol of reflection and hope. Designed by Anishinaabe artist Donald Chrétien and sculptor Shane Clodd, and in consultation with the Chippewas of Georgina Island, the 12-foot-tall tree has been carved into a female hand gracefully holding an aluminum feather engraved with Indigenous pictographs.
This two-year-long project represents a commitment to support and encourage equitable partnerships amongst settlers and Indigenous Peoples.
Lori speaks to the collaborative nature of working together with the artists and the Chippewas of Georgina Island. “I knew Donald from my work at Snapd in Newmarket, so when the idea was being put together, I reached out and he was very interested. We also worked together with the Chippewas of Georgina Island. We had band council members out and gave a tour of the temple and the site and at the next band council meeting the whole council endorsed the project. The Chippewas provided guidance on the design and the concept. We appreciate and value their guidance and wisdom.”
When it came to support and partnerships from the tourism ecosystem, Central Counties Tourism was among the first that Lori shared the idea with, and it was with the aid of a generous grant from Central Counties Tourism as a part of the Government of Canada’s Tourism Relief Fund, that plans were made for the Hope & Truth Reflection Garden.
“I spoke with Chuck about the idea and he really loved it and said it was amazing. He encouraged me to apply for tourism relief funding, and the CCT Partnership Program.”
When asked to share her advice with other tourism organizations about working with Central Counties, Lori reinforced the importance of relationship-building and open and regular communication. “I’ve dealt with CCT for years and I have great relationships with the whole team. Chuck loved the idea and we applied and got the funding which allowed us to bring this project to life. Central Counties Tourism is always cooperative and helpful, and partnering with them is a seamless process.”
Phase one of the project was the design and creation of the sculpture, and the second phase will be the development of beautiful surrounding gardens. The garden will feature an arrangement of the four sacred medicines: sweet grass, sage, cedar and tobacco, along with seven stone seats to represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Plaques, to be created in conjunction with the Chippewas, will be integrated into the space to educate visitors about our relationship with local First Nations groups and the importance of preserving and passing down Indigenous knowledge.
The completion of the first phase of the project was celebrated with a grand opening and sculpture reveal on September 8th, 2023. The event featured an Indigenous vendor market, free samplings of traditional Indigenous foods, entertainment, and crafts.
The Sharon Temple NHS hopes that the addition of the Hope & Truth Reflection Garden will serve as a permanent reminder that Truth and Reconciliation is an ongoing process; and that the garden can provide a safe and welcoming space for community members to participate in that process.
Story by: Jessica Gedge