U of G Student-Led Landscaping Project Honours Front-Line Workers

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Two hospital staff at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton sit on a bench and look at a tree planted as part of the One Bench, One Tree project.

Hospital staff at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton view a tree planted as part of the One Bench, One Tree project.

Offering “the gift of rest” to front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic is the goal of a novel fundraising project by University of Guelph students.

The One Bench One Tree project aims to install a park-style bench and a native tree at Canadian hospitals to provide a shady respite for nurses, doctors and other health-care workers, said Alli Neuhauser, a second-year master of landscape architecture (MLA) student and a member of the organizing committee.

The inaugural bench and tree were unveiled in June at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, where Canada’s first-ever COVID-19 case was confirmed in early 2020. With each project, the tree is two metres from the bench, signifying the social distance observed during the pandemic. A second installation took place over the summer at the St. Peter’s Hospital-Hamilton Health Sciences.

Six other projects are in the works in Ontario, including: London Health Sciences Centre; St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital; Thunder Bay Regional Health Science; Ottawa Hospital General Campus; Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa; Sunnybrook Hospital St. John’s Rehab, Toronto.

Working with Landscape Ontario and a growing list of sponsors including the Canadian Mental Health Association, MLA students are raising funds and contacting more prospective hospitals. The One Bench One Tree is accepting donations on its website at 1bench1tree.ca.

A bench and tree dedicated to frontline workers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. (photo by Kevin Van Paassen/Sunnybrook)

The students came up with the idea over the winter break while brainstorming ways to respond to news of growing mental health concerns among health-care workers.

“We want to give them the gift of rest by placing a tree and a bench in front of every hospital in Canada to thank them for their efforts,” said Neuhauser. Other students on the project are Everett Dejong, Casey Ross, Manuel Spiller, Marika Li, Tiffany Adair, Ethan Aquino-Chien and Abigayle Lalonde.

They got an early boost when their pitch to Landscape Ontario met with enthusiasm from executive director Tony DiGiovanni. He helped them set up their fund under the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation and pointed them to Sunnybrook as a likely inaugural site.

The first 10 benches are being donated by Maglin Site Furniture based in Woodstock, Ont. The group is purchasing sugar, red and silver maple trees from NVK Nurseries in Hamilton, working in association with Maple Leaves Forever, a Toronto-based charitable foundation aiming to plant native maples across Canada. (Other species may be used in places where maples are unsuitable.)

They hope to connect through Landscape Ontario with other nursery groups and contractors in Ontario and other provinces to extend the project.

On hospital grounds, each bench is fixed on a concrete pad provided by Unilock; a plaque indicates that the landscaping is dedicated to front-line workers on behalf of Canadians.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario June 18 2021. (photo by Kevin Van Paassen/Sunnybrook)

Dr. Robert Corry, professor and graduate coordinator for the MLA program in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, said, “I’m proud that these students organically took on this project on their own.”

Calling the project an example of creating citizens through education, he quoted Wendell Berry, an American novelist and environmentalist: “A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”

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