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Councillor shares vision for proposed Healing Forest project

‘It could be an intentional act of reconciliation, healing and diversity,’ says Collingwood councillor
2021-07-28 DebHealing JO-001
Coun. Deb Doherty put forward a motion, which passed at council on June 26, 2021, to investigate the feasibility of creating a Healing Forest in Collingwood. Doherty gestures toward the greenspace at Harbourview Park between the Awen Gathering Place and the Labyrinth as a location she hopes is considered.

Collingwood could have a new place for people to pause and reflect on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people.

At Monday night’s council meeting, Coun. Deb Doherty got support from her council colleagues to ask staff to investigate the feasibility of creating a Healing Forest in Collingwood, and report back during 2022 budget deliberations.

“The role of our community is to ‘do for’ our residents. A lot of times we think of that as providing them with water, building roads, providing them with recreation facilities, but there’s also the qualitative aspects... as to give them beautiful spaces and to allow them to connect with nature and each other,” Doherty told CollingwoodToday.

The National Healing Forest initiative is a call to action in an effort to assist healing across Canada. Any Canadian individual or group – Indigenous, or non-Indigenous – is eligible to participate. The initiative was started in 2015 by Patricia Stirbys, a Saltaux Cree lawyer, and Peter Croal, a geologist.

The intention is to create a network of forests and green spaces across Canada where people can come together in the spirit of reconciliation to heal, reflect, meditate, talk, share, and build respect and understanding in the wake of the Residential School legacy and the findings of the national Truth and Reconciliation report.

Doherty met Croal while attending a Carolinian Canada annual general meeting a year and a half ago. She says Croal reached out to her again recently to talk about the Healing Forest initiative.

“He asked if we’d be interested in pursuing it,” said Doherty.

Currently, there are 11 municipalities across Canada that have signed on to build Healing Forests in their communities, four of which are in Ontario (Toronto, Perth, Ottawa and Manotick), with more signing on every day.

“For us, in Collingwood, the whole idea could be expanded further because we’ve made an overt commitment to recognizing our Indigenous predecessors. We’re recognizing all nations and minority groups,” said Doherty. “It’s all about diversity, acceptance and reconciliation.”

Doherty notes that any work that would be done on the file would be in consultation with local Indigenous elders. She also hopes consultation would occur with the Unity Collective.

Doherty says an excellent spot for the Healing Forest could be in the existing green space in Harbourview Park between the Awen Gathering Place and the Labyrinth.

“It is a forest, but it needs to be cleaned up. There’s dead brush in there. It needs some care,” she said.

Doherty also suggests that part of the Julie Di Bartolomeo-Di Lorenzo-Graham Tree Initiative could be used to fund any new tree planting required as part of the project.

She also said plants could be used to encourage pollination and gardens could be added, which would be in-line with Collingwood’s status as a Bee City. The effort would also be in-line with Collingwood declaring a climate emergency.

“There could also be activity or thought spots along the way where there might be stories of our predecessors or places to contemplate. It can be what we want it to be,” she said. “It could be an intentional act of reconciliation, healing and diversity. Coming out of COVID, we are all healing emotionally, physically and spiritually. It just makes sense on so many levels.”

To get involved in the process, Doherty said residents can contact her directly, or reach out to parks and recreation staff.

“I have this idea, but it’s going to be up to staff to make the recommendation,” said Doherty. “I’m looking forward to hearing back from staff on what their thoughts will be. We could be recognized in this national movement. Let’s demonstrate leadership as we have in so many different ways.”

For more information on the National Healing Forest project, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 15 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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