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Gathering Circle design seeks to capture feel of food forest

Design team inspired by visit and teachings of Dr. Duke Redbird and the Ojibwe grandfather teachings.

The Gathering Circle is taking shape, quite literally, as steel cutters in Tiny Township work to laser-cut steel for the canopy.

With opening day approaching (September 7) it’s all hands on deck as town staff, the architects and the build team works to design, create, and install the structure nearly simultaneously.

Cal Brook of Brook McIlroy delivered a presentation on the design of the Gathering Circle to council’s Corporate and Community Services Standing Committee during a meeting Monday, July 9.

The Gathering Circle will be built on the knoll between the waterfront and the soccer fields at Harbourview Park.

The design was inspired by teachings of Dr. Duke Redbird, an Ojibwe teacher from the Saugeen First Nation who has had a career as an Aboriginal poet, journalist, activist, businessman, actor and administrator. He has been instrumental in the development of First Nations literature in Canada and is known as a great teacher.

Redbird visited the site and said it would once have been a food forest with many layers, which he likened to the seven grandfather teachings special to Redbird and other Canadian Indigenous teachers.

The Gathering Circle design will feature seven steel canopies made of laser cut steel with seven different designs representing the grandfather teachings of wisdom (Nbwaakaawin), love (Zaagidowin), respect (Mnaadendimoowin), bravery (Aakide’ewin), honesty (Gwekwaadiziwin), humility (Dbadendizwin) and truth (Debwewin). The canopies will be supported by pillars made from Yellow Alaskan Cedar trees (a Cyprus tree known for its strength). Under the canopies will be seven platforms with plaques that include the grandfather teachings in Ojibwe.

Beside the Gathering Circle will be another landscaped circle framed by the existing trees on the knoll that could eventually hold a firepit and will serve as added space for people during special events. The knoll will be connected to the trail system by an additional loop that extends from the bridge that leads to boat launch and amphitheatre. The structure and trails will made to accessibility standards.

The structure will be fitted with lighting for night time and will accommodate 30 to 40 people inside, with lots of spillover in the park space around it.

Dean Collver, director of parks, recreation and culture for Collingwood, told the standing committee the process followed to arrive at the design has been significant and will pave the way for future projects done in consultation with local indigenous leaders.

“There is no part of this project that I’m not completely proud of,” said Collver.

While Redbird couldn’t attend the committee meeting July 9, he sent a message to Collver to read.

“We need opportunities to gather and enjoy humanity and nature without the distractions of modern technological life,” said Redbird in his message. “Places of refuge and sanctuary where we can experience the inspiration of nature, and engage in the exploration of the true character and personality of our shared humanity. The Gathering Place is a perfect setting to discover and remind us of our common heritage,  through an Indigenous design and architecture that explores our historical roots.”

Collver also gave a budget update to the standing committee suggesting the work will require more funds than the previously approved $600,000.

The site is a former landfill and requires extra materials to make sure the structure’s foundation is sound. The soil currently in place won’t be able to bear the load of the structure.

“This is a lot of anxiety for me I’ll be honest with you,” said Collver.  We’ve worked really hard, and put pressure on people to stick within this budget. [Going over budget] is not what we wanted, but it’s at that point now.”

Collver said he didn’t have the final budget numbers yet, but would present the request at a special council meeting on Thursday (July 12).

The gathering circle is part of the waterfront master plan. Earlier this year council approved a budget of $600,000 for the project and gave staff oversee the building of the structure to meet tight timelines. The fast-track is due to an offer from the United Steelworkers Union to assist with construction of the space. The union is having a district convention in September 2018.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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