The junction of Dundas Street West and Roncesvalles Avenue is a barren, odd and awkward intersection but a planned garden aims to shift the view into a celebration of its history.
“The way you celebrate it is you make it green and you have a plaque and a place to sit and get out of the shade,” said Abby Bushby, the project coordinator of the Dundas Roncesvalles Peace Garden project.
The proposed garden, which would occupy the sizable triangle of concrete immediately south of where Roncesvalles Avenue and Dundas Street West connect and would be part of the 1812 Binational Peace Garden Trail network, a cross-border tourism initiative connected with the international peace garden foundation, which mark the sites – and tells the stories – of the War of 1812.
Bushby said the garden can be a starting point of a conversation about the war that shaped Canada.
Citing the words of her neighbour, Bushby said when people stop to rest at the new garden, you can say, “This is where the First Nation fighters left the battle of York, that they helped us win and that is why we are Canadian.”
This portion of Dundas Street was constructed as a military road for the defense of York, the capital of Upper Canada, in 1812. Aboriginal warriors attempted to ward off the landing of the American fleet in April 1813. The garden would honour the men who built the road as well as those warriors.
Bushby, a resident of Roncesvalles Village, became interested in the intersection more than 15 years ago, while walking her daughter to Howard Public School and trying to negotiate it.
“My first interest was to have the traffic and pedestrian problems fixed,” she said.
The sidewalks have been widened since then, making it safer, and Bushby said she expects to see more improvements come as pedestrian traffic increases in the area.
For now, the Dundas Roncesvalles Peace Garden group is working to develop and implement a plan to redevelop the concrete triangle into a garden.
NAK Design Strategies, a private landscape firm on Roncesvalles, is developing the landscape design.
“There is an intense amount of infrastructure and easements underneath that surface, there are sight visibility lines, two TTC streetcars that pass by it,” Bushby said. “And preserving the good accessibility for people walking and taking into consideration different points of view is considerable.”
Bushby said NAK has come up with a plan that considers public input while meeting the city’s technical requirements. The recommended landscape design will be presented to the community Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at Fern School, 128 Fern Ave.
Dundas Roncesvalles Peace Garden group had applied and hoped to receive some War of 1812 project funding from the federal government, but didn’t. However, Bushby said the plans in no way hinged on that funding and in fact it was the exercise of putting together that grant application that helped the group to pull together community partners.
Those partners include the Roncesvalles Village Historical Society, the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto, the Roncesvalles Business Improvement Area, Roncy Works (formerly Roncesvalles Renewed), Roncesvalles Mcdonnell Residents Association (RMRA), the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Toronto Public Space Initiative, NAK Design Strategies, the 1812 Binational Peace Garden Trail Network as well as the City of Toronto’s Museum Services, Public Realm Services in the city’s transportation department and Councillor Gord Perks.
Each partner brings something significant to the project, Bushby said.
For example, The Roncesvalles Village BIA will assume the responsibility of looking after the garden after it is complete. The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto is involved through small grants they issue, using money they raise from an annual plant fair.
“They don’t normally give a grant in anticipation of a new garden being developed, but recognizing the importance of getting community seed money up front,” she said. “They made a grant and, more than that, a member of their board comes to every meeting.”
The RMRA took on the project as a committee of their body and they assist with public meetings.
“The beauty of this is that we couldn’t do this if it was any one organization working alone,” she said. “It is the true definition of a public interest, where you only get there when everyone contributes their piece.”
With the process in motion and the partnerships in place, Bushby said she is optimistic that construction can begin by end of the summer.
“I am looking forward to digging, planting and weeding,” she said. “I am going to remember that hard concrete for a while, but not too long.”