Uncertain. Complex. Accelerated. Disturbing. Stimulating. Interesting. The times in which we live have been summed up by so many different words—and each invites us to ask, “How can we cope with change?” and “Where can we find hope and promise for the future?” Every credible answer leads to one concept: sustainability.
One of the ways of understanding this concept is through the prism of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. Member states agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals that integrate inclusive economic prosperity, social and cultural cohesion, and environmental stewardship. With each passing day the urgency of finding solutions becomes apparent. Ultimately it will be an holistic approach that will enable us to attain each of the goals effectively —from Gender Equality to Zero Hunger to Climate Action—and build a more sustainable future for all.
The SDGs are applicable world-wide. Each nation has both an obligation and an opportunity to learn from each other. And indeed now is a moment in time to look outward, not inward. All efforts count and indeed individual efforts may have far-reaching effects. Indigenous ways of knowing, considering the impacts of our decisions on the seven generations that follow can be particularly beneficial.
Throughout Ontario, there are remarkable stories of how people are driving sustainability, at home and around the world. Often they may not actually use the word sustainability but the purpose of these projects and initiatives is to make our communities and our lives more resilient. We are a work in progress – certainly not perfect, but clearly making an attempt.
In my time as Lieutenant Governor, it has been a great privilege to hear about the successes, aspirations and innovative approaches to challenges achieved by many Ontarians. As Ontario’s unofficial Storyteller-in-Chief, I believe that the more we learn and share stories, the better equipped we will be to understand one another, to develop empathy, to comprehend the impact of our individual decisions and actions and to find our own place in the world.
This place on our website is intended to shed a light on some of our stories. I hope that it will spark conversation and encourage collaboration. May the stories inspire you to think in new ways about what sustainability means and how you might contribute. Please share them widely.
A simple idea
“Up a dirt road, a heartbeat away from the whirr of today’s suburban life, was a shoreline farm bypassed by modern times. In 2013, the Town of Georgina purchased the Lake Simcoe property from a family who had owned it for 180 years. Public opinion varied about what the old farm should become. A simple idea prevailed. What if it remained a farm? But not just any farm.” What if this farm could become a showcase of advanced eco-agricultural practices and a leading edge community hub for sustainability?
A Social Enterprise
Just six years later ClearWater Farm describes itself as a social enterprise intent on demonstrating how healthy food can be grown in ways that restore the surrounding land, water, local economy and community fabric. The farm utilizes water-wise and nature-friendly practices and technologies to help others discover eco-friendly choices. They inspire their employees, volunteers, customers and partners to grow, prepare and share fresh, nutritious food using organic and regenerative practices.
Connecting with nature
A flagship initiative of the Ontario Water Centre (OWC), an educational charity,
ClearWater’s eco-food production supports their educational mission to deepen young people and their families’ connection with the natural environment, marrying the arts, science and technology to cultivate a more sustainable future. ClearWater is giving kids unique place-based learning experiences that connect them with nature and empower them to work with it. OWC’s founding chair, Annabel Slaight, believes children who have learned to care about and love nature will grow up as wonderful custodians of the planet.
A meeting place
Today there are 150 new maple trees planted along the dirt road that now points the way to ClearWater Farm. “Canada 150 Lane” is just one of the many community-building projects that have transformed the property. The trees grow near a 200-year old Ontario Heritage Sugar Maple named “The Trading Tree” which once served as a meeting place for Indigenous and early settler families. Its story celebrates the collaborative connection between ClearWater Farm and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, and has inspired the creation of a children’s book and a charming rain garden designed with the help of local schoolchildren.
A new vision
ClearWater Farm continues to reimagine its historic shoreline property into a setting that honours the past while providing an innovative gathering place for the future. By rebuilding a heritage barn as a youth education centre and community event venue, they are creating new jobs and community assets for Georgina. It has helped inspire a new vision for the town as a thriving, caring community that is still deeply connected to its land and lake.
When I first visited ClearWater Farm in 2017 it struck me that the farm is a living laboratory for sustainability. Its environmental benefits are clear – stopping unchecked runoff, encouraging pollination and providing a home for wildlife. Concurrently it supports economic prosperity – improving crop yield, using green waste to heat greenhouses and providing power to the town as well as offering much-needed jobs for younger people who might otherwise leave for urban centres. Experiential learning is central through apprenticeship programs and summer camps and the ongoing process of reconciliation is encouraged through the farm’s strong connection to the Chippewas of Georgina Island.
In many ways it reminded me of an initiative of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who had a vision to renovate an estate called Dumfries House, preserving its distinct heritage and regenerating the local economy, through investments in sustainable farming practices and educational centres where young people from the area can learn new skills.
Both are examples of bringing fresh perspectives to bear to address current challenges.
An innovative idea
In 2015, Vicki Saunders was inspired to launch SheEO, a non-profit Toronto-based initiative that dramatically transforms how female innovators are supported, financed, and celebrated. Her goal was to disrupt the existing startup financing systems she believed were designed mostly for men, by creating an entirely new model with a new set of values shaped with a feminist lens. The goal was to help women create businesses that reflected their passions, strengths and values, and allow them a safe space to thrive on their own terms.
Thriving on their owns terms
Growing up on a 100-acre farm outside of Ottawa, Vicki Saunders remembers listening to her parents’ new ideas to diversify their family business. She and her siblings were encouraged to contribute to the brainstorming. What began as a pick-your-own strawberries farm quickly turned into a successful event-driven enterprise with year-round educational activities. Saunders believes this early creative and collaborative environment nurtured her for success as an entrepreneur, mentor, and innovator. She went on to start and grow four successful ventures of her own.
The SheEO model is premised on attracting successful women investors by practicing “radical generosity”. Using a simple crowdsourcing framework, SheEO recruits 500 women called “Activators” who contribute equally to a $500,000 venture capital fund. The Activators then select five woman-led businesses titled “Ventures” that each receive a loan of $100,000 at zero-percent interest. Each new Venture is revenue-generating with export-ready potential to create a better world through their business model or their product or service. The Activators become a team that offers advice and support to help accelerate the new entrepreneurs’ successes while benefitting from this new business network themselves. The loans are paid back over five years then loaned out again through a perpetual fund.
Just four years later, Vicki Saunders’s radical funding redesign is a resounding success. SheEO represents a highly diverse group of women and has a growing global enterprise in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. They are proud to have funded over 50 innovative women-led ventures that are solving critical issues and helping to redefine the world. They see their visionary approach as a pathway to a new inclusive economic and social model for sustainable communities. SheEO’s goal is to reach 1 million Activators and 10,000 Ventures, with a $1 billion perpetual fund, to support women for generations to come. As they ask so succinc¬tly to their growing number of supporters: Are you IN?
The facts are compelling. They speak for themselves. Empowering women and girls can have an amazing positive impact on the prosperity and quality of life in our communities and society at large. Yet we are still working toward gender equality on so many fronts. There is much Unfinished Business. So I take much pride in the creative and visionary development of Ontario-based SheEO over the last five years. It demonstrates how women’s entrepreneurship can disrupt not only outmoded ways of doing business, but also underlying power structures, which so often entrench inequality and perpetuate divisions between the haves and the have-nots.
As SheEO amplifies the voices of women in the business world, it is driving real progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, or in Vicki’s words, “tackling the world’s to-do-list”.
SheEO’s model itself is an innovation with a profoundly social dimension. Its radical generosity has the potential to be truly transformative while allowing women to forge their own path and thrive.
In 1998, Rahul Singh—a Toronto paramedic—was on a backpacking trip in Nepal when disaster struck. The downpour from a dangerous monsoon had triggered devastating mudslides that resulted in the destruction of several villages. As a first-responder, Singh quickly realized that local relief efforts were slow and inefficient—he jumped in to help lead the rescue team. The experience had a profound impact on the paramedic, who saw an urgent need for future rapid response relief around the world. When he returned to Canada he founded GlobalMedic—a humanitarian charity with a mandate to save lives.
A volunteer effort
Singh built the organization by turning to his first-responder community for help—he knew they had the training and skill sets to provide life-saving aid during large-scale emergencies. Volunteers are key to GlobalMedic’s efforts. A dedicated core of Canadian paramedics, firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses have volunteered to be deployed on the first report of a crisis. Civilians from all walks of life generously donate their time to help prepare and pack at the GlobalMedic warehouse. The new Emergency Food Program enlists help from local communities whose members at home and abroad have been affected by disasters. They work together to create cost-effective and culturally appropriate meals.
In a race against time, GlobalMedic is often the first team on the ground to get critical interventions to people in life-threatening situations. It employs high- and low-tech approaches to help solve complex issues with greater speed and lower costs, from drones that map disaster areas to rudimentary water purification units. A commitment to innovation helps bolster local resilience in disaster areas—the volunteer teams empower the distressed communities by providing immediate aid, training and support. GlobalMedic’s core Emergency Programs—Water, Medical, Shelter, and Search & Rescue—are scalable to the size of the crisis. They can activate as many as needed, depending on what the situation demands. Singh says “the solidarity and resilience of the people affected by the crisis hardens their resolve to push through and help.”
The best of Canada
Rahul Singh’s humanitarian work has received international recognition. In 2010, he was named to Time Magazine’s 100 list of the world’s most influential people. Since his memorable backpacking trip to Nepal in 1998, GlobalMedic teams have responded to over 200 disasters in more than 70 countries, including the earthquake in Haiti, the civil war in Syria, and most recently, the aid effort in the Bahamas following the destruction from 2019’s Hurricane Dorian. The organization continually strives to expand their reach so they can save more lives each and every year. For Singh, GlobalMedic’s volunteers are “giving the best of Canada to people around the world.”
Through the work of GlobalMedic, we understand implicitly that we live in an interconnected world in which we all have a role to play in creating a better future.
Each time I visit GlobalMedic emergency packing events I take away a new learning. For example in November 2018 I was struck by the thoughtfulness of seeking out culturally appropriate foods. Meals were designed by Syrian refugees here in Ontario to support those facing food insecurity in Syria. The volunteers understood that familiar food is helpful in maintaining a sense of normalcy. The sense of collective responsibility was palpable and demonstrated that we are at our best when we draw upon each other’s strengths, expertise and cultural knowledge. My most recent visit showed the results of buying in bulk and repackaging to continue to find economies, reducing the cost per person. Similarly Mr. Singh consistently seeks new or captive technologies to meet new needs and provide improved services whether water technologies or drones.
The consistent element is GlobalMedic’s attraction of volunteers – those with expertise and resources and those with energy, time and good will. They are making a significant positive impact to disaster relief abroad by building on and reinforcing Toronto’s unique experiment in social cohesion.
A humanitarian crisis
In the summer of 2015 there was a humanitarian crisis in Syria that captured the attention of the world. Millions of Syrians were trying to flee their war-torn homeland as the nightly news reported disturbing stories of their plight. Following closely was Danby Appliance CEO, Jim Estill, who was concerned that the world was not doing enough to help. The stories and images broke his heart. As a successful entrepreneur, he knew that he had the means to make a difference, so he took a business approach and devised a plan to personally sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families and coordinate a community-wide effort to help settle them into a new life in his hometown.
An ambitious plan
To help achieve his plan, Estill was able to utilize his own organizational skills and the corporate and community contacts he had developed. He brought together faith-based community groups and aid agencies that wanted to help those affected by the Syrian civil war. The Muslim Society of Guelph quickly became a close collaborator in the initiative and helped to lead the project’s volunteers. Jim proceeded to organize the operation as any CEO of a start-up business would, by scaling up and achieving targets and goals. Arrangements were made to set up workplace and community committees to help with the newcomers’ health, education, housing, and employment needs.
The word spread quickly. By the time the resettlement plan was up and running, more than 800 local volunteers had offered their time to the cause. As the refugee families began to arrive, the citizens of Guelph came together, and local storage spaces began to overflow with their donations. Through his business network, Estill arranged to help the refugees find jobs. Many of them were offered steady work through a program at Danby, where they could also learn English on the job. Estill helped others establish their own small businesses.
Doing the right thing
One of Jim Estill’s personal mantras for both business and life is “Do the right thing.” He was one of the biggest single participants in the Canadian government’s commitment to offer 25,000 Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. He was invested into the Order of Ontario in 2017 and into the Order of Canada in 2019, and he has received many international awards for his ongoing humanitarian work.
A Canadian story
Today the City of Guelph is a richer community because of Estill’s bold and generous initiative. By the end of 2016, 47 Syrian families had resettled in the city, with that number rising to 89 families from multiple countries by the summer of 2019. Many are flourishing in their new homes and schools—their personal journeys of hardship and hope have helped shape a heartwarming Canadian story.
I have seen time and again how Ontarians view engaging with people and places beyond our borders as both an opportunity and an obligation. No matter where we have come from, we have made significant social and economic contributions to our new homeland. There is so much to learn and to contribute.
Stories like Jim Estill’s demonstrate the very best of who we are as a nation. Through his drive and determination, he has galvanized an entire community to respond authentically as Canadians, opening their doors, hearts, minds, and wallets.
As a refugee sponsor, he has shown remarkable generosity. He represents a proud legacy of private refugee sponsors—a unique Canadian model—and is a shining example of how we build both inclusive prosperity and social cohesion in Ontario.
Cambridge Digital Library
The old post office
From the sidewalk on Water Street, the newly restored facade of the historic post office in Cambridge, Ontario might look exactly as it did when it was brand new. Situated on the Grand River, the former Galt Post Office—with its majestic clock tower—was built in 1885 and designated a National Heritage Site almost a century later. Today, after a bold city-led initiative, the iconic building, now referred to as the Old Post Office, has been transformed. When visitors step through the new glass entrance, they find themselves in a digital library—a new facility that reimagines spaces that would be traditionally lined with books.
As part of a local library network called the “Idea Exchange”, the Old Post Office is among a new wave of adaptive revitalized buildings. Through an extensive renovation process, the floor area was doubled, and the innovative design wove together old and new materials to create interesting interior spaces. Part of the all-glass addition cantilevers over the Grand River provide awe-inspiring views of the city and beyond. The state-of-the-art facility is fully accessible, and has achieved top-rated green building certification. It is a striking addition to Cambridge’s downtown revitalization and fulfils the city’s desire to preserve its heritage and strengthen its connections with the river.
As a digital library, the Old Post Office offers a range of programs for life-long learning organized over four floors. It is meeting the growing needs of the community in the digital age by providing a space full of innovative technologies that would not otherwise be accessible or affordable for individuals. While the main floor is a gathering space with a reading room and café, the other levels cater to specific activities. The basement includes a theatre with soundproofed creative studios; the children’s discovery centre on the second floor is a hub of interactive learning; and the top floor is called a makerspace—providing equipment for projects from sewing to 3D-printing. This type of creative programming provides a stimulating environment of curiosity and discovery for a diverse group of patrons
A new gathering place
Five years ago, the Cambridge City Council seized an opportunity to embrace change, and the result has been overwhelmingly positive. While there are few books in the digital library, the Idea Exchange network has a circulating collection—ensuring access to literacy of every kind. The new initiative is connecting citizens in a time of increasing isolation, sometimes because of technology. The facility’s librarians and tech-savvy volunteers are interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds as they share new experiences in their own community. And the new Old Post Office is now a popular downtown destination—it has become this century’s gathering place by the river.
Libraries have traditionally been a place for people to come together and learn. Revitalizing an historic building like the Old Post Office, and making it an innovative digital library and creative hub, shows the vision of a community that honours the past while looking forward to the future.
As I saw firsthand at the opening in 2018, the Idea Exchange connects Cambridge with the new digital age, and neighbours of all backgrounds and beliefs with one another. It is encouraging the innovation and social inclusion needed to build a more sustainable future. And with its focus on the arts, it will surely foster the kind of storytelling and context-building that helps us understand how our world is changing. Its unique location on the Grand River connects people with the natural environment. Just as the Galt Post Office used to do, this new space nurtures the communication that allows us to share our stories and connect with others.
UNCEDED: Voices of the Land
A talented team
After a nation-wide juried competition in 2017, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that renowned architect Douglas Cardinal would lead a team to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Biennale—the most prestigious architectural showcase in the world. The entry took the form of an exhibition titled UNCEDED—Voices of the Land. Co-curated by Gerald McMaster, a member of the Siksika First Nation, artist, author, and professor at OCAD University, and David Fortin, a Métis architect and academic based in Sudbury, the exhibition features the talents of 18 Indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island. According to Cardinal it “is a way that we can show the world the beauty, the vitality, the strength, and the resilience of our Indigenous people in surviving a terrible history, but rising above that.”
An immersive experience
In Venice, the exhibition was unique in its immersive storytelling approach. Rather than a presentation of architectural models and drawings, it was a series of intriguing soundscapes and large curved forms displaying images of natural landscapes and depictions of Indigenous cultures. The exhibition was organized into four thematic sections: sovereignty, resilience, colonization, and indigeneity. It features life-sized videos of the architects speaking directly to visitors about their work and worldview. They explained how Indigenous architecture is a way of thinking, told stories about their families’ experiences in residential schools, and spoke powerfully of resilience
Lessons for the future
UNCEDED positioned Indigenous architecture in the global spotlight and was recognized as an innovative contribution to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. A Guardian article quoted Douglas Cardinal: “I firmly believe that the Indigenous world view, which has always sought this balance between nature, culture and technology, is the path that humanity must rediscover and adopt for our future. The teachings of the elders are not the teachings of the past. They’re lessons for the future.” People still have an opportunity to experience the exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History until March 2020.
As the Honorary Patron of UNCEDED, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand its reception as Canada’s entry to the Venice Biennale. It was simply unforgettable. This breathtaking installation gave insight into what a world might look like with a more inclusive understanding of our cultural heritage.
Architects shape the world through their visions, creativity, and technical skills, but above all through their empathy for the physical and social environments they inhabit. Unmistakable within UNCEDED is the idea that place matters: our identities are shaped by both the natural and built environments around us, as well as by the perspectives of those who share them with us. These relationships are inscribed in buildings and landscapes, all of which have the power to change the way we understand our surroundings and each other.
UNCEDED has the potential to provide significant insights into the strength of Indigenous cultures, the long journey of healing and reconciliation, and ultimately peaceful coexistence. Its stories may inform our efforts to build sustainability and resilience. Indeed, any solution to challenges such as inequality, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity will be incomplete without the unique perspectives of generations of Indigenous peoples.
Quetico—Lac La Croix First Nation Partnership
Wilderness canoeists around the world know that Quetico Provincial Park is one of the most beautiful places to paddle in Canada. Located in northwestern Ontario and situated on a million acres of Canadian Shield, the wilderness park’s abundant waterways, undeveloped landscapes, and relative lack of mechanized travel all contribute to its global reputation. Quetico also has a rich cultural history. It straddles the “voyageurs highway”—an inland water route travelled by fur traders for more than two centuries. And it sits on the traditional territory of Lac La Croix First Nation, whose ancestors have lived in the region for thousands of years. The First Nation’s people have a strong spiritual connection to this land, and their story is deeply rooted in the park’s history.
Hardship and healing
When Quetico was first regulated as a provincial park in 1913, the Indigenous communities living there were not consulted. Two years later they were forced to leave their homeland and relocate to make way for the park’s creation. In the following years, members of the Lac La Croix First Nation endured many hardships when the imposed land limitations contributed to the isolation of their community. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources made a public apology for this great injustice, and the healing process began. Three years later, the Lac La Croix First Nation and the province had signed an Agreement of Coexistence to promote a cooperative relationship and create initiatives to further the social and economic wellbeing of the Lac La Croix.
Since then, the First Nation has been involved in both day-to-day conservation activities and long-term planning of the park. A revised park policy has helped to create a work centre and a new park entry station in the Lac La Croix community, just southwest of the park. It has also become a focal point for cultural initiatives, park interpretation, and Pow Wows. The First Nation and Ontario Parks now collaborate to foster employment opportunities for Lac La Croix youth, conduct biological and archaeological research, and plan resource management.
In 2018, an updated Park Management Plan included the voice of the Lac La Croix First Nation. Norman Jordan, then-Chief of Lac La Croix First Nation wrote, “Quetico Provincial Park sits on our traditional territory and we are very happy and honored to work and manage this land together.” The partnership between Lac La Croix First Nation and Ontario Parks continues to evolve as they share a stewardship to protect Quetico as a sanctuary of true wilderness. Its unspoiled tranquility and quiet solitude are a paddler’s paradise.
Partnership is often a key element in achieving sustainability. During a visit to Quetico Provincial Park in 2017, the park staff and members of the Lac La Croix First Nation welcomed me to the traditional lands of the Lac La Croix in a memorable ceremony. It was a window into their inspiring collaboration. Together they are taking significant steps on the long journey of reconciliation while building a more sustainable future for the next generation and beyond. They have much to teach us about connecting the dots between environmental stewardship, inclusive economic prosperity, and social cohesion and about the benefits derived from both an understanding of traditional knowledge and evolving science and technology. The people of Quetico and Lac La Croix are patiently nurturing respectful relationships.
Along the shoreline of Lake Huron, just north of the Municipality of Kincardine, lies nearly one hundred acres of natural beauty—the Stoney Island Conservation Area. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy 8 kilometres of all-season trails for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. However, most of the visitors to this pristine setting are not aware of the volunteer efforts of a local group of proactive citizens who work together to preserve the diversity of plant and animal life near its creeks, meadows, and woodlands, attracting field naturalists from near and far.
Originally purchased in 1973, the Stoney Island Conservation Area, ensures public access to Lake Huron. When the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) contemplated selling it due to a budget squeeze in 1990s, the Kincardine Cross Country Ski Club was worried. Generations of its members had skied the trails since its founding, and a core group from the club approached the SVCA and offered to maintain the property. When their bold proposal was accepted, the Kincardine Cross Country Ski Club took up the stewardship of this important area.
The Canada 150 Trail
Collectively averaging 400 hours of work each year, the dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly. They removed fallen trees and branches, mowed meadows, built and repaired handcrafted bridges, improved drainage in wet areas, and upgraded the trails. In the winter, the club members groomed ski trails and cleared drifts after snowstorms. In 2017, the group took a new challenge. To honour the country’s sesquicentennial year, they designed a multi-use trail with a manageable length and flat terrain, accessible to youth and seniors, which they called the Canada 150 Trail.
Passion for a place
In January 2018, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario joined local community members and over 100 schoolchildren for the official opening of this Canada 150 Trail. The efforts of the local ski club to preserve the natural beauty in their backyard, created an opportunity for the whole community to connect with their environment, no matter what the season. The vision of the volunteers to connect their local efforts to a nation-wide celebration, allowed the next generation to understand its place in Ontario and Canada. Looking ahead, they are hopeful that younger generations will share their passion for this special place and will become stewards of its future.
Often the starting point for a community to understand what sustainability really means is to care for the environment in which they live. Environmental stewardship is one pillar of sustainability. When we nurture a love of nature in youth and encourage them to see themselves as stewards of their communities, we are building a path to a more resilient future.
That is where this story began. When I had the pleasure of opening of this Canada 150 Trail, I was inspired by work of the volunteers who, after years of conservation and stewardship, had created a place for people of all ages to come together and connect with their environment. How wonderful it was to see the delight on the faces of so many young people as they skied across the new trail – one built for them. It became obvious to all that this project was also about building social cohesion – a second pillar of sustainability.
Sustainability starts at home with our families and neighbours. We all have a role to play, and it is clear that the members of the Kincardine Cross-Country Ski Club understand that. I have no doubt that the next step will be to focus on opportunities for inclusive economic prosperity – the important third element of sustainability.
The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area
The Four Sisters
If you lived almost anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area in 1962, you would have seen the skyline along the shores of Lake Ontario dramatically change with the arrival of the four sisters – towering smoke stacks in Mississauga. The sisters were part of an industrial landmark that could be seen as far away as Burlington to the west and downtown Toronto to the east. The Lakeview Generating Station was the largest coal-fired power plant in Canada, built to provide electricity to a booming population. In 1989, when Jim Tovey moved to the community, he helped to lead the citizen group that convinced politicians to demolish the station and abandon plans to construct a new gas plant in its place. His vision for a new type of shoreline, would help to reinvigorate the area and change the way today’s generation sees the shoreline from the east to the west of the GTA.
A revitalization project
In 2010, Tovey was a Mississauga City Councillor working with community organizations and developers on plans to transform the city’s eastern waterfront. A reclamation project called the Lakeview Waterfront Connection would create a new 64-acre conservation area along the Lake Ontario shoreline using leftover aggregate from construction projects in the region. When completed, the site would include a waterfront trail, cobble beach, meadow, forest, and wetland—restoring the ecosystem. In addition, the now-vacant industrial park would be revitalized into a multipurpose hub—with the development of new residential units and commercial, institutional, and cultural amenities. This new space would support the future economic, environmental, and social life of the city.
The Morphology exhibition
Tovey was also a musician and artist, and inspired by the reimagining of the waterfront, he conceived of Morphology: an annual photography exhibition documenting the emerging landscape of the Lakeview Waterfront Connection. The images were meant to help the public reconnect with the lake and imagine it’s future. At the inaugural launch of the exhibition in 2018, Councillor Tovey proudly remarked, this “is the first ecosystem that’s ever been built in Lake Ontario in the GTA—ever.”
A lasting legacy
Sadly, Jim Tovey passed away unexpectedly soon after the launch. In a statement to a shocked community, Mayor Bonnie Crombie remarked, “Mississauga has lost one of its greatest champions today. Jim was a community builder whose legacy will live on through the growth and redevelopment of the waterfront.” A few months later Credit Valley Conservation announced it would name the Lakeview Waterfront Connection project in Tovey’s honour. The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area commemorates the Councillor’s transformative vision and provides his much-loved community with the green shoreline oasis he had always imagined.
Across Ontario I am often struck by the great pride with which communities large and small tell stories of their history. Knowing where we’ve come from roots us to place. Knowing where we go next is often the larger challenge. It takes a leader with great vision to take our history and reimagine it for future generations. Jim Tovey was a remarkable individual. He understood that progress did not, and indeed, must not, mean leaving anyone behind. Tovey’s vision replaced a landmark that was once a symbol of innovation, but later one of environmental damage, with a space that took in the whole concept of what a resilient and sustainable community can be. He knew inherently the importance of connecting the dots between environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and economic prosperity.
I was delighted to be invited by Tovey to the launch of Morphology. He understood that art has the power to both share new ideas, and to help shape the public’s thinking about important issues. Among the guests at the launch were civic leaders, artists, and members of the public along with the construction workers who through the photographs were able to see how the aggregate created by their construction projects had been turned into art.
In the years to come, the Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area will continue to bring together the old and the young, new Canadians, and those whose history can be traced back to before the four sisters. It is a place with a future that is inspiring and evolving, a new and exciting page in Mississauga’s story.
Regent Park Revitalization
In the 1940s, the Canadian government created a new Toronto neighbourhood made up of social housing meant to encourage a strong sense of community. Named Regent Park, it was modeled after the UK’s “garden city” approach to planning, with inward-facing housing and lots of green space. Over time, design elements like limited through-streets and a lack of access to supermarkets and transit created a feeling of isolation. By the late 1980’s, the maze-like development had gained a reputation as a dangerous place to live.
A strong voice
When Sureya Ibrahim moved from Ethiopia to Canada in 1998, she and her family settled in Regent Park. Despite the local problems and unsafe reputation, the neighbourhood still had a strong sense of community and was home to many new Canadians with young families. Sureya joined a group of residents advocating for change and added her voice to a growing call for solutions to the systematic problems in the neighbourhood. In 2002, Toronto Community Housing (TCH) answered their call and began working with the residents to create a vision for a new type of downtown neighbourhood.
By 2005, TCH had partnered with developer Daniels Corporation to transform the aging infrastructure into a new mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood. Along with the residents, they wanted to revitalize Regent Park and inspire socio-economic change. The new design would replace all 2,083 existing social housing units with new LEED-certified buildings and add up to 5000 more market-rate units. The partners adhered to a social development plan created with the residents’ input combining residential buildings, commercial spaces, community facilities, educational institutions, activity parks, and green space. Most importantly, the initiative finally reconnected Regent Park to Toronto’s grid of streets.
A thriving community
Today, with the transformation well underway, large parts of Regent Park are unrecognizable—three of five construction phases are almost complete. The transition means big changes and opportunities for residents new and old. Sureya Ibrahim, now a Supervisor of Community Connections at the Toronto Community Centre for Learning & Development, acknowledges it can be difficult nurturing cohesion during a time of rapid change. She wants the community to thrive long after the developers are gone. Ibrahim told the Toronto Star, “We are still going to be here. We are still going to be doing what we love to do and building the community, identifying who the leaders of the future are and passing on the torch.”
Often a commitment to sustainability is more theoretical than practical, but the new design for Regent Park demonstrates environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and inclusive prosperity, the three pillars of sustainability, in the most concrete ways.
No matter where I travel in Ontario and around the world, I find myself telling the story of Regent Park. The story of this neighbourhood brings together so many of best parts of what makes Ontario special: The vital voice of the newcomer, the openness to change of fast-growing cities, and the willingness to commit to a long-term vision for the next generation.
When I met Sureya in 2018, I was immediately struck by her sense of opportunity and her realism. Touring the development, I was touched to see the many partnerships whose contributions have made the revitalization possible – from the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Foundation, who built a basketball court fit for the Toronto Raptors, to the Toronto Police, and the many small businesses and community groups. The vibrancy of the neighbourhood shines in places like the Daniels Spectrum, a creative hub with galleries, event space, and a rehearsal hall. Many want to be in Regent Park, it offers incredible amenities, arts, culture, and food. As Sureya well knows, its success will be its greatest challenge.
I have no doubt that the residents will continue to use their voices for inclusion. We are all better when we work together.
Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology
A place for learning
In 1965 a publicly-funded college system was established in Ontario. The system was a part of the vision of then-Minister of Education and future Premier, Bill Davis, to create learning environments and to deliver “equality of opportunity to all sectors of our population” through education and the “fullest possible development of each individual”. The Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology was a result of the plan to provide students with the skills of tomorrow, through innovative and supportive classrooms and spaces across the province.
Journey to Truth and Reconciliation
As their 50th anniversary approached, Algonquin College undertook a significant renovation project to transform their library into a multi-purpose hub. Following the founding principles of the college system, it was meant to allow students to expand their knowledge and meet local needs. The college worked with Indigenous communities and the project’s team of architects to ensure that the building incorporated traditional teachings and practices. Named the Discovery, Applied Research, and Entrepreneurship (DARE) District, it welcomed Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike. Then-President of the college, Cheryl Jensen, declared “this building, with its sweeping ceiling, wide-open spaces, and stunning views of the campus is a place that will inspire a new generation of our learners. We are also very proud that it is a place that, through its very architecture and design, is helping us on our journey to Truth and Reconciliation.”
Combining Tradition and Technology
Completed in 2018 to LEED Gold certification standards, the DARE District features a three-storey atrium and a central staircase. The Indigenous Commons and Gathering Circle on the first floor act as a large collaborative work area that opens onto a courtyard with a ceremonial fire circle and garden, which can also function as an outdoor classroom. Technology and innovation meet with Indigenous teachings on the second floor in the business incubator and maker spaces, and the re-imagined library on the third floor includes a digital literacy lab and studios under a soaring barrel-vaulted timber ceiling.
It is clear that the transformational vision for college system, which created centres of learning across Ontario and brought together students of all ages to develop skills and disciplines required in their communities is a triumph.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to tour the DARE District of Algonquin College. I was inspired to see how sustainability is central to the philosophy of the college system and how it is applied in very practical ways. Whether through design of the physical space, the nature of the programming or the policies that guide life on campus, the institution practices what it preaches. Through meaningful steps towards Truth and Reconciliation, a prerequisite for social cohesion, to increasing our capacity for economic prosperity by preparing students for the future of work, to leading on environmental stewardship in the built environment on campus, the unique experience of attending an Ontario college enhances the ability to connect the dots of sustainability.
It is my hope that over the next fifty years, we will continue to learn from the adaptive and forward-thinking approach of schools such as Algonquin College and be able to realize a more sustainable, just, and inclusive future.
The Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park
A border community
Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, the riding of Sarnia-Lambton in Southwestern Ontario is part of a rich agricultural region that enjoys one of the warmest climates in Canada. Largely known for its traditional petrochemical industry, the border community has more recently evolved into a centre for bio-industrial research and the development of newer eco-friendly technologies.
Thanks to its position at the centre of the Great Lakes corridor, Sarnia-Lambton has outstanding access to major markets in Canada and the United States. In the early 2000s, the region established the Sarnia-Lambton Biohybrid Chemistry Cluster in partnership with Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, Western University, Lambton College, and local industry to accelerate growth for new enterprises in the sector. Today the Cluster is helping to diversify the economy, change the future of production in Southwestern Ontario, and drive sustainability. Central to this evolving economy is the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
Changing the future
For over a decade the Research Park has been home to the country’s largest clean-tech incubator, the Commercialization Centre. One notable company participating in the incubator is Origin Materials, a US biochemical startup that was attracted to Sarnia-Lambton after scouting other locations around the world. Instead of using petroleum, the startup uses plant-based materials that are easily accessible in the area like wood chips, corn stalks, and wheat straw – common byproducts of the nearby agriculture industry. Thanks to newly-formed alliances with the world’s two largest bottled water companies—Nestle and Danone—they have developed and launched a bio-based plastic bottle made from 100 percent sustainable and renewable feedstock. As other international clean-tech companies arrive, Sarnia-Lambton’s influence will continue to grow nationally and around the world.
I was eager to visit Southwestern Ontario as it reflected a very real example of the need for resilience when faced with transformative change. This area once had the highest standard of living in the country, due to its border location and a history of agricultural and industrial power but its recent story was one of economic decline and environmental challenge.
Sarnia-Lambton had questions about its future: Where can we find hope and promise? How can we balance economic growth with environmental health? How can we cope with change?
During my visit to the region, I was invited to visit the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park. I was struck by the collaborative spirit and forward-thinking of the tenants of the Research Park. It was clear in my many conversations that the questions the community had been forced to ask itself were being met with innovation and imagination. By utilizing the existing infrastructure, resources available from the agricultural surroundings, and skilled labourers from the college, many of the whom were part of retraining programs, the area has begun to reinvent itself.
The story of Sarnia-Lambton is important for all Ontarians – it shows us what can be achieved when we reimagine a future with people at the heart of decision making. Though economic opportunity appeared to take priority over environmental stewardship and social cohesion, it is apparent that the community has embraced the concept of sustainability, listening to all sectors of the community, applying lessons from the past, with the objective of creating a resilient future for all. The story is a work in progress and one worth watching in the coming years.
Farming in the 21st Century
Ontario’s “vegetable garden”
Along Highway 400, just south of Lake Simcoe, lies the Holland Marsh, a wetland and agricultural region in the valley of the Holland River. As part of Ontario’s Greenbelt, the marsh is largely located in Bradford West Gwillimbury—a municipality that was first settled two centuries ago and today includes, Bradford and Bond Head, where agriculture continues to provide a solid economic base. The area is commonly referred to as Ontario’s “vegetable garden” because of its varied fresh produce that is transported across the country and beyond.
Around the table
Farmers 200 years ago would still feel at home in many of the conversations taking place around the dinner table at farms in Bradford West Gwillimbury today on topics like weather, seasonal changes, and yield. But the increasing pressure from the effects of climate change, technology, and international influences would be as foreign to them as it is to many farmers from only one or two generations ago.
Young people who are preparing to be fourth or fifth generation farmers are highly educated and their understanding of how to harness technology and the connection that Ontarians have to their food is creating space for innovation in this traditional industry. There is a growing global perspective as the agrifood sector modernizes. Issues that are affecting farmers in Ontario and Bradford West Gwillimbury are also impacting farmers in places like South America and the Middle East. Around the world, the sector is beginning to be seen as a catalyst for positive change – young farmers are contributing back to their communities and understand that they are able to make a change for economic prosperity locally. It cultivates wealth throughout the value chain, all the way from farm to table.
In Bradford West Gwillimbury, I had a most engaging conversation with farm families. Their pride in profession and the community they loved was clear. Each of the sons and daughters, highly educated successors in the making, introduced themselves by referring to the legacy left to them. They educated me about current concerns ranging from the lack of high-speed internet, to encroaching development on productive farmland, to how consumer food fads cause unexpected gains and losses in short time periods. Implicitly they spoke of their desire for sustainability: the imperative to steward the environment, the desire for economic prosperity and their contribution to lively and resilient community life.
They are also citizens of the world. They are very aware that their own stories mirror global trends and link us in interesting ways to people and places beyond our borders. We are learning that issues such as water scarcity, drought and land degradation, and loss of biodiversity – all linked to climate change – are being reflected more frequently at home and abroad. Ontarian farmers see both obligation and opportunity. The agrifood sector can be a catalyst for positive change felt far and wide.
Every day the farmers of Bradford West Gwillimbury are making good on this country’s promise to future generations. They prove that we can honour our history while putting sustainability at the centre of how we prepare for an uncertain future. Thanks to them, I am renewed in my optimism that we have what it takes to achieve resilience, innovation, and abundance.
Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall
Almost two centuries ago, an Anishinaabe leader named Chief Shingwauk helped establish the Garden River First Nation near what is now Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The chief was an advocate of education and had a vision of “Teaching Wigwams”, places where Indigenous people and settlers would learn together while ensuring Indigenous culture and rights were not lost. The dream was not realized in his lifetime, but his sons opened the first Shingwauk School in 1873 with a missionary from the Anglican Church. Over time, Chief Shingwauk’s vision was co-opted by the policies of the Indian Residential School System and the school changed locations. In 1935, a much larger residential school named Shingwauk Hall was built on Queen Street in Sault Ste. Marie. Like other residential schools, Shingwauk Hall was a place where Indigenous youth were forced to endure hardship, abuse, and cultural assimilation.
The Shingwauk Indian Residential School finally closed in 1970, and the building became part of the Algoma University campus. In the years that followed, survivors of the residential school formed the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. What started as reunion in 1981 became a healing movement and an effort to collect and organize photographs and other materials. After decades of work, a significant initiative began to develop – a survivor-driven exhibition that would present a century of the residential school’s history within the larger context of colonialism, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada.
Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall
On August 3, 2018, the permanent exhibition Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall was launched at Algoma University. Located in the main hallway of the former residential school, it features displays commemorating the lived experience of the students. Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall presents survivors’ testimony through oral stories, wall texts, and archival images that span more than 100 years. In telling the truth of what happened, the former students have taken control of their own legacy while reclaiming a space that was purpose-built to remove their identity.
Realizing a vision
To date, more than 10,000 visitors have attended the exhibition. It exemplifies an approach to teaching history in which Indigenous peoples tell their own stories, and provides survivors with a meaningful path toward healing. Supported by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University, the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association will continue to partner with groups to research, collect, preserve, and display the history of residential schools across Canada. The association wants to develop initiatives that promote their mandate of sharing, healing, and learning – and continue to seek ways to realize Chief Shingwauk’s vision.
Projects like Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall require courage. The courage of visitors who take it upon themselves to confront the darkness of Canada’s past. The courage of community members who, instead of turning inwards, invite others to see what a vibrant place this is. And, above all, the courage of survivors who have found the inner strength, with the support of family and friends, to share their deeply personal stories so that what happened at Shingwauk Hall, and at residential schools like it, will never happen again. Such storytelling is essential to the journey of respectful healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and to achieving a society that is just, sustainable, and resilient.
When I attended the opening of Shingwauk Hall in 2018, I spent the day with inspiring women, including Shirley Horn, a former student at the residential school who now serves as the Chancellor of Algoma University. These courageous women saw the future through a positive lens, they understood the importance of education, despite their own history with the institution. Through the survivors’ efforts, Chief Shingwauk’s unique vision from almost 200 hundred years ago has endured, and today remains relevant in building our capacity for social cohesion and creating sustainable communities.
Pickering College, an independent school located in Newmarket, has a vision to develop innovative, courageous, and compassionate global citizens. All students take part in the Global Leadership Program (GLP), three aligned but distinct programs for Junior, Middle, and Senior School that lead to an action-based Global Leadership Diploma. The Junior School GLP culminates in Grade 5, with student presentations of My Key Idea, a project including a research report, podcast, and speech on a topic of personal importance and global significance during their graduation. Following their presentations, students are awarded a key to represent opening the door to the next stage of the program in Middle School.
My Key Idea
In spring of 2019, the Grade 5 students invited the Lieutenant Governor to hear their My Key Ideas, each one framed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The students began with a statement, “Many of our presentations today highlight our work in developing global awareness, environmental stewardship, social justice, and understanding the impact of new technologies in our changing world.” The presentations covered a range of topics, including: Saving the Amazon Rainforest, Child Labour in Africa, Malnutrition in Developing Countries, Wind Energy, Pollution in the Great Lakes, and How Poverty Affects Health in Ontario.
When education is inclusive and broad, we give students a sustainable lens through which to see the world. The three pillars of sustainability – social cohesion, economic prosperity, and environmental stewardship – are terms used by governments and policy leaders, though from my experience, many students are nonetheless learning, acting, and asking questions within these guidelines in Ontario today.
Why do we have homelessness?
What is the future of work?
How will we deal with plastic in our oceans?
I first met the Grade 5s of Pickering College when they visited the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite to see Awakening, an exhibition featuring art and essays inspired by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The students were curious, enthusiastic, and seemed to understand the SDGs better than many of the adults who visit us.
When I was invited to witness their graduation ceremony, I expected the usual proud parents and teachers, but was unprepared for the students’ eloquence and confidence as they presented original solutions to global problems. Many of the problems they brought up provoke a sense of hopelessness in adults, but these young people, armed with the power of education, viewed them as issues to overcome in order to ensure their future potential. They see their place in the world, and their impact, as beginning with their graduation, and they were rewarded with the ‘key’ to the next stage of the program and their development.
Caring about the planet and its people starts at an early age. Through the Global Leadership Program at Pickering College, and with the support of their teachers and parents, each of them is making a difference – in their neighborhood and beyond. Stories like theirs leave me with a sense of hope and promise for the future. I am confident the next generation of Ontarians are prepared to take on some of the most challenging problems our world has ever seen.
Connecting people and places
For those who love to fish, swim, boat, or walk along shoreline trails, the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 386-kilometre stretch of rivers and lakes that runs through central Ontario, has always been a valued treasure. Leading from Lake Huron to Lake Ontario, the waterway once served as an important trading route for fur and later timber. Stewarded by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, these waters have connected people and places for generations. In 1615, Samuel de Champlain travelled this route, and two centuries later it became the focus of settlers who developed one of the largest systems of canals and locks in the province.
Construction began on the Trent-Severn Waterway’s first lockstation, Lock 32 – Bobcaygeon, over 160 years ago. In the time since, Bobcaygeon has become a thriving tourist and cottage destination within the City of Kawartha Lakes. Thousands of people pass through Lock 32 each year, part of the 1.3 million visitors to region, who are crucial to the economy.
A site of celebration and community building
Now popular for its Canada Day fireworks celebration, the beach alongside Lock 32 has become a central gathering place for the community. The year 2017 was an opportunity for local government to reconsider how the waterfront was being used and put forward a plan to redevelop the waterfront with a more inclusive and sustainable design. The redevelopment will incorporate space for more docking and motorized watercrafts, kayaks, canoes, and rowboats, all of which are available for rent by local business owners. The plans also feature an outdoor pavilion that will allow families to stay and enjoy a full day at the waterfront. With the increasing ways in which the area can be used, and with a wider and more diverse range of visitors, there is potential for new businesses to flourish. The community sees itself as a steward of the rivers and lakes of the Trent-Severn Waterway – ensuring places like Bobcaygeon can be enjoyed by generations to come.
July in Ontario feels like a month-long celebration, with barbecues, swimming and paddling, family games, and neighbourhood gatherings. When I visited Lock 32 in July 2018, it was apparent that Kawartha Lakes’ visitors and residents alike took great joy in this natural playground found their backyard.
But there was much more to be seen. In conversations with civic leaders and citizens I saw firsthand how sustainability was central to the plans for the redevelopment of the area. For some, they were returning at mid-career to the place of their childhood memories, creating new “lifestyle” businesses. This was a place where they belonged. It was part of their identity. The people I met with during my visit saw an enhanced tourism industry as a critical part of their future and that would mean maintaining the health of the rivers and lakes. So whether or not they actually used the word sustainability the community understood the intersections between environmental stewardship, economic prosperity, and social cohesion.
As Ontarians we actively seek to build just and sustainable communities – ones in which we share economic opportunity, we safeguard the environment on which we depend, and we embrace all with empathy and with open hearts and minds. My visit to the Kawartha Lakes will continue to remind that when we gather in a spirit of togetherness, something very powerful can happen.
Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag Program
Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag
In 2018, an innovative summer program for Indigenous youth was developed collaboratively with the Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Great Lakes Waterworks Water Allies, Elder Whabagoon of Lac Seul First Nation, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). It was named Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag, meaning Flooded Valley Healing in Anishinaabemowin (Manitoulin dialect). Designed to address a growing inter-generational gap of traditional environmental knowledge, the program offers opportunities for participants to learn about potential career paths in fields such as architecture, urban design, conservation, and filmmaking.
Revitalizing Bolton Camp
Guided by Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers, this initiative gives participants an introduction into sustainable design building and hands-on ecological learning opportunities.
In the inaugural year of Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag, youth were invited to contribute design ideas for the revitalization of the Bolton Camp, a 254-acre site 40 kilometres north of Toronto. Their final plans included a bike path, a rain garden, an accessible boardwalk, a teepee and sweat lodge, and a turtle-shaped medicine garden surrounding a fire pit. By incorporating traditional teachings of the land, they also devised a clever way to connect interior spaces with the surrounding landscape, providing new gathering places while preserving the heritage structure of the vintage cabins.
A growing understanding
The program expanded in 2019 and this time participants were employed and trained in restoration activities like tree planting and habitat protection at the Bolton Camp. Mentors contributed with lectures, design reviews, and guided site visits to sustainable urban and landscape projects. The participants had access to cutting-edge facilities at the Daniels Faculty at U of T and explored spiritual and cultural connections at the university’s First Nations House. Like Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag, the new Bolton Camp, with its youth-guided designs and stunning natural backdrop, will continue to inspire creativity, learning, and innovation.
It was a beautiful July day when I first met with the Indigenous youth, program leaders, and Elders from Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag at the Bolton Camp just outside of Toronto. The day began with a moving ceremony outside, as a hawk flew overhead. As the students spoke to me about their work, their vision, and their passion for the revitalization of the camp, it was apparent that their understanding went beyond architectural and landscaping skills. Through knowledge shared by their Elders, the participants were growing to understand the history of the land. They were learning how to design a space that would encourage future families staying at Camp Bolton to spend time with nature and each other. Over and over again, the youth told me how excited they were to connect with their traditional learnings and weave the past with the future.
Associate Professor Liat Margolis, Director of the Daniels Faculty’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, had a vision for this program that incorporated all three pillars of sustainability: beyond the summer employment opportunity, the students were developing the practical skills that could provide economic prosperity for their future; the overlapping of Indigenous knowledge and latest technology and exposure to experts, demonstrated a holistic practice of social cohesion; and the long-term plans for the future of the camp demonstrated a pride and commitment to the environmental stewardship of the region.
At the end of the summer, the students stopped by Queen’s Park and presented me with a painting. It was vibrant, full of colour and hope. It sits proudly in my office today and is a reminder of the power of our youth, and the promise of a sustainable future.
Thunder Bay Public Library
An unlikely hero
Fifty years ago, members of the Thunder Bay Public Library would have come to their local branch to read the latest periodicals, discover a new novel, or pore over old maps and newspaper clippings. On a Friday in 2019, the people of Thunder Bay can walk into their public library and be seen by a nurse. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they can meet with a social worker. And on any day of the week, the public can access Indigenous Knowledge Centres. This may not be the traditional model for a library, but the Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) is no longer a traditional library.
As is the case in many Ontario communities, Thunder Bay is experiencing change. In particular, as noted in multiple inquiries and reports, the city is facing the challenge of confronting racism and the tragic deaths of young Indigenous students. As residents seek a more open, safe, and inclusive future, the TBPL has made itself central to this reality. In 2018, the library developed an action plan to implement the recommendations from the Seven Youth Inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students and the Calls to Action from the more recent National Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC).
Indeed, the library has emerged as an “unlikely hero” wrote Tanya Talaga in a March 2019 column in the Toronto Star.
A bold plan
The library’s action plan is a strong and bold commitment and acknowledgement to decolonize library policies and services. In the words of John Pateman, the Chief Librarian and CEO of TBPL, “TBPL recognizes, accepts and acknowledges that racism exists in Thunder Bay and at TBPL” and that “a strong anti-racism response is the answer.”
With the support of the library board, newly appointed Indigenous Liaison, Robyn Medicine, the Indigenous Relationships Supervisor, Samantha Martin-Bird, and the TBPL Indigenous Advisory Council, the organization began to transform itself from a place of mere lending and returning books to a place of connecting, healing, and building community.
Today, each of the TBPL’s four branches has an Indigenous Knowledge Centre—a dedicated section that protects, preserves, and supports Indigenous languages and cultures. The Elders-in-Residence program provides traditional counselling. At the Waverly branch, a partnership was formed to share space and resources with Anishinabek Employment and Training Services. And at the Brodie branch, near City Hall, nursing and social work services are available once a week for library patrons.
A hopeful future
The TBPL initiatives now provide a welcoming community hub for the residents of Thunder Bay, and they have helped inspire broader changes in the city. In 2018, the TBPL, the police service, and nine other civic institutions signed an Anti-Racism and Inclusion Accord committing to meet the TRC’s Calls to Action and to develop and maintain respectful relations with Indigenous governments, organizations, and individuals. A year later, the Accord’s founders invited representatives of the business and non-profit sectors to join them—all signs that the work of the TBPL continues to gain momentum.
When I visited the library on New Year’s Eve in 2019, the city was cold and more snow was expected in the forecast. But inside, I found staff and members of the public who were warm, engaging, and passionate about their work.
I often talk about the exceptional diversity and strengths of Ontario, and of how telling stories is key to beginning to understand one another. In the TBPL, these stories have a home. They are there in the leadership who were determined to change the status quo of the library system and create something more impactful. They are there in the nurses and social workers who leave their traditional offices and come to the library to meet people on their terms. They are there in the Elders, who come to share their knowledge and language with all those who wish to learn.
The same curiosity that drew people to libraries 50 years ago exists today, only now that curiosity is being met with innovation and opportunity. TBPL captures the strength of social cohesion and the potential of economic prosperity by creating a space that welcomes everyone. It was clear to me, as we looked ahead to 2020 in Thunder Bay on New Year’s Eve, that the residents have the tools to create a bright and resilient future and that by going forward together they will get there. The library is a great place to begin this journey.
MaRS Discovery District
A tradition of discovery
In a laboratory at the University of Toronto in 1922, the experiments of Frederick Banting and a small team of colleagues led to one of the most important breakthroughs in modern medical history – the discovery of insulin. Nearly a century later, on that very site, a cutting-edge development known as the MaRS Discovery District was created to continue the tradition of providing a nurturing space for a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs.
It has since become a launchpad for startups, a platform for researchers, and a home to innovators, while supporting the commercialization of their discoveries. In 2016, with the opening of the West Tower Expansion, MaRS became the largest urban innovation hub in North America.
Originating with 14 community leaders who together donated 14 million dollars, and with the support of government, the private sector, and the University of Toronto, MaRS opened its doors in 2005. The incubator brought together a curated mix of leading corporate, public, and community partners, with startups from four key sectors: Health, Cleantech, Fintech, and Enterprise.
In the last 15 years it has grown into a 1.5 million square foot complex with four state-of-the-art buildings connecting startup spaces, science labs, research facilities and corporate offices. Their current network includes innovative research institutes like Borealis AI, Vector AI, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, CIFAR, and JLabs; along with tech giants like Autodesk and Paypal.
Today, over 1,200 MaRS supported startups continue to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. They have contributed billions of dollars to the Canadian GDP and positively impacted an estimated 17 million lives.
Just one tangible example: Humera Malik founded Canvass Analytics in 2016 with the goal of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry through AI. Her product: a predictive platform that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maximize operational efficiency and improve production quality. More accurate than any human and 12 times faster than industry standard solutions, Humera’s software could save energy-intensive clients millions while also doing right by the environment. A breakthrough product ready for adoption.
Through its global network the MaRS Cleantech team connected her with a list of potential customers and investors from the automotive, aerospace and agriculture communities, took her to international forums and brought various speaking engagements across Canada.
Today, Canvass is growing rapidly and on track for global expansion. Among the company’s impressive roster of clients is Olam International, one of the world’s largest agri-businesses, and Hamilton-based Stelco, a leader in Canadian steel. Humera and her team have so far secured two rounds of VC financing: US$1.6 million from Canadian venture capital firm Real Ventures (housed in the MaRS Centre) and US$5 million from a group led by Google’s Gradient Ventures.
And she gave back: In September 2018, she was asked to judge the MaRS-run Women in Cleantech Challenge, a national competition that will award $1 million in prize money to the most promising female founder among six finalists.
Over the past five years I have witnessed the energy and commitment of the MaRS Discovery District as they mirror the best of Canada. They have opened their doors as a venue to celebrate science, to convene the entire ecosystem of actors in debate and discussion and to provide opportunities for members of the public, through cultural and educational activities, to become informed.
MaRS has become globally recognized as a catalyst for innovation and social investment in response to some of the most complex and urgent issues faced by society. In part due to the diversity of Toronto, MaRS continues to attract great minds and ideas. It is bold and ambitious. And that is what is needed to meaningfully improve lives. Stay tuned for a new initiative – Mission from MaRS.
The Aga Khan Museum
A popular destination
Situated in a beautiful landscaped park not far from the Don Valley in Toronto, two radiant white buildings represent a favourite suburban landmark in the city. Admired for their exemplary architecture, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre Toronto opened in 2014 as an initiative of the Aga Khan Development Network, an international organization founded by the Aga Khan. Surrounded by neighbourhoods that are now home to a significant Muslim population, the city’s newest cultural institutions have become a popular destination. The unique complex is a welcoming oasis for newcomers to the city and for art-loving visitors from near and far.
The Ismaili Centre Toronto is one of six such institutions in the world. It provides engaging programs for local communities and offers space for spiritual reflection. The Aga Khan Museum is the first museum in North America dedicated to Islamic art. Its remarkable collection of objects spans three continents and over 10 centuries. In its spacious galleries, visitors learn about the artistic, intellectual, and scientific contributions that Muslim civilizations have made to world heritage. The museum’s inspiring temporary exhibitions and education programs are designed to promote mutual understanding by connecting cultures through the arts.
One of those programs invites 20 young newcomers from nearby communities, including Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, to take part in the Fredric Roberts Photography Workshops. The program empowers students with a new skill, the art of telling visual stories. In 2018, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Learning for a Sustainable Future, and the Aga Khan Museum challenged participants to explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through photography. The students covered topics such as food safety, gender equality, and environmental protection. Their diverse cultural perspectives offered visitors a glimpse into a younger generation’s views and hopes for the future. The result was Our Sustainable Future, a photography exhibition of the youth’s visual stories, mounted at the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite in Queen’s Park.
An oasis on the hill
The Aga Khan Development Network works to improve living conditions and opportunities for many millions of people in the developing world. The network and its cultural arm—the Aga Khan Trust for Culture—have a longstanding relationship with Canada. Their latest development in Ontario represents the Aga Khan’s appreciation for our culture’s commitment to tolerance and pluralism. Local residents and visitors from around the world are delighted to spend time at the beautiful oasis on the hill—it is a place to celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of Ontario, and old and new cultures far beyond.
In 2017, I agreed to serve as honorary patron of the Aga Khan Museum. The fit between our two institutions is a natural one, for we both are invested in strengthening the ties that bind humanity.
At the time, I encouraged the museum to help raise awareness of the challenges we share as global citizens, and of quite possibly the best framework we have to address them: the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Our Sustainable Future is one of the museum’s responses to that challenge. Crucially, it represents the passing of the torch to a new generation of Canadians. I am grateful to the museum’s Director and CEO Henry Kim and his capable team for their leadership and vision.
Whether approaching subjects directly or in a more abstract way, the photos produced by the youth encourage us to see our province, and the wider world, in a new light. This is, in fact, exactly the type of thing we try do to in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office—offering a productive space for conversation, fostering empathy, and engaging all with challenging ideas.
By working in neighbourhoods and communities, the photographers have given us insight into how people are approaching the shared challenges we face as a society. They have taken to heart what the Sustainable Development Goals urge us to do: Think globally while acting locally.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair
Every year after harvest season in Ontario, communities across the province come together at local fall fairs to celebrate all things rural. For urban dwellers in Toronto, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair brings the country to the city, showcasing the best of agriculture, local food, and equestrian competitions every November for almost a century. Held at Exhibition Place, it is the largest indoor agricultural and equestrian show in the world, welcoming over 300,000 people each year.
For many visitors, animals are the stars of the Royal, from a friendly petting farm, to entertaining dog shows, to a range of livestock competitions that showcase some of the finest animals in the world. The Lieutenant Governor’s Cup, the beginning of which is marked by the viceregal’s arrival in a landau, is one of the main attractions at the Royal Horse Show, an indoor equestrian event where world-class riders and horses compete at the highest level in show jumping, indoor eventing, and dressage. In 2019, the renowned RCMP Musical Ride performed with a full troop of riders and their elegant black horses, delighting the crowds.
Farm to table
Some say food is at the heart of the fair, where the iconic butter tart now competes alongside craft beer. With a greater focus on quality and sustainability, a new local food pavilion invites visitors to taste and take home some of the most innovative dishes in the province. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs from all regions of Ontario to promote their products and recount their journeys from farm to table. Guests are keen to meet the people behind those journeys and learn more about their agribusinesses. They chat with artisans from the North about their unique handcrafted products, and they learn from celebrity chefs, who introduce diverse cuisines at a fair located in the world’s most multicultural city.
A place to grow
The Royal is also about education. Generations of schoolchildren enjoy hands-on experiences learning about agriculture in Canada. They meet rural kids their own age who are working to achieve coveted 4-H honours. Students of all ages hear educators from the University of Guelph talk about discoveries in science, technology, the arts, and entrepreneurship, all of which are changing the way we grow and consume food. They discuss how interactions with the environment, animals, and ingredients can make us healthier, create high-tech jobs, and protect our natural resources. For 98 years, The Royal has brought people together to share stories of their farming past and to dream big about the future.
My roots in rural Saskatchewan and experience with 4-H make The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair a very comfortable place to be. The fair also has a long history of welcoming members of the Royal Family, Governors General, and Lieutenant Governors, and was granted the Royal moniker by King George V in 1922.
Every time I have had the good fortune of attending The Royal, there has been something new to learn or marvel at, particularly initiatives in economic development. There is so much more to farming and food than meets the eye. From meeting with the Iroquois Cranberry Growers, who specialize in decadent chocolate covered cranberries in 2016, to Campaign for Wool events supported by Prince’s Trust Canada in 2017, I have always left with a renewed sense of just how fortunate we are in this province to have access to such talent and innovation—which ultimately nourishes us all.
Today, nearly a century since this fair’s inception, such opportunities for education and appreciation, with a diversity of regions, practices, and people coming together, are more important than ever. This is an experience that fosters mutual understanding and empathy.
The Royal’s enduring commitment to strengthening the pillars of sustainability is something in which we may take pride. Long may its cornerstone of tradition continue to bring us together and showcase the best that Ontario has to offer.
Fashion Takes Action
Last spring, students at Swansea Public School in Toronto organized a clothing swap—a popular event that helped raise awareness of the world’s textile waste crisis. Students, teachers, and parent volunteers collected and sorted through mounds of unwanted textiles, tagging over 2000 gently worn items as “swappable” as the community came together to browse for “new-to-me” garments. Swansea PS was one of many schools participating in the Fashion Impacts Challenge, an initiative of Fashion Takes Action (FTA), a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability in the fashion industry through education, awareness, and collaboration.
In 2017, people from across the fashion world gathered at the first World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (WEAR) in Toronto. WEAR, an initiative of Fashion Takes Action, promotes responsible textile production and consumption, and explores innovative technologies that help transform fashion into a circular economy. FTA also convenes the Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative (OTDC), a stakeholder group that includes over 40 charities, textile collectors, retailers, brands, academics, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations. It is committed to minimizing the number of textiles going into landfills by increasing the rate of textile diversion and encouraging reliable recycling.
Sustainability has become more than a trend in the fashion world. Environmentally responsible citizens are embracing movements like Slow Fashion to help reduce textile waste. They are purchasing fewer and better-quality garments that have been ethically produced, and they are recycling the rest. Yet even with clothing donations and retail take-back programs, a staggering 85% of unwanted textiles end up in landfills. In Ontario, postsecondary institutions like Ryerson University and Seneca, Sheridan, and George Brown Colleges have introduced programs to promote sustainable fashion education and research. In 2019, Seneca’s School of Fashion joined the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and hosted a symposium and exhibition dedicated to sustainable fashion.
Alongside The Salvation Army, Diabetes Canada, and other participating charities, municipalities in Ontario have begun to take an active role in textile diversion. The City of Markham launched a successful textiles recycling program and is the first city in Canada to ban residents from leaving textiles at the curb. Organizations like FTA are helping to transform the way people think. They have launched a new ad campaign with the catchy tagline: “Throwing away clothes is never in style.” They know that making a difference goes beyond sweeping changes in the fashion industry, and it will require the efforts of millions of caring citizens to make a world of difference.
As I engage with Ontarians from all walks of life, I have come to understand that while some may not actually use the word sustainability, there is still a widespread sense that people desire to live in a society in which prosperity is shared, where no one is left behind, and where the environment flourishes under our mutual care.
So, what is the connection to fashion?
Even though the word “fashion” has long been understood by many to be synonymous with things ephemeral and with disposable luxury, growing challenges are causing attitudes to change.
In the fall of 2018, I had the privilege of hosting the launch of Fashion magazine’s sustainability issue. Guest editor Sarah Jay gave a powerful speech, noting how she could no longer ignore the growing costs of fashion affecting just about every aspect of life on Earth and, crucially, humanity. For Sarah, sustainability “signifies a return to quality and thoughtful design, to treating our clothes like the good friends they are, and to luxuries that feed the soul as opposed to the fast-fashion machine.”
Happily, Sarah’s cause is picking up traction. In that same year, at Buckingham Palace, with the support of Her Majesty The Queen and members of the Royal Family, the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange showcased the wealth of design and artisan fashion talent across 53 countries while also promoting new networks, trade links, and lasting sustainable supply chains.
I have seen many incredible examples of growing awareness in Ontario, including the Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, the MaRS Catalyst fund competition, the George Brown Fashion Exchange, and the Seneca College Fashion Symposium. It gives me hope to see individuals and industries across sectors helping to determine how textile resuse and recycling can contribute to a vision of the future that has inclusive economic, environmental, and social goals.
In a poignant email to friends and close colleagues the great civic entrepreneur and visionary David Pecaut wrote of Toronto, “The most amazing thing that struck me at every turn was how many people from all walks of life in this city were passionately concerned with making it a great city.” Pecaut had a talent for convening people from varying backgrounds to collaborate on bold city-building goals. In 2002, he founded Toronto City Summit Alliance, now named CivicAction, before passing away in 2009. Today CivicAction remains a lasting legacy of Pecaut’s dedication to the city and region.
CivicAction is a non-profit organization that brings together established and emerging leaders from many sectors to tackle complex challenges impacting the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Every four years the non-profit hosts a summit that invites hundreds of civic leaders to connect and collaborate to resolve pressing urban issues. In 2019, the organization’s then-CEO Sevaun Palvetzian advocated for including new voices along with the next generation of leaders. Together they identified five areas of focus: the future of work for youth, unlocking inclusion in our cities, affordable housing, resilience to climate shock, and sex trafficking. Palvetzian’s message was simple, “We’re CivicAction, not CivicChitChat.”
Before stepping down in early 2020, Palvetzian led the launch of MindsMatter, CivicAction’s mental health assessment toolthat supports workplace culture and practices nationwide. Recently named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Sevaun Palvetzian is one of many influential leaders, board members, supporters and participants who have built CivicAction into the premier civic engagement organization in the country. As David Pecaut wrote, “Toronto’s gift to the world could be this unique and powerful model of city building that comes from collective leadership.” His passion and insight was a gift to his beloved city, and an inspiration to the many people who have since come together to improve the lives of millions.
CivicAction focuses on building inclusive cities that value the perspectives, experiences, abilities, and aspirations of all their residents. Throughout my term as Lieutenant Governor, I have seen how important it is that the places where we work, play, raise families, study, and age are resilient. All voices and experiences must be at the table when we look to build a future that works for everyone. The vision of David Pecault has, since 2002, been faithfully adhered to through CivicAction.
Indeed, all great leaders often see beyond their own immediate experience to a time when their work is realized for future generations. We are learning the importance of this vision today, in the activism from our youth and discontent we see in inequalities around the world.
In 2019, I attended the organization’s latest summit and was able to meet with people from non-profit, business, health services, government, academia, and more whose energy and enthusiasm was channeled into action. They were not merely content to discuss or ‘admire the problems’ facing their communities, together, they were inspired to act and make long-lasting change.
CivicAction is an organization that, through its very existence, seeks to address today’s challenges head on. The impact of its work in the five areas; future of work for youth, unlocking inclusion in our cities, affordable housing, resilience to climate shock, and sex trafficking, is already apparent. The lessons from its initiatives are being shared beyond Toronto to the rest of the province and I look forward to watching this organization as it expands its reach, influence, and impact.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Ontario Wines
In June 2019, George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality & Culinary Arts hosted their second annual Wine Symposium—a gathering that brings together leaders from various sectors to explore Ontario’s wine industry. Guest speakers provided their insights on sustainability, digital innovation, and the evolving customer experience. Keynote speaker, Steven Spurrier, an award-winning British wine expert, spoke about storytelling as central to making wines successful, saying “Fifty per cent of selling wine is having a story about it…”
The Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Ontario Wines has been showcasing the best of Ontario’s viticulture and winemaking for a decade. Since 2016, the awards have been delivered thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dan Paterson at Niagara College and the Ontario Wine Awards (OWA) and are set up to be a best-in-show of their VQA varietal quality winners. In 2019 there were a record number of OWA entries with 542 submissions from 78 wineries. There are now more than 150 wineries across the Niagara, Prince Edward County, and Lake Erie North Shore wine regions, as well as other emerging regions across Ontario. At the ceremony OWA founder Tony Aspler commented, “The team at the Ontario Wine Awards is privileged to have witnessed the incredible growth of the Ontario wine industry over the past 25 years”.
The stories of the wines are each compelling and the story of a student-crafted, barrel-fermented Chardonnay submitted by the Niagara College Teaching Winery, one of 11 winning wines at the 2019 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Ontario Wines, is no exception. Located at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus, the Teaching Winery is the first in the country and includes a 40-acre vineyard and state-of-the-art facilities. The applied learning techniques that go into creating the student-led winning wine is proof of the success of this unique approach to education and creation. Teacher Gavin Robertson, was also a graduate of the Teaching Winery, as were winemakers involved with many of the other award-winning wines celebrated that evening.
A Sustainable Industry
Wine producers see themselves as stewards of their land and are increasingly committed to sustainable practices. From soil to shelf, they embrace traditional methods as well as new technologies to integrate both sustainability and innovation into their businesses. Wine tourism in Ontario is thriving. Along with wine tastings, wineries host experiences like discovery hikes, outdoor concerts, picnics, and dining al fresco, as enthusiasts learn about the land, the grapes, and the process. It is an exciting time for the winemaking world in Ontario. No doubt, aficionados are hearing many interesting wine stories as they tour, taste, and toast.
Each year, it is a delight to witness the growth, changes, and new discoveries at the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Ontario Wines. The wine industry is a great Ontario success story—gastronomically, economically, agriculturally, and in terms of sustainability.
Environmentally, wine is quite literally an expression of the health of the soil and the water; the sensitive way that winemakers work with them is helping ensure good health for future generations. What’s more, as climate change creates instability, the wine industry must adapt and learn how to become resilient.
When it comes to prosperity and inclusion, at a time when people are leaving agricultural areas for urban centres, the industry leaders, students, and visitors are giving farmers a reason to stay. In 2019, it was especially wonderful to see the Niagara College Teaching Winery in the winners’ circle. Not only are they pioneers of education in the field of winemaking in Ontario, but the students are already making good on their potential.
People around the globe are now asking for Ontario wines; the innovative application of traditional techniques show just how our province is learning from, and contributing to, the rest of the world. This is in large part thanks to the Grape Growers of Ontario, the Wine Council of Ontario, the Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario, and VQA Ontario who support the awards and encourage the production of the amazing wines that win them.
Their achievement bodes well for the whole industry and the commitment to sustainability and innovation continues to keep Ontario on the cutting edge.
The Kitchener Waterloo Cluster
Back in 1984, it might have been difficult to imagine that a small tech startup from Waterloo, Ontario would help change the way the world communicates. By the early 1990s, Research In Motion (RIM) was providing communication systems technology that captured global attention. When its famous Blackberry smartphone was launched in 2002, it quickly became the must-have device in the business world, and shortly after gained wild popularity with the general public. RIM’s enormous success had a big impact on its local community—it was the catalyst for Waterloo Region’s remarkable growth into a thriving innovation hub.
Today the region, made up of the cities including Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, is home to many leading technology organizations like Communitech, an innovation hub committed to helping companies start, grow, and succeed, and which now supports more than 1,400 companies—from startups to large corporations. The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, created by RIM’s co-founder Mike Lazaridis, is the world’s largest research hub of its kind, training the next generation of physicists and sharing with students, teachers, and academics the excitement and wonder of science. The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an internationally recognized think-tank founded by the former CEO of RIM, Jim Balsillie. The CIGI Campus also houses the Balsillie School of International Affairs and other innovative organizations.
The University of Waterloo also fosters innovation and entrepreneurship through its policy that encourages students to own and leverage their intellectual property to create new companies. In 2018, University of Waterloo professor Dr. Donna Strickland received the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work in the field of pulsed lasers. In 2019, the University hosted the Global Solutions conference to showcase the region’s progressive sustainable development network, further expand on its diverse community, and promote collaboration between the university campus and nearby businesses. Many of those successful businesses are working hard to give back to their communities. They help launch events that champion women in STEM, provide innovative teaching strategies in modern physics, address climate change and environmental stewardship, and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Bright young minds
The region’s ongoing support of education and equality in science nourishes and inspires bright young minds. And it benefits from the leading research of 16 universities and colleges including the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto, which are recognized internationally for programs in computer science and engineering. Almost 20 years after the launch of the Blackberry, the region is a technology hot spot. It has often been referred to as “Canada’s Silicon Valley”, and as part of the Toronto Waterloo Region Corridor, it is now among the top 20 technology clusters in the world.
During my time as Lieutenant Governor, I have had the opportunity to visit communities across this vast, diverse, and fascinating province. In doing so, I have engaged with Ontarians of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.
The Ontarians I have met want a future that is resilient. Achieving this will require the best and brightest minds, the most innovative scientific and technological breakthroughs, and the sheer will of our citizens, here in Ontario and around the world.
The history of this region is one of evolution. Very early the university developed a unique educational model that introduced students to the world of work. The region grew into a place celebrated for its innovation and international collaboration. Over the years, we have seen the development of institutions like CIGI and the Institute of Quantum Computing – creating a launchpad for Ontarians to go out into the world and, in return, for people to be welcomed to this province in the spirit of the exchange of ideas and finding solutions to problems that extend beyond borders.
The Waterloo Region is world renowned for its capacity to engage with young people in thinking about how to create a better future. It now attracts, on an international scale, some of the greatest minds, researchers, scientists, policymakers, and innovators who are leading in their fields around the globe.
So many of the stories that we tell ourselves about the future are dystopias. Such cautionary tales serve an important function: they confront us with the very possible dark consequences of our neglect of the environment and our neighbours.
But we need utopias too.
I have visited the Waterloo Region many times over the last five years, engaging with students, academics, community organizations, and municipal leadership. The close proximity of all these levels of power creates sparks – energy that the rest of Ontario and the world is attempting to replicate. From Nobel Prize winners to mayors moving ahead on climate action, silos are being broken down while science speaks to everyday people and concerns in a way that can bring about a more resilient future. Though not a utopia, the region is a place to look to for inspiration and stories.
Call to action
In 2015, the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the General Assembly as a universal call to action to end poverty, empower women, protect the planet, and ensure that more of the world’s people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Across Canada, governments, organizations, and individuals took up the cause. Many private sector businesses in Ontario had sustainability plans already in place and were positioned to accelerate their targets to meet the 2030 Agenda. Working individually and collectively, small to medium to large scale businesses have stepped up and begun to transform their models, from supply chain to product sales, improving and growing each year.
In 2017, more than 50 leaders from business, government, and academia gathered for a Sustainability Summit in London, Ontario. They knew collaboration would increase their collective impact. The summit was organized by 3M Canada. “We work closely with our suppliers, our customers, and our communities—through events like the Sustainability Summit—to share ideas about how to work together to address the sustainability challenges we all face” said Mojdeh Poul, the company’s then-President. 3M’s sustainability strategy aligns to the SDGs, and they have already made strong progress against their targets.
Business networks are also taking collective action. Toronto-based Competent Boards provides professional development and advisory services focused on bringing sustainability insights to corporate boards, investors, and executives around the world. Global Compact Network Canada is dedicated to assisting businesses with the advancement of the SDGs. The Compact promotes the best practices of Canadian companies and connects them with the broader UN Global Compact network of 13,000 signatories in over 160 countries.
Newmarket electronics manufacturer Celestica was one of two Canadian companies named in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World in 2019. This Ontario-based enterprise has operations in over 29 worldwide locations and is known as a sustainability leader, incorporating the SDGs into their corporate strategy. It focuses on embedding the five elements of their sustainability program into their corporate culture—employee sustainability, environmental sustainability, material stewardship, sustainable solutions, and sustainable communities.
Unilever, another global company, has made massive strides in sustainable growth and consumer trust. Since 2008, they have seen a 52% reduction in their CO2 emissions and are committed to improving livelihoods of the 746,000 smallholder farmers in their supply chain. Former CEO and Awakening contributor, Paul Polman, suggests that the SDGs offer business unprecedented economic potential and that achieving them would produce valuable market opportunities, unlocking economic growth of upwards of $15 trillion while creating 380 million jobs by 2030.
Angora is a world-leading company based in Collingwood that fabricates the largest architectural glass in North America, from the CN Tower to skyscrapers in New York City. Beyond their unique products, what is remarkable is their approach to business puts people at the centre of their success and their thoughtful contributions to building sustainable community.
Collaboration and innovation
In 2019, Canada’s Greenest Employers list included Xerox Canada—a company with the ultimate goal of becoming a carbon-neutral organization. Xerox’s yearly Corporate Social Responsibility Report outlines its extensive sustainability program, including how it nurtures new businesses. The Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) is a state-of-the-art facility that houses a thriving Innovation Hub that supports promising Canadian start-ups and helps them grow their businesses.
Sustainability has been a part of my working life both past and present. Some days I feel the frustration of debates that I heard 30 years ago and yet there are moments of encouragement as more and more people embrace the agenda and move from rhetoric to action.
As I have travelled the province, I have seen businesses large and small who fundamentally understand what is means to be sustainable. From Hummingbird Chocolate in Almonte, where their supply chain is carefully monitored and the store is a beloved gathering place, to 3M in London, where innovation and technology are combined with a human scale effort to drive sustainability, and the Xerox Research Centre of Canada in Mississauga, where the next generation of businesses are being developed, Ontario is buzzing.
There are so any stories that demonstrate the important role of the business community in bringing together inclusive economic prosperity with social cohesion and environmental stewardship. In business we often see the qualities that we need in order to bring about a sustainable future, including visionary leadership, a dedication to creativity and innovation, and the ability to forge meaningful and strong cooperation. And, of course, entrepreneurial spirit. In business terms, this is an untapped market of—yes—potential customers, but also innovators and workers who we cannot afford to leave behind.
I take pride in the contributions that many in Ontario’s private sector are making to sustainability. Their truly visionary leadership is being felt here in our communities and far beyond our borders.
Niagara Parks Commission
An iconic landmark
Every year, millions of visitors to Niagara Falls, Ontario delight in the spectacle of one of the most wondrous waterfalls on the planet. From afar, viewers see lofty plumes of mist rising high above Canada’s Horseshoe Falls. Closer in, they hear a thunderous roar, as billions of cubic metres of water a year surge over the edge of the Niagara escarpment down toward Lake Ontario. As the largest in a trio of falls that collectively form the famous Niagara Falls, it is one of the most iconic natural attractions in the world, and has been a celebrated tourist destination in Canada for over a century.
A new commission
In 1885, Ontario’s third premier, Oliver Mowat, introduced the Niagara Falls Parks Act and founded the Niagara Parks Commission with the mandate to preserve and protect the natural and cultural heritage of Niagara Falls, and the whole Niagara River corridor. Over the past 135 years, the Commission has expanded to own and maintain over 3000 acres of land that stretches 56 kilometres from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Today, Niagara Parks, as it is commonly known, operates like a city within a city, providing police services, waste collection, and road maintenance.
The economic impact that Niagara Parks has in the region is tremendous. Last year, the Horseshoe Falls and the many other attractions that are managed by Niagara Parks helped bring in $1.2 billion in tourism spending and supported over 15,000 jobs. During the height of the tourist season, they employ over 1,700 people, making them one of the region’s largest employers. As a self-funded agency of the provincial government, Niagara Parks plays a significant role in the economic growth and vitality of the region and the province.
Niagara Parks is one of Ontario’s original environmental organizations and has an enviable record of natural habitat preservation and land stewardship. In 2018, it created an official environmental stewardship strategy, focusing on areas such as urban forestry management, conservation of the Niagara River shoreline, and supporting endangered species. Its Chippewa Grassland Bird Habitat Project is converting 120 acres of fallow fields into tallgrass prairies that will provide essential habitats for bird species and pollinators. The Niagara River Coastal Wetland Restoration project is using felled trees to restore 75% of the wetlands that were lost in the ecosystem due to development. Niagara Parks collaborative approach has led to the partnerships with 65 organizations, including the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre of Brock University. The Commission’s environmental plans include the pursuit of innovative conservation practices as they continue to build an organization that is itself sustainable in its policies, plans, and activities.
The Commission’s 10-Year strategic plan reaffirms its historic mandate while setting ambitious goals for the future that will see the organization continue to be an innovative example of sustainability, a welcoming and inspiring place offering a world-class experience, a source of national pride and identity, and one of the most spectacular parks in the world. Visitors from near and far will continue to explore the region’s remarkable cultural heritage, and they will continue to be awestruck by one of the planet’s greatest natural marvels. The Horseshoe Falls will capture the world’s imagination for centuries to come.
In the south of Ontario lies one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Niagara Falls holds mythic status for people well beyond the borders of this province. With its presence here comes great responsibility.
Niagara Parks has created an ecosystem of support that allows it to flourish and innovate. It’s molded by a history of leadership that recognized its unique potential.
When I visited the City of Niagara Falls in August 2019, I participated in a roundtable discussion with staff and members of Niagara Parks. The mayors from the surrounding communities joined as they all serve on the Board of Commissioners. I was impressed to learn about their collaborative approach to governance, which has allowed them to work across jurisdictions to achieve common goals. Their efforts to plan in 10-year cycles has enabled the organization to think long-term and connect the dots between environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and economic prosperity for the benefit of the region and our province. With this guidance and vision, Niagara Falls will remain a beloved icon for decades to come.
A Friendship Accord
An Historic Accord
On November 2, 2019, on Treaty 20 land and the traditional territory of the Michi Sagiig Anishinaabeg, an historic Friendship Accord was signed between Indigenous communities and municipalities in Peterborough County. The purpose was to allow each partner to “enhance and honour one another’s historical, political, economic, social and cultural relationships.” Dignitaries, community members, and young people were invited to witness the signing as representatives of Hiawatha First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, Selwyn Township, Otonabee South-Monaghan, the County of Peterborough, and Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development formalized their commitment to work together for the wellbeing of all their communities. The historic ceremony was followed by a celebratory reception and feast.
The name of the accord is Ezhi-Wiijikiwendiyang. In Ojibwe, this translates to “how we are friends.”
The idea for the Accord began in 2016 when the participants were selected for a national program called the Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI), which was coordinated through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (Cando). CEDI helps neighbouring municipalities and First Nations develop partnerships that establish mutually beneficial economic development to build more sustainable economies.
After being selected for the CEDI, each of the partners formalized their commitment by passing Council and Band resolutions committing for three years, from 2017 to 2020. “This partnership definitely demonstrates how to be good friends,” said Tanya Tourangeau, the CEDI program coordinator. “They wanted to set an example for everybody else.”
The vision, as articulated in the Friendship Accord, is to build “a partnership where we respectfully and collaboratively recognize our traditions and richness of culture and where, together, we share in a progressive, sustainable community with mutual prosperity achieved in balance with the preservation and protection of Mother Earth and the waters, now and for the next seven generations.”
The signatories believe that the Accord will demonstrate how six partners can work together to strengthen their communities.“I’m hoping it leads to a greater cultural understanding on all sides,” remarked Hiawatha First Nation’s Chief, Laurie Carr. “This accord will enable us to work together in the spirit of unity, co-operation, and build a partnership to help each other.” Her Accord partner, Emily Whetung, Chief of Curve Lake First Nation, agreed: “I think it’s a recognition of our inherent rights and our desire to work together.” Chief Whetung was joined at the ceremony by the notable former chief of Curve Lake, Keith Knott, who believes it is vital for all partners to focus on the future: “We must start looking forward—seeing where the horizon is and seeing what is beyond the horizon.”
Inclusive economic prosperity is often a goal to be achieved, a strategy set in place where the best-case scenarios mean that no one is left behind. What is so powerful about the Friendship Accord is that inclusive economic prosperity is not a future ideal but an active practice—one that is done in the spirit of friendship, rather than as a winner-take-all approach.
Changes to how we relate to our fellow human beings are happening faster than we can describe them. As computers and algorithms promise ever more connectedness, the nature and the value of the connections are often unclear.
And yet friendship is more than simple connections. True friendship is about forging meaningful ties. Ties that are intended to withstand the uncertainty brought by the existential change of our age. The Friendship Accord is an unabashed expression of hope and faith. It is an ambitious collaboration that makes good on the potential of local institutions, which are closest to the people. It is an example for all of us, on how to connect the dots between economic, environmental, and social issues. Above all, it recognizes the role of people in cultivating common ground, while respecting different cultural traditions for a more sustainable future.
It was a genuine privilege to witness the signing of the Accord and to see for myself the friendship that has been built over the years.
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
The Rideau River
If you were a traveller following the Rideau River by boat, you would find yourself passing through kilometres of ancient seabed, now farmland on top of limestone, before dropping nine metres into the Ottawa River. Explorer Samuel de Champlain, the first European to see this phenomenon, named it Rideau, meaning “curtain” in French.
Designated a Canadian Heritage River, the Rideau drains an area of over 4000 square kilometres, and its watershed is home to more than 600,000 people whose economic, social, and environmental well-being is closely linked to its existence.
For over 50 years, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) has been protecting and enhancing the Rideau watershed to ensure it stays healthy and sustainable for generations. Today, the woodland trails, marsh boardwalks, lakeside beaches, and meandering waterways of the eleven conservation areas managed by the RCVA attract over 200,000 outdoor enthusiasts each year.
As one of 36 Conservation Authorities in the province, the RVCA works closely with all levels of government, landowners, and community groups to preserve a healthy ecosystem along the Rideau River and improve natural resources in the watershed. They are committed to building resilient communities by promoting an integrated approach—one that balances human, environmental, and economic needs. Residents are encouraged to explore and enjoy the watershed’s natural beauty and learn how they can help to protect it.
Strong partnerships and programs
Collaborative programs such as tree-planting, habitat creation, landowner incentives, and shoreline restoration allow Rideau Valley Conservation Authority staff to work closely with Indigenous groups, lake associations, businesses, and the general public. Thanks to strong partnerships and fundraising, they are hopeful that their passion and efforts to protect the Rideau watershed’s natural resources will ensure a thriving environment.
Both the Baxter and Foley Mountain Conservation Areas offer curriculum-based outdoor education programs and day camps that inspire students of all ages to learn about environmental stewardship. Within the city of Ottawa, the Chapman Mills Conservation Area features a walking trail and boardwalk that follow the natural shoreline of the Rideau River. The trail leads visitors through wetland and floodplain areas and past a series of interpretive signs that outline the river’s environmental story at points along the way. Chapman Mills also features two fish habitat compensation projects, and in recent years, dedicated community volunteers have planted over 1500 trees on the site.
Most Ontarians are united in their desire for a world that works for everyone, in which the environment thrives under our mutual care. Science and research, science education, and conservation—core values of institutions like the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority—remain fundamental to our understanding of our world as we seek to design policies that respond effectively to change.
In Ontario, we have a collective connection to the water around us. We all share a responsibility to be good stewards. Collaboration is key, and when I visited the RVCA in 2019, during the flooding affecting much of the Ottawa region, I witnessed the power of community commitment and long-term strategy. Despite dealing with the urgency of the floods, thanks to the RVCA’s 50-year history and experience, they already had a long-term strategy to implement solutions. I could see how thoughtful staff, landowners, and volunteers were in their planning and how they took an holistic approach to watershed management that balanced the three pillars of sustainability.
The results of the RVCA’s care and commitment was made clear when I had the opportunity to visit the Chapman Mills Conservation Area. There, I witnessed first-hand the way social cohesion happens when the community engages with, and celebrates, their local protected environment. They are supporting the economic well–being of the region by completing 88 kilometers of hazard mapping to guide landowners and businesses with development and are improving the environment, increasing flood resistance by planting their six millionth tree.
A resilient future requires all of society to be involved, and the RCVA, with leadership and vision, has mastered inclusive planning and engagement, for the benefit of all.
This past winter, residents in and around the GTA, bundled up and headed to the Toronto Zoo in Scarborough to experience a bold vision of our planet’s future. Beginning at nightfall each evening, Terra Lumina: An Enchanted Night Walk Into A Bright Future transported visitors on a fantastical journey to the year 2099—a time when humans and nature have learned to live in harmony again. Created especially for the Toronto Zoo by Montreal-based Moment Factory, the installation provided a compelling and educational experience. Entering through a portal of light, patrons followed a walking path through eight thematic zones featuring animated projections of wildlife and enchanting landscapes. Dazzling lighting, compelling storytelling, original soundscapes, and other innovative technologies illuminated Terra Lumina’s dream of a thriving future. A time machine may not be what one expects to find at a zoo, but the Toronto Zoo is exceptional at finding creative ways of fostering dialogue and encouraging the community to think about protecting the natural environment.
A conservation leader
Since opening over 40 years ago, more than 50 million people have visited the Toronto Zoo, which is currently home to over 5,000 animals living in naturalistic pavilions. But the organization believes those figures are not the only measures of their success—the zoo also works to save and protect species and their habitats, in Canada, and around the world.
As a leader in wildlife research, conservation, nutritional physiology, and reproductive sciences, the zoo’s new state-of-the-art Wildlife Health Centre has further established the organization as an institution of excellence in high-quality animal care. Its innovative exhibitions and educational programming provide visitors, young and old, with tangible experiences that shape the way we see ourselves in our own ecosystems.
Great Lakes program
Each year, more than 20,000 educators and students participate in the organization’s Great Lakes Program. Together with 3,000 members of the public, they contribute to habitat rehabilitation through shoreline clean-ups and group tree plantings. The zoo’s message of water conservation encourages everyone to “Keep our Great Lakes Great” while learning about local at-risk aquatic species. The Aqua-Links conservation program gives students a hands-on experience raising the endangered Atlantic salmon. In 2019, 26 schools participated in the classroom hatchery program, with their students releasing 3,000 salmon fry into nearby waterways that spring. A particular treat for young urban students!
The same year, a powerful outdoor exhibition called Washed Ashore: Art To Save The Sea by American artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, featured larger-than-life animal sculptures built completely from plastics found in the world’s oceans and waterways. Each year, marine animals die after ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic, a fact the exhibition poignantly communicated. The Toronto Zoo’s timely exhibitions and education programs raise awareness and promote positive changes in consumer habits. The organization is committed to practising and developing activities that benefit wildlife. Inspired by the optimistic messages offered in Terra Lumina, they are taking action to ensure a bright and hopeful future.
An experience at a zoo, for a young person, can be transformative. Animals from books and cartoons are suddenly there in real life. Awe and wonder, alongside education and empowerment, can shape how one sees their responsibility to the environment and larger world. No matter how many times I have been to the Toronto Zoo as Lieutenant Governor, I always experience a sense of reverence, even as an adult. It is with great pride that I have listened to the vision and enthusiasm of the veterinarians, the scientists and researchers, and the leadership of this treasured institution. Their understanding of sustainability is profound. It is the unique way that the Toronto Zoo promotes social cohesion, bringing together the young and old, students and seniors, in support of a cause that is essential to Ontarians, but also it is the way in which they connect us with animals, science, and environments well beyond our borders, that is most striking. By using art and the animals themselves to tell stories and encourage understanding and conversation, the zoo is planting the seeds of change into everyone who visits, large or small.
Throughout Ontario the United Way has become a critical part of our communities. It illustrates the important role of civil society, alongside and often in partnership with government and the private sector, in meeting the needs of a cohesive society.
A call to action
In 2015, Farhia Warsame’s life changed forever when she received the news that one of her sons had been shot and killed in their northwest Toronto neighbourhood known as Dixon. Two years after her loss, Warsame led the Dixon community in a call for action to end gun violence. “Most Somali parents left Somalia for an improved life, not more violence for their families,” she said. Warsame is the executive director of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network (SWCSN), a non-profit serving immigrant women and children. Founded in 1992 and funded by the United Way Greater Toronto, SWCSN encourages women in the community to come together, share skills and childcare, while providing a broad range of programs and services. It supports refugees, newcomers, and low-income women and their children through employment training and helping to develop their leadership and language skills. The women who use the SWCSN face enormous social and cultural barriers. The difficulty of isolation and accessing housing, education, and employment is alleviated through building upon their social network and fostering community and resilience.
One of the main challenges to providing consistent programing in the Dixon area has been access to space. Another United Way funded agency, Delta Family Resource Centre (DRFC), has had to be creative in how they provide their services to families and seniors, including counselling, résumé workshops, food banks, fitness activities for seniors, clothing repair, and more. Over the last 37 years, the DFRC has become known for outreach that enhances the potential of families and children. Both non-profits typify the extraordinary agencies that help the United Way identify needs and mobilize its resources for the most impact.
Thousands of volunteers
In Durham Region, the United Way funds over 20 agencies supported by more than 1000 volunteers. Since 1962, the John Howard Society (JHS) of Durham Region has worked to reduce the impact of crime and its causes by providing effective prevention and intervention programs. It offers individuals who are at-risk counselling, literacy, housing, harm reduction, and employment support. Along with other Durham Region agencies, JHS benefits from the United Way’s strong community patronage. The beloved Ontario Hockey League team the Oshawa Generals have hosted fundraising events to bring attention to the importance of battling poverty and its impact on people in their community. For over a century, the United Way has been improving lives in Ontario and across the country.
The United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (UWKFLA) funds agencies like One Roof, a Youth Services Hub comprised of 15 organizations that work together to provide one-on-one support, group programs, and workshops. They offer young people in need access to healthcare, housing, education, life skills, and employment services. As part of the UWKFLA’s integrated system of care and homelessness reduction strategy, the Hub provides safe spaces for vulnerable youth. Throughout the province, a network of 28 local United Ways share similar goals; create opportunities for a better life for everyone, and build strong, healthy communities.
Each December, hundreds of Ontario’s public servants join me in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite to celebrate another year of volunteering and fundraising for the United Way. The mood is festive and joyful, and yet every year, I continue to be overwhelmed by the amount of need, and of the inequality that exists here in Ontario. To build a resilient and inclusive province, there must be individuals who are willing to help, as well as organizations like the United Way, which have the infrastructure to make a great impact in every community. In my travels from the east to west, north to south, I hear stories of how the organization is helping to lift people from poverty, provide educational and health services, and build a sense of social cohesion. From the Youth Services Hub in Kingston, to the cohesive and thoughtful approach of the John Howard Society in Durham, and to the powerful and resilient women leaders of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network and the Delta Family Resource Centre in Toronto, I have seen how their support helps to create a sustainable future for so many in this province.
In the United Way Greater Toronto’s 2019 report Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation, the chapter headings alone are distressing: “Young adults are more disadvantaged today.” “Immigrants are not catching up anymore.” “The racial divide has grown over time.” “Income inequality undermines the bonds that hold societies together.”
Yet hope springs eternal, particularly when we take care to share our stories of success. Because in Ontario we have so much to learn and to contribute. Together, we can provide a strong foundation for a more sustainable and resilient society at home and across the province. We all have a role to play.
Outland Youth Employment Program
Every summer, thousands of high school students leave the classroom and take their first steps into the workforce. If they are lucky, their jobs can foster growth and leadership skills, while providing hands-on experience and allowing them to earn an income. Over the past 20 years, the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) has provided income and learning opportunities to hundreds of Indigenous young people.
Much like other OYEP camps across the country, in 2018, more than 20 youth from 12 communities travelled to a former ranger camp at Esker Lakes Provincial Park near Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Over six weeks, they participated in natural resources fieldwork and land-based learning while living alongside trained OYEP staff. Upon completion of the program, they earned senior level high school co-op credits and shared valuable experiences that will help set a foundation for their future.
Outland, founded in 1985, operates remote workforce housing, including camps for tree planters and wildfire fighters. In 2000, noting the lack of an Indigenous workforce in their northern camps, the company developed OYEP to provide green job opportunities for this underrepresented group in the forestry sector. Since then, the initiative has grown into a national and award-winning training, education, and employment program through partnerships with public, private, and Indigenous organizations. OYEP has an inclusive approach to Indigenous education and environmental stewardship, while supporting future economic prosperity. “Building their personal networks and giving youth a larger sense of accomplishment and pride promotes the confidence youth need to step out and take control of their own lives,” says Dave Bradley, OYEP’s founder.
Building blocks for the future
Beyond the camps, OYEP collaborates with post-secondary institutions across the country along with local First Nations. Part of the program includes Science Week, when the students take field trips to visit local campuses, hear guest speakers, and gain hands-on experience in STEM. Denise Baxter, Vice-Provost of Lakehead University, describes the initiative as very important, saying, “today’s youth are better equipped to appreciate how an understanding of STEM and natural resource management impacts their day-to-day lives and the prosperity of communities across the north.” An important aspect of the program is learning about the history, policies, and effects of residential schools through activities like the Kairos Blanket Exercise with Elders from partner First Nations.
The collective effort and unique expertise of the OYEP partners have led to meaningful outcomes for both program graduates and stakeholders. JP Gladu, former President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, commented on the participants’ personal and professional achievements: “OYEP is about leadership and inspiring others. Making sure you’re leaving a positive impact on the world. The confidence they begin to build throughout their time in the program causes their voices to raise. The participants start to recognize there is a beautiful life ahead of them.” To date, OYEP has created 1,251 summer jobs in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia. Participants, who represent over 100 First Nations, have achieved 743 high school credits and worked over 350,000 hours planting more than two million trees.
Each year, usually during the hottest days of the summer, I embark on a Northern Tour. I will visit fly-in First Nations communities and spend time hearing from Elders, community leaders, and youth. These visits are without a doubt some of the most important parts of my mandate and provide some of the most eye-opening and rewarding work.
An afternoon visit to the OYEP Esker Lakes location in August 2018 became one of my most memorable events in the last five years. It was the end of the summer, the youth had achieved their high school credits, they had learned how to plant trees, and they had made bonds and friendships that, as any camper knows, can last a lifetime.
They were full of stories, confidence, and questions. The stories and questions were not necessarily easy and brought into stark contrast the inequalities that exist in our province. Laurenn, a tall and courageous young woman, looked me in the eye and asked, “why do I have a better chance of being a missing or murdered Indigenous woman than I do being a high school graduate? My people are not greedy for money, we are greedy for water.”
Through programs like OYEP, these young people are able to see a future that balances environmental stewardship with inclusive economic prosperity. This initiative encourages a post-secondary education and furthers social cohesion. I am convinced of the importance of the camp and its power to create a more resilient future for these young people.
Food and family
When Michelle Genttner and her husband, Luis Martins, were planning to open a community grocery store in Toronto last year, the couple knew they didn’t want it to be a typical supermarket. After owning a gastropub for seven years, they were aware of the excessive food and packaging waste that is generated every day. They both grew up in agricultural communities, hers in southwestern Ontario, and his in southern Portugal. “We were raised to recognize and appreciate our food and where it comes from: be it trees, gardens, streams, or pastures. Food and family are intrinsic in both of our memories,” they wrote.
The couple purchased a small grocery store in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood and launched Unboxed Market, the city’s first zero-waste market. To create their sustainable business, they transformed the space and its stock. Customers are asked to bring their own containers and are encouraged to reduce food waste by buying only what they need. Unboxed Market offers prepared foods, fresh produce, and dry goods, and includes a café, a cheese and charcuterie counter, and a butcher counter with Ontario-grown products. Nearly all of what they sell is locally sourced and package-free. Biodegradable paper and reusable packaging are available for those new to the zero-waste shopping experience.
Recent statistics reveal that the average Canadian generates over 900 kilograms of waste every year, and that with increasing public awareness, consumers are looking for ways to lower that number. In many regions of the province, zero-waste grocery stores have been enthusiastically welcomed by eco-conscious communities. Unlike traditional bulk-food stores, they offer fresh, ready-made, refrigerated, and frozen items. Nu Grocery in Ottawa has opened two zero-waste stores since 2017. In Waterloo, Zero Waste Bulk sells Ontario-grown produce and locally made sustainable items. After initiating popular pop-up locations across Toronto, Bare Market recently opened a new storefront location in the city’s Danforth neighbourhood. The Nickel Refillery is encouraging people in Sudbury to embrace zero-waste shopping through community engagement and workshops.
A waste-free journey
While most products at the zero-waste markets are sold without packaging, and single-use plastics are avoided in favour of recyclable, compostable, and reusable materials, the waste savings go far beyond what is found in retail shops. Through collaboration with suppliers, producers, and farmers, waste is also being minimized along the supply chain. Over the past year, Unboxed Market says it has saved the equivalent of more than 20,000 single-use jugs and containers. Co-owner Michelle Genttner told Eat North that the store’s accomplishments are a direct reflection of Toronto’s waste-free journey: “Toronto has an active and vocal zero-waste community. Along with the early adopters, the neighbourhood has really embraced this concept.”
Throughout my travels across the province, I am always searching for examples of sustainable living to share with Ontarians. Often, the concept of sustainability can feel large and burdensome. A project or goal might take years to accomplish along with requiring collaboration on a wide scale.
Ontarians care about sustainability and celebrate innovation. When I visited the Unboxed Market, Toronto’s first zero-waste grocery store, I saw first-hand how little packaging is truly needed for many of the products we use daily.
These zero-waste markets are dedicated to reducing waste and encouraging change and they demonstrate easy and fun ways to shrink our environmental footprint. Taking sustainability into our own hands, we see the impact, from environmental stewardship to inclusive economic prosperity. It is also something we can each do an individual scale. The option to use our personal purchasing power to encourage companies, supply chains, and manufacturers to think more carefully about their role in environmental stewardship is incredibly rewarding. Offering waste-free options for so many of the population’s basic necessities is a wonderful way to re-shape the way we approach consumption.
It is also worth noting that these initiatives address the third element of sustainability – building social and cultural cohesion. These operations often become central to communities. By supporting those in our neighborhoods we actually meet and come to better understand those with whom we share the daily tasks of life. These stories are examples of the small and effective steps we can all take to build a more sustainable and resilient future.
Established in 1903 on traditional Cree lands, Moosonee was originally built to rival Moose Factory, the famous Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur-trading post located on a nearby island. Built in 1730, Moose Factory is one of the oldest settlements in Ontario and the second HBC trading post in North America.
Visitors to Moose Factory board the Polar Bear Express in Cochrane, Ontario and travel 300 kilometres through remote northern wilderness before arriving in the Town of Moosonee known as the “Gateway to the Arctic”. Train service began in 1932 and continues to be the town’s only land link to the province’s south. Situated on the Moose River, just south of James Bay, Moosonee is the Ontario Northland Railway’s terminus and Ontario’s only saltwater port. From there, boat taxis and a winter ice road connect Moose Factory to the municipality and mainland.
Its heritage buildings and landmarks, including the Moose Factory Buildings from the HBC trading post that date back to the 1800s, have been designated as part of a National Historic Site on the island. Today, Moose Factory is home to Moose Cree First Nation, a thriving community.
Long before HBC, Cree people lived in the heart of the James Bay watershed for millennia. The Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre in Moose Factory tells stories of their past and present culture, and displays their traditional craft. In 2000, Moose Cree First Nation, led by the late Chief Randy Kapahesit, developed an ecolodge to promote Indigenous tourism and provide economic sustainability. Surrounding the lodge is a large community garden. The Cree Village Eco Lodge reflects the Chief’s bold vision and represents the environmental and cultural values of the First Nation. As North America’s first Indigenous ecolodge, it is recognized as one of the top eco-destinations on the continent.
A bird sanctuary
Eco-tourists make the long trip north to explore the sub-arctic landscape in one of the largest wetlands in the world. Boat excursions take them to the Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, where they can observe tidal marine wildlife in the salt waters of James Bay, and perhaps view the spectacular Aurora Borealis across the sky. Their guide might tell them about Chief Randy Kapahesit and his words at the opening of the ecolodge: “We believe it is possible to engage ourselves and our visitors in a modern dialogue that challenges us all to see our relationship with each other and the natural world in a different light.”
Moose Factory is an island steeped in history that is moving quickly into a community-focused future. When I visited in the summer of 2018, I was fascinated to see the Hudson’s Bay staff house, one of the oldest wooden structures in Ontario, and the newly built assisted living centre existing along the same shoreline.
It was evident in the stories I heard from the warm and generous Moose Cree First Nations people that their deep connection to the land and its history was very present in their everyday lives. While touring the National Historic Sites and Moose Factory Centennial Museum Park, I was stopped by many passersby, who shared with me their memories of the buildings, including St. Thomas’ Anglican Church. Completed in 1885, it once held services in both Cree and English and served as a pillar in the histories of many families of the First Nation. Indeed, the experiences of the Elders are very much valued and the new assisted living centre, which was self-funded, provides state-of-the-art accessible living and healthcare. It is as important to the cultural legacy of the community as the historic buildings. Keeping their Elders close to family and as part of their communities is an essential part of social cohesion and a lesson Ontarians might well learn from.
The Cree language is also flourishing. The John R. Delaney Youth Centre is a colourful and interactive place of learning with the Cree alphabet painted onto the walls and everyday objects labelled in Cree. Young people were full of pride in their culture, and I spent a fun afternoon in the centre doing a live radio interview speaking about my experience on the island. When youth are provided with space to grow and learn, we see the development of unlimited potential in the next generation. Access to education and cultural learning is a cornerstone of inclusive economic prosperity, a pillar of sustainability that the community understands deeply.
Situated on the banks of the Moose River, where belugas pass by, and the long days and nights are reflected off the water, the Eco Lodge demonstrates much of what makes this part of the province so special. Being able to stay in this place, while mitigating our footprint on the land, is central to Indigenous ways of life. And while going through the guestbook at the Eco Lodge, I was filled with pride by seeing how many names from around the world were there. Through putting environmental stewardship at the centre of their hospitality, all visitors to Moose Factory are welcomed into Indigenous culture in a holistic and meaningful way.
One of the most memorable moments was an early morning boat trip past the bird sanctuary out to the mouth of James Bay – stillness and water as far as the eye could see. I was led on this tour by a local woman named Ann Wesley, who shared with me her knowledge of the land and its wildlife, and her personal story of resilience.
The people of Moose Factory seem to understand sustainability intuitively. Visitors and those of us across Ontario who wish to see the three pillars in practice can learn a great deal from them.
How to Change the World
In 2018, Dr. Jason Blackstock founded How to Change the World, an experiential learning program that empowers people, organizations, and communities to tackle the world’s most important challenges. Dr. Blackstock believes societies already have the expertise to solve many of the daunting problems humanity faces today. The program brings technical, economic, and social talent together in one place, and guides participants through a collaborative process that can transform complex challenges into positive change. Last winter, over 200 university students, early-career, and experienced professionals, experts, and educators came together to participate in How to Change the World’s Canada 2020 program in Toronto.
Organized in partnership with the Canadian and Ontario Societies of Professional Engineers (OSPE), the inaugural Canada 2020 brought together participants to explore how their skills could be mobilized to create sustainable solutions to real world problems. The interdisciplinary teams were asked to tackle particular societal problems in the areas of energy and sustainable cities. Each problem was paired with a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with one of the new Canadian Engineering Grand Challenges (CEGCs). Teams collaborated to develop innovative and concrete plans to address one of four challenges that were part of program, two of which were set in a Canadian context and two were set in an international context.
One team proposed the idea of supporting towns in Ladakh, India, through solar-powered community hubs that utilize a variety of solar technologies including cookstoves, lights, charged batteries for home use, water heaters for hygiene, and tablets for education. Another created a model designed to capture the wasted heat from gas turbines via a combined heat and power (CHP) system to improve space heating, cooling, and domestic hot water in Inuvik. The experience helped participants understand how to apply the SDGs and CEGCs to their work. In a showcase on the final day, each team delivered a passionate five-minute pitch of their plan to a panel of expert judges who awarded the best idea overall, the most creative, and the most implementable for each of the four challenges.
My conversations with Ontarians led my office to focus on sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the last five years, I have seen how these Goals can be applied by communities, industries, and non-profits. When I spent a Friday evening with the participants of How to Change the World, I was inspired to see how the Goals have become so integrated into how these young people think about the impact of their future and careers, and how their knowledge of the SDGs clearly went beyond the immediacy of the program’s challenges.
Working in diverse teams from mixed sectors gave the participants a unique opportunity to network and to see the Goals applied to various industries. It equipped university students and early-career engineering, business, and policy professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to create positive, sustainable change. There were endless paths of possibilities charted during this event. In fact, some made plans to continue work on the challenge they addressed.
By breaking down the silos between the three pillars of sustainability—inclusive economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and social cohesion— participants saw how their collective technical knowledge and skills were crucial in developing impactful solutions to societal problems. Most importantly, they also included a human dimension to their solutions that put people at the centre of change. The Canada 2020 program helped to empower all participants to address issues that may not appear to have a direct effect on their immediate experiences and yet, the links between the local and global became clear over the course of the event. The conversations I had that Friday evening resonated with me and I look forward to seeing these emerging leaders realize their vision for a sustainable future. Their continued collaboration could indeed help to change the world.
A unique hospice
In 1988, an old Victorian house in downtown Toronto was transformed into a unique hospice to provide compassionate care for people dying from HIV/AIDS. Founded by the well-known activist and journalist June Callwood, Casey House opened its doors as a much-needed refuge after years of stigma and loss in the gay community. In the three decades since, the charity has transitioned from a palliative care hospice into a specialized hospital caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2017, it moved operations into a beautifully restored Victorian mansion nearby, and built a striking new addition that extends an entire city block.
Comforts of home
The expanded Casey House is a state-of-the-art facility for both inpatient as well as outpatient care, through their innovative day health program. Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, the addition provides a safe environment that evokes the comforts of home and reflects the hospital’s holistic approach to health and wellbeing. A ground-floor atrium with a beautiful limestone fireplace offers a welcoming gathering space. An inner garden courtyard is visible from every corridor and allows direct sunlight to flood into inpatient rooms on the third floor. Throughout the building, locally sourced materials create a warm atmosphere that feels more like a home than a hospital.
A world leader
With medical advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS many people with the disease are living longer active lives. In spite of such positive progress, the need for Casey House is greater than ever. In more vulnerable Ontario communities, HIV infection rates are still increasing, and today there are more people living with HIV/AIDS than in 1988. The hospital has become a world leader in HIV/AIDS healthcare, and its thoughtfully planned expansion has allowed it to meet the evolving needs of hundreds of clients each day.
Joanne Simons, Casey House’s CEO sums up this transformation:
“In the eighties, during the HIV crisis, there was a huge stigma – as there is today – around HIV, and our facility was in the shadows of this community. Nearly 30 years later, we’re making a very bold statement. We’re not hiding anymore.
Casey House has evolved from a place where people come to die, to a place where they come to get better. It’s a place where clients are treated without judgement, but with compassion and kindness. It’s a place where people are people first and their HIV/AIDS doesn’t define who they are.”
A bold initiative
With a large illuminated sign announcing its new hub on Toronto’s prominent Jarvis Street, Casey House has increased its visibility in the city and in the community. It launched a bold new initiative called #smashstigma to tackle the deeply ingrained stigma associated with HIV. The story of its pop-up restaurant named June’s HIV+ Eatery was chronicled in an award-winning documentary and started a global conversation that is helping to change perceptions of those living with HIV and AIDS. The caring staff at Casey House believe their clients’ humanity should be more visible than their disease. It’s what they’ve done from the very beginning.
Casey House began as Canada’s only stand-alone treatment facility for people with HIV/AIDS, and over the years it has come to represent many of Ontario’s best qualities: diversity, inclusivity, and equality. Throughout its history, the work of this facility to provide a safe and judgement free space has remained consistent and focused. When I visited in June 2018, on their 30thanniversary, I was struck by the dedication of the staff and volunteers to their mission. As the honoured group of 2018 Toronto Pride, it is clear that Casey House has achieved and continues to seek out social cohesion – a central pillar of sustainability.
Their initiative Smash Stigma, tells stories of those who are living with HIV/AIDS and puts a human face on a disease that has historically come with judgement and fear. Stories are what build empathy, and yet the building of Casey House itself tells a story. It is a melding of a Victorian mansion and a modern glass structure that has been recognized with an Ontario Association of Architects Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Design Excellence and the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation, for the work undertaken by Hariri Pontarini Architects and ERA Architects, respectively. This unique structure gives a sense that the old and the new are embracing. From air quality to sound absorption, each detail was carefully considered. Using Greenguard certified materials, it demonstrates innovation, excellence, sensitivity, and empathy, along with a strong sense of environmental stewardship – another key pillar of sustainability.
With the incredible research, care, and facilities available at Casey House many people living with HIV/AIDS today are now leading fulfilled lives, and have been welcomed back into the work force. Through advocacy and public education programs, like those offered at this remarkable institution, the ability to achieve inclusive economic prosperity, the final pillar of sustainability, has become a reality for many to the benefit of all.
With its rich history and forward-looking approach to health, inclusivity, and education, Casey House says something to the rest of the world about who we are as Ontarians. We are a place of hope, of community, and of striving for a better, more resilient future. I know that this important and vital institution will continue to inspire us for the next 30 years and beyond.