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.