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Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan—A National Healing
Forests Project at St. Matthew’s United Church

The Healing Garden at St. Matthew’s United Church began as a small circle of Sacred Medicines—Tobacco, Sweetgrass, Sage, and Cedar—that expanded to include heritage food plants just as Covid 19 arrived in our midst. Elder Pedhubun Migizi Kwe/Dr. Catherine Brooks, gifted the garden the name Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan at our first Fall Equinox Ceremony in 2020.

The site is both a place to remember those lost to Residential
Schools and other forms of violence as well as a place to celebrate Indigenous spirituality and cultural resilience. Ceremonial songs and drums resound off the surrounding buildings with each change of season, as the local community is invited to reconnect with the Land and Waterways right where they live.

Led by Teachings from Elder Catherine and Elders Dan and Mary Lou Smoke, Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan has developed significantly under the stewardship of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group at St. Matthew’s. We are grateful for generous donations and grants from community members, the United Church of Canada, PollinateTO, Park People, Canada Summer Jobs, and the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto.


Right Relations Food and Medicine Garden

The Right Relations Food and Medicine Garden is at the centre of the space, defined by a community-built, spiral fence of “Siberian bamboo.” The 3 Sisters of Haudenosaunee agriculture—corn, beans, and squash—receive additional protection from the high winds in this urban canyon from a tipi of 7 poles for each of the 7 Grandfather Teachings. Tomatoes and other plants native to the Americas also flourish here.

The Medicine Wheel north of the 3 Sisters mound is now
surrounded by wild strawberries, raspberries, blue cardinal
flower, butterfly weed, and bergamot. Some non-native plants,  such as the Rose of Sharon and culinary herbs gifted by community members, are included.

Commemoration and Ceremony

The north end of the garden emphasizes commemoration and Ceremony. A burlap and sinew banner and shoe memorial after Haida artist, Tamara Bell, reminds us that every child matters; a red dress hanging in the yew tree references the REDress Project of Metis artist, Jaime Black, and honours Elder Mary Lou’s sister, Debbie Sloss Clarke.

A round Rain Garden and Conversation Circle echo the shape of the full moon in Bert Whitecrow’s Ode’min Giizas panel high on the church wall, while half moon gardens continue along the wall and sidewalk. Posters on the trees recall the now-hidden waters of Ziibing/Taddle and Garrison Creeks that flow below.

The south end of the garden, known as the Children’s Garden, is, like those in the north, dedicated primarily to native plants and pollinator habitat. Many monarchs, swallowtails, and even a rare blue hairstreak have been spotted among the flowers along with more native bees than we can name, let alone count.

National Healing Forests Project

In 2021, we became the first Toronto project to affiliate with the coast-to-coast-to-coast National Healing Forests initiative. As of 2022, we have been joined by the Miinikaan Indigenous Teaching Garden at the Bickford Centre and Tollkeeper’s Park. We are grateful to have the endorsement of Anishnawbe Health Toronto as the National Healing Forests network in our city expands.

Together, we are marking places where Indigenous and non-
Indigenous people can come together for truth-telling about

Canada’s colonial and continuing history, and act for justice.

Learn more at www.

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