Today, Toronto City Council allocated an additional $2 million towards the construction of the Spirit Garden, also known as the Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) Restoration of Identity Project, on Nathan Phillips Square to honour residential school survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.
The additional $2 million in City funding allocated by Council today will be realized from Section 37 community benefits. Section 37 of the provincial Planning Act is as an essential tool for building sustainable, healthy and complete neighbourhoods and permits the City to authorize increases in permitted height and/or density in return for community benefits.
Residential schools operated in Canada for more than 160 years and were federally funded and church-run. First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their families and communities, put into these schools and forced to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages in order to assimilate them.
The IRSS Restoration of Identity Project, led by Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 82 and aligns with the City’s commitments to Indigenous Peoples. Action 82 calls upon provincial and federal governments, in collaboration with survivors and their organizations, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools commemorative project in each capital city to honour survivors and families.
In 2018, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre approached the City to partner on the project and to create a peaceful, contemplative space to help advance reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Toronto.
The IRSS Restoration of Identity Project will be a permanent feature on Nathan Phillips Square and will consist of a turtle sculpture and a teaching, learning, sharing and healing space, called the Spirit Garden, both to be substantially completed by late 2023.
The two-metre tall turtle sculpture, by Anishinaabe artist Solomon King, represents Turtle Island, also referred to as Mother Earth. The turtle, climbing over a one-metre tall boulder, elevated on a platform, will identify the names of the 17 residential schools that once operated in Ontario. The design of the Spirit Garden revolves around the turtle sculpture and will include elements representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures, including a teaching lodge, amphitheatre, a Three Sisters teaching garden, a voyageur canoe and an inuksuk. The spirit garden will also incorporate the White Pine, or Tree of Peace, a key element of the Kuswenta, also known as the Two Row Wampum, which lays the foundation for all relations.
The overall cost of the IRSS Restoration of Identity Project is an estimated $17 million. In addition to the City’s total contribution of $13 million, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre is fundraising to contribute $4 million. In 2017, the Province of Ontario provided $1.5 million in seed funding for the project to enable research, design and community consultation.
In addition to Toronto Council Fire’s capital campaign of $4 million, the project partners are also seeking financial contributions from other levels of government, faith institutions, corporate leaders and the charitable sector to create a $5 million endowment to support teaching, healing and learning activities at the site.
“We are proud to collaborate with Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre to honour the resilience and vitality of residential school survivors and their families to build this important legacy project and advance reconciliation.”
– Toronto Mayor John Tory
“The IRSS Restoration of Identity Project is an important part of moving reconciliation from discussion to action. I’m proud of the additional dollars that the City has committed today, and I call on our partners in the provincial and federal governments, as well as Toronto’s corporate leaders and charitable sector to also contribute to this dynamic and moving project.”
– Councillor Mike Layton (University-Rosedale), Chair of the City’s Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Committee
“We are inspired knowing that the vision of the Spirit Garden is coming to life. This dedicated space will embody our diverse Indigenous cultures, our teachings and images, our plant life and medicines; and will incorporate the principles of the Kuswenta, to work together in friendship, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Most importantly, this significant project will honor the strength and courage of residential school survivors and inter-generational families.”
– Board Designate Andrea Chrisjohn, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre
Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre is an autonomous, vibrant cultural agency that involves and serves the Indigenous community with confidence for and commitment to their well-being. It is an active member of the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. Visit councilfire.ca/ to learn more.
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