Thursday, November 20, 2008


"You complain about lack of recreation space now you want to turn over rec space to education….. "
"You completely miss the point of locating a nature centre in the power house, and that is, that this location is ideal for teaching children about the importance of the natural environment because of its close proximity to a naturalized park and wetland setting--a rarity in this city."

These two comments on a previous post about FOSS’s proposal that the Power House be used as a Nature Centre as Councillor De Baeremaeker recommended in his report on the Power House and adjacent, environmentally sensitive areas, “A Place for Nature; a Place for Youth”, suggest that some further explanation be offered. Below is the text of a recent letter that was sent by FOSS's Power House/Nature Centre Committee to the Minister of Education, the two Boards, their Trustees and Science Coordinators. Hopefully, the ideas contained in it are convincing, timely and appropriate.

At the foot of Kipling Avenue and just south of Lakeshore Blvd. West is Colonel Sam Smith Park. It encompasses approximately 160 hectares divided roughly in two, with a rather raw spit of land that juts into Lake Ontario and a more sedate former psychiatric hospital grounds covered in mature trees. Friends of Sam Smith (FOSS) is a community-based organization mandated to protect, enhance and preserve this Lakeshore Grounds/Colonel Sam Smith Park.

The Sam Smith Wetland Creation Project was established at this site at the cost of 8.4 million dollars, by a number of government agencies, a trust, and the MTRCA. It was created using the MTRCA Remedial Action Plan based on rubble disposal, leading to a detailed naturalization of the site. It includes spawning and refuge areas for fish, amphibian ponds, foraging and hibernating habitat for reptiles, mammal habitats, and foraging, nesting and loafing areas for birds based on shrub, meadow, mature canopy and aquatic vegetation communities. Many animal communities have located themselves in this complex ecosystem, including beaver, fox, and mink. There are many ways in which site studies could be integrated into the Ontario Science and Technology Curriculum in particular and other curriculum strands as well.

Kathleen Wynne, the Minister of Education for Ontario, has promised that all 32 recommendations of a working group she commissioned on Environmental Education, which reported in June 2007, would be implemented in all grades "as a priority". The report stresses that students should receive systems training in how interlinking parts of ecosystems function. This study stated that "opportunities must be provided to introduce students to outdoor education experiences" ("Shaping Our Schools, Shaping our Future", p.15).

While we realize that many of our outdoor education centres are closed, and bemoan that fact, we think that this site deserves careful consideration for students at any age/level, because of its unique characteristics. The site is easily accessible by public transit and might well be the first introduction for many students to studies involving Lake Ontario.

We think Col. Sam Smith Park is a showplace for the process of habitat construction and ecosystem development and could provide very successful learning opportunities for school groups from the TDSB and the TCDSB. Thus, we are proposing the development of a nature-interpretive centre at this site. We sent a letter to our local MPP, Laurel Broten, asking for some advice as to how we might pursue this concept and she responded positively to the idea and suggested we contact the school boards.

As an added component there is the Power House here, part of the historically significant former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, which is very usable as a Nature Centre. It has modern washrooms, a large meeting room that could be subdivided, and a room designed for food preparation. The city, which maintains and administrates the Power House through Parks and Recreation, currently is programming its use to limited times during the summer, which frees up the facility for school use throughout the other three seasons.

Friends of Sam Smith Park would love to provide a tour of the grounds and/or answer any additional queries you might have about the opportunity for establishing a Nature Centre at Col. Sam Smith Park. We ask only that you explore this site -- hoping, of course, that you see the excellent possibilities for accessible outdoor education that we do.


Anonymous said...

The great feature of having this nature centre is how close it is within city limits. No need to drive the kids any great distance out of the city.

Anonymous said...

Students could come by TTC from any part of the city, saving field trip costs.