January 15, 2012
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

I have just been through an amazing and inspiring experience. It’s something I will not soon forget.   

Occupy Toronto spent a rainy month camping out at St. James Park in the St. Lawrence area of Toronto. The result was a compacted and muddy mess of carpets, rubber mats, mouldy straw, tent pegs and garbage. Very little turf remained.  

Kyle Tobin, of LawnSavers Plant Health Care, heard a plea for donations on the radio. The city was in the middle of a budget crunch. Officials there estimated it would require $60,000 to bring the park back to an acceptable condition.

Restore DAMAGED park

Kyle sent out an email to a number of lawn care group members, suggesting we should help restore the park and at the same time raise the profile of turf in the environment. This was on Thurs., Dec. 1. An immediate positive response came back from Alan White of Turf Systems and Project EverGreen, Gavin Dawson of Green Lawn, Steve Tschanz of Turf Management Systems/Weed Man, and Brad Vanderwoude of Brad Vanderwoude Sod Farms. A project of this magnitude would give the industry an opportunity to demonstrate the environmental, social and community importance of turf, trees and green space, especially in the middle of the downtown core. However, we needed to mobilize the support of many members. The window of opportunity was very narrow. It required it to be done immediately, or not at all.  

Our first phone call was to Pat Lamanna of Earthco Soil Mixtures (G&L Group). We needed 350 yards of topsoil, plus slingers. Without hesitation, Pat generously said yes. Brad Vanderwoude, a member of the Nursery Sod Growers Association of Ontario, said he was not sure if it was possible to supply the required seven tractor-trailer loads of sod. The members’ fields were either wet, or covered with snow. He would call around.   

The same day, an email offering to restore the park was sent to city councillor Norm Kelly, chair of Toronto Parks and Trees Committee, and director of the parks department Richard Ubbens. On Saturday at 7 a.m., Alan and Brad met onsite to survey the scope of the project. Another onsite meeting then took place on Monday morning, when it was determined that the only way we could take this project on was if sod was available. That afternoon, Brad Vanderwoude informed us that the Sod Growers would supply the sod.   

Work would commence Dec. 7, and be completed by Dec. 8. That meant we had Monday and Tuesday to mobilize the membership; it would require hundreds of people to get this job done. Kyle Tobin and Alan White assumed the role of project coordinators. Peter Guinane, of Oriole Landscaping, thankfully added his seasoned experience to the mix as the third coordinator.    

Phenominal response

On Monday afternoon we called Jorg Hermanns, of Hermanns Contracting, who offered his blower trucks to spread the mulch, plus grading equipment and an operator.   

On Monday night a plea for help was sent to the membership. As usual, the response was phenomenal. Many members offered to lay the sod. Scotts Canada donated one full truckload of 24 skids of mulch. Davey Tree offered to renovate the tree canopy to assist the healthy growth of the new sod.

We are blessed with the most caring, contribution-oriented, passionate and professional members in the world. The members’ generosity is inspiring.   

The work began Wednesday morning. Hundreds of members prepared and aerated the site, spread the soil, pruned and mulched, and laid the sod. The entire job was finished in just two days. The size of the park is just under three acres.

The city and local residents were very grateful. We received many heart-felt thank you letters and positive comments. One woman wondered what all the activity was about. When told we were volunteering to restore the park, tears came to her eyes. Another resident learned that Kyle Tobin had a tree-nut allergy; she baked some tree-nut-free sweets for him and the whole crew. Thank you letters were posted on the Gazebo. One letter said, “I want to scream thank you!”

Wonderful letter

Mary Battaglia, acting parks manager for the district, sent a wonderful letter.  An excerpt follows:

“The professionalism, determination and willingness of the number of companies and staff who came out to support this initiative were nothing short of awe-inspiring. I truly felt privileged to be a part of this effort, as did our entire staff team.

“The contribution made was not only to physically and aesthetically restoring the park, but most importantly to helping to turn the entire city’s attention to the generosity of giving back. What had been an ugly reminder of the damage done is once again a gem.

“I have never seen so many people smiling in downtown Toronto!”


Local appreciation

A friend of Alan White, Michael Butler of Blaenne Capital arranged for Tim Hortons and TD Bank to have coffee and water always available for the volunteers. The St. Lawrence Market BIA provided a hot lunch. A local organization (Camaraderie Co-working) donated portable toilets. A number of other businesses came by to offer facilities if required. I parked at a nearby hotel. When the attendant saw my Landscape Ontario sticker on the window, he refused to charge me. The goodwill was quite remarkable. All the major press outlets covered the event.  

The outpouring of emotion from the municipality, residents and businesses reinforces the importance of the work our industry performs. Our work can be difficult, but the result enhances the lives of the community for generations. We make a positive difference.   

I am very proud to be associated with such a great group of caring professionals.

To see a complete list of sponsors, suppliers, volunteer companies and support go to www.landscapeontario.com/st-james-park.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.