Rossbrook House replaces concrete with garden
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Phil Chiappetta raises a sledgehammer above his head and slams it down, striking a pile of crushed concrete at his feet.
He repeats the process a half-dozen times before his team of volunteers steps in to separate the chunks from their twisted rebar skeleton.
On Saturday, the sidewalk in front of Rossbrook House was a pile of rubble but will soon be transformed into a new greenspace.
Green Communities Canada, a non-profit organization specializing in environmental initiatives, has partnered with Winnipeg’s Green Action Centre to create a garden in front of the youth drop-in centre.
The garden will be called Maamaa-Ahki Gizaagi-igoo, which translates to Mother Earth, We Love You.
“We are reclaiming some of the land underneath our pavement, and we’re creating a more environmentally friendly landscape, but also a more meaningful one,” said Chiappetta, Rossbrook’s executive director. “I hope (people) take away some peace and some grounding. We all need it in our lives… I think Rossbrook has always been that for a lot of the young people coming here.”
Local contractors shattered the concrete Friday, and more than 45 community volunteers showed up to the Ross Avenue location the next morning to remove it by hand. This coming Friday, they will fill the space with soil and plant an assortment of prairie flowers, shrubs, grasses and a birch tree, creating a new public space for people in the Centennial neighbourhood.
The initiative is part of GCC’s Depave Paradise program, which has replaced concrete with greenspace at 80 locations across Canada, including on the grounds of Collège Miles Macdonell Collegiate and Brooklands School.
The program not only creates beautiful spaces but also engages people in the community, which can have long-lasting impacts, said Emily Amon, a program leader with GCC.
“It’s a cultural space, a community space, it’s mental health support — all of these different things at once,” Amon said, adding these projects always reflect the needs of the community, and no two are the same.
“At the end of the day, it’s by — and for – the community… the purpose is, they have to belong,” agreed Josep Seras Gubert, Green Action Centre’s project manager. “That’s what gives me so much passion because I see (these projects) can cause a ripple effect.”
Urban greenspaces also increase biodiversity and assist pollinators, and can improve water drainage, Seras Gubert said.
The pair of non-profit organizations have collaborated for more than a year to bring the garden to fruition.
Seras Gubert estimates the project would have cost around $70,000, however, a Winnipeg Foundation grant, support from GGC and community donations covered the majority.
Much of the design and construction work was done pro-bono by community partners, further reducing the cost, he said.
Shannon Allard came with her partner and three of her children to volunteer Saturday.
She described Rossbrook House as a “safe haven” and a community pillar that has connected youth with resources for multiple generations.
Volunteering was Allard’s way of giving back to a place that provides so much, she said.
“Without Rossbrook, I don’t know where we’d be,” she said. “It makes me proud… this is a great place. There’s a lot of hard-working people that come up here.”