When Ashelle Dick moved from her community of Grand Rapids to set down new roots in Winnipeg, the 18-year-old was nervous about her new surroundings.
"It was overwhelming," the Indigenous woman said.
On Wednesday, however, she looked to be at ease and in her element at Assiniboine Park, helping to build the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden. It is part of the mammoth $97.8-million Canada’s Diversity Gardens project. She and Geena North, 19, were among 30 youths from the North End’s Eagle Urban Transition Centre there to get work experience and make a connection with the place expected to open in the fall of 2021.
'Hopefully, there's a lot of learning happening, with people feeling empowered and having a sense of ownership and pride in the Indigenous Peoples' Garden'— Mamie Griffiths
For the two women working on the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden wooden boardwalk, it was their first time using power tools and they took to it.
"I wanted to try it," said North. "I didn’t want to sit around and just watch."
"I wasn’t afraid, I was excited," laughed Dick, who said she was happy to be there and learning something new. The young women said until they got there, they weren’t sure what the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden was about.
"I thought it would be medicinal plants and culture," Dick said.
It’s much more than that, said Mamie Griffiths, a Winnipegger with a master’s degree in architecture and Dene roots. She is consulting with the Indigenous community on the project. People wanted to see youth involvement and "community builds" taking place, she said.
On Wednesday, one such build began with youth participating in the Eagle’s Nest Aboriginal Youth Resource and Recreation Program. It’s set up by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for those aged 15 to 30, many of whom are from First Nation communities and transitioning to life in the city. It offers training in life and job skills.
"Hopefully, there’s a lot of learning happening, with people feeling empowered and having a sense of ownership and pride in the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden," Griffiths said at the site Wednesday.
There, the young work crew was decked out with safety equipment and split up into groups with project mentors, said Gerald Dieleman, Canada’s Diversity Garden project director. They worked alongside Assiniboine Park Conservancy horticultural staff and Bird Construction, building a boardwalk and landscaping the garden that will serve as a gathering place for people to learn about Indigenous perspectives, beliefs and traditions. It is one of the gardens that will surround centrepiece The Leaf. The tall, swoopy-roofed, 6,000-square-metre marvel will house four distinct biomes with four entirely different climates and environments.
The entire project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021 and cost $97.8 million.
North and Dick said they’re looking forward to seeing it when it is done.
"I’d like to come here with my family," Dick said. North, who has a two-year-old daughter she takes to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, is looking forward to taking her to Canada’s Diversity Gardens and the Indigenous Peoples’ Garden she helped to build.
"She’d love it," North said.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.