March 4, 2020 - First Nations Elder Shannon Thunderbird gave a final farewell to the last group of trees that will be removed to continue construction for West Parks new hospital.
With the sun warming the campus on a winter morning, construction workers paused operations so Thunderbird could perform a smudging ceremony. The sacred ritual involved reciting a prayer, drumming, burning sage, cedar and sweetgrass to cleanse the surroundings, and spreading tobacco around two of her favourite trees.
“[The trees] are at peace because they know they have done the best possible job they could have done for the past hundred years, which was to welcome people who are ill and who needed assistance to this place,” said Thunderbird. “They were here to also welcome those that came to work here, and to do what they needed to do in order to help those who are in need of assistance.
And this is really one of the best hospitals to do that.”
VIDEO: Smudging Ceremony
VIDEO: Travelling Song
Thunderbird also has a personal connection to West Park. Her late husband, Peter Kewley, had pulmonary fibrosis and was a respiratory patient at West Park for about six years.
Back in September 2018, West Park held an official Tree and Land Blessing Ceremony, which was initiated and spearheaded by the hospital's spiritual and religious care provider, Stephen Hudecki. The ceremony was also led by Thunderbird and included other spiritual leaders, patients, family members and staff.
Since the trees are now within a construction zone, only authorized personnel are able to enter the site. However, EllisDon made a special exception for Thunderbird. West Park patients and staff were invited to look out a window overlooking the campus during the ceremony to offer their gratitude to the trees.
As Thunderbird began the ceremony with singing and drumming, several representatives from West Park, EllisDon, and Tree Doctors Inc. felt inclined to join together during the informal tree ceremony in a spontaneous gathering of gratitude.
Thunderbird "thoroughly enjoyed listening to the EllisDon construction workers belt out the chorus to the Tree Honour Song."
Directional Trees: Pointing to a promising future
Thunderbird explains that her three favourite trees are “directional trees,” which are purposefully shaped to point to the location of water, food sources, shelter and other important living essentials. In West Park’s case, there were three directional trees with one pointing to the former entrance of the Main Building, and the others toward the current entrance to the Ruddy and Long-Term Care Centre.
Workers from the tree removal company provided Thunderbird with a few branches from one of the directional trees so she can create an artifact or have as a keepsake.
West Park and its landscape architects will explore how to shape a tree so that it will point in the direction of the new hospital.
For every tree removed, three will take its place to restore the park-like setting that has been synonymous with West Park for more than a century. After the new hospital is built in 2023, it will take another year to demolish existing buildings - with the exception the Long-Term Care Centre - and extensively landscape the campus to restore its natural surroundings.