Respecting the land, its past, and its future
As yellowed walnut leaves delicately wafted to the ground, blown by a disarming wind, nature itself became a participant in a special Tree and Land Blessing Ceremony September 20, 2018.
“Everything here has a spirit and environmental responsibilities, just like we do,” said Shannon Thunderbird, speaking to over 100 people gathered in the Kingsley Fox Courtyard.
“I hope all of you take the opportunity to walk around West Park and visit the trees,” said Thunderbird, a former West Park patient and Aboriginal elder with the Coast Tsimshian. “Talk to the trees. Touch them. They like that. Really look at the trees from their eyes and see what they’ve done. See their healing energies on the thousands and thousands of people who have come through here.”
The ceremony, which was organized to prepare for the construction of the new hospital, helped inspire spectators to feel connected to the land around them.
“We are delighted to see so many faces here today to honour and show gratitude for the trees and our grounds,” said West Park CEO Anne-Marie Malek, welcoming patients, staff, and special guests, including City Councilor Frances Nunziata, representatives from Infrastructure Ontario, and members of the construction project team led by EllisDon. “For over 100 years, this land, with all its natural beauty, has played a critical role in the healing and recovery of our patients.”
Vice President of Planning and Development Shelley Ditty says that the ceremony was held to respect the land, both in its past and in its future.
“We wanted to pay homage to the significance it has to our patients, families, staff, and other visitors to our campus,” Ditty said. “As construction is imminent, it is important to acknowledge that we are entering a period of change, and people need the opportunity to reflect on what the existing trees and land have meant to them.”
West Park’s Spiritual and Religious Care Provider Stephen Hudecki hosted the event and acknowledged the massiveness and complexity of the upcoming change to West Park’s campus.
“This is not necessarily a celebration, nor is it a funeral,” said Hudecki. “It is recognizing the importance of where we live and where we work, which we mostly take for granted—unless a goose gets in our way, or a tree falls down.”
“We are not making this change out of greed or willful ignorance. We are making this change for the future, because we wish to continue to support patients and families through the healing process and to live nobly with chronic illness.”
The ceremony also included blessings from religious speakers, including Swami Kripamayananda, Rabbi Mordechai Chemel, and Colleen Dodds, who serves in the West Park Catholic Services Association. Rabbi Chemel noted his excitement to speak at the event, which he said was one-of-a-kind for hospitals.
Thunderbird, joined by Kate Dickson and Sandy Horne, led a welcome prayer, and burned a smudge of tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass, and sage, whose scents combined into a galvanizing aroma.
After Thunderbird spoke to celebrate the land and trees, orating with both sincerity and humour, she ended the ceremony by inviting the crowd to participate in a travelling song. As the crowd chanted the solemn, rhythmic tune, smaller groups gathered around two large traditional drums to pound a simple beat under Thunderbird’s direction.
“Anyone who doesn’t stop drumming on my count of eight has to buy us pizza!” Thunderbird joked, as she rhythmically led the drummers.
In his closing remarks, Hudecki thanked everyone who helped make the ceremony happen, said a passage from a Buddhist prayer, and readied the next phase of West Park’s existence.
“We pass this blessing onto the men and women from EllisDon who will do the work now. May they use this positive and supportive energy well: Be safe, be kind, and be happy.”
For questions or comments, please contact the Campus Development department at 416-243-3600 ext. 2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.