Part of be­ing Cana­dian

The ex­pe­ri­ence crosses all cul­tural and re­li­gious bound­aries

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - GREEN LIVING - Mark Cullen Mark Cullen is lawn & gar­den ex­pert for Home Hard­ware, mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, au­thor and broad­caster. Get his free monthly news­let­ter at markcullen. com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Cana­dian Gar­den’ pub­lished by Dun­durn Pres

As a mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, I can of­fi­ci­ate at ci­ti­zen­ship cer­e­monies. I have done this on three oc­ca­sions and to cel­e­brate Canada Day and Canada’s 150th birth­day, I of­fi­ci­ated one on Satur­day in Ajax, Ont.

When we think about what it means to be Cana­dian, I imag­ine very few peo­ple will think of gar­den­ing. Al­low me to il­lu­mi­nate you. Gar­den­ing is very much a part of be­ing Cana­dian. Here is how:

Rich his­tory

Long be­fore the Euro­peans ar­rived and changed ev­ery­thing here for­ever, the in­dige­nous peo­ple of this land were grow­ing much of their food. The ‘three sis­ters’ fac­tored large in the daily diet of the Huron peo­ples in par­tic­u­lar. The com­bi­na­tion of beans, squash and corn planted in a mound, with a dead fish un­der them to pro­vide nat­u­ral nu­tri­ents, sus­tained them. No doubt this is as true for many Euro­peans who were in­tro­duced to the idea by friendly in­dige­nous peo­ple.


As Euro­pean set­tle­ment spanned the coun­try in the 1880s, towns lo­cated along the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­road tracks com­peted for the best­look­ing pub­lic gar­dens at rail­way sta­tions. The idea was to de­mon­strate to im­mi­grant fam­i­lies a sense of pride in ‘com­mu­nity’ and say ‘wel­come’ in bright, colourful dis­plays of flow­ers. We still do this, it is called Com­mu­ni­ties in Blooms­mu­ni­tiesin­ and more than 270 com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try took part last year.

Cul­tural mo­saic

Justin Trudeau’s fa­ther, Pierre Trudeau, used this term to de­scribe Cana­dian cul­ture. It does the job. The gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence crosses all cul­tural and re­li­gious bound­aries. It is glue for a di­verse group of peo­ple who form the pop­u­la­tion of Canada. At Ben Noble­ton Park in Toronto, the com­mu­nity gar­den pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for res­i­dents in this cul­tur­ally di­verse neigh­bour­hood to work to­gether in a joint ef­fort to grow fresh food.

Grow­ing tips are shared among vol­un­teer gar­den­ers who come from many far­away places, like the Repub­lic of Congo, Viet­nam and Syria. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­ten oc­curs be­tween peo­ple who do not share a com­mon lan­guage, but make them­selves un­der­stood.

Dur­ing har­vest time, each vol­un­teer at Ben Noble­ton Park is en­cour­aged to cre­ate a dish us­ing the fresh pro­duce from the gar­den and to bring it to a big gath­er­ing where ev­ery­one dresses ac­cord­ing to the cus­toms of their na­tive land. Can you imag­ine the colours? Or any­thing more Cana­dian than this?

Success among ad­ver­sity

A suc­cess­ful gar­den in Canada is en­tirely pos­si­ble de­spite the chal­lenges of se­vere weather. Hail on the prairies, ex­ces­sive rain on the west coast, late frosts in Cen­tral Canada (well, any­where in Canada), per­mafrost in the Arc­tic, saltwind in the Mar­itimes and solid rock in New­found­land and Labrador: these things chal­lenge us and we rise to that chal­lenge. Be­cause we are Cana­dian gar­den­ers.

It is worth men­tion­ing that we also grow some of the world’s largest pump­kins (we have won that ti­tle many times), the sweet­est corn, the most abun­dant tomato crops and for the most part, we are self-suf­fi­cient in the fruit and veg­gies sec­tion. And where we are not, we could be with bet­ter plan­ning.

Gar­den­ers are not just earth­grub­bers. We are bird­ers, con­ser­va­tion­ists, tree hug­gers, lo­cal food boost­ers and pas­sion­ate sto­ry­tellers. Gar­den­ing is the most pop­u­lar out­door pas­time in Canada, next to walk­ing. More than 80 per cent of us grow some­thing green. To a very large ex­tent, Cana­di­ans are gar­den­ers.

Wel­come to Canada.


The Town of Pincher Creek in Alberta re­ceived the Mark Cullen vol­un­teer award from the Com­mu­ni­ties In Bloom pro­gram in 2011.

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