A place to reflect and honour Mother Earth

A group of volunteers who helped prepare the garden for summer included, (L to R), Dr. Mike Anderson, Strategic Lead, Indigenous Health Program, along with TeamUHN volunteers Haidar Mashlab, Lisa Vanlint, Humara Poonawala, Renata Czech, Ana Baptista, Erica Tong, Laura Williams, Megan Smith and Laura's son, Connor Williams. (Photo: UHN)

UHN's first Indigenous Healing Garden continues to take root at The Michener Institute of Education for a second season – thanks to a little help from volunteers and the Indigenous Health Program.

A number of volunteers from UHN's Green Team (lead by Facilities Management - Planning, Redevelopment & Operations' Energy & Environment team) as well as staff from Miinikaan, a Toronto-based landscape, design and garden company specializing in Indigenous healing and teaching gardens, visited the garden at the corner of Elm and McCaul Streets to prep the space for the summer season.

The group planted sage – one of the four sacred medicines – as well as mountain mint, black-eyed Susans, mullein, blackberries, strawberry bushes and more.

From design to implementation, the garden is Indigenous-led, following the practices and protocols for planting a Gitigan (the Anishinaabemowin word for garden). Anything that gets planted is either native to the area, or part of traditional medicines used by Indigenous nations for their healing properties to help improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

While the space is educational – plaques and QR Codes will soon be dispersed throughout the garden, so visitors can learn more about each plant, its Indigenous name, uses and healing properties – it serves a greater purpose, says Dr. Mike Anderson, Strategic Lead for UHN's Indigenous Health Program.

"This is something that says to Indigenous people: You are seen, you are welcome in this space,'" he says.

Mike and his team are hosting a Sunrise Ceremony at the garden on June 21 to celebrate Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day. The ceremony will begin at 6 a.m. with the lighting of UHN's first Sacred Fire and continue throughout the day with speakers at 11:30 a.m. and various drop-in activities such as make your own dream catcher and medicine pouch.

For more information on the ceremony, email indigenoushealth@uhn.ca.

To learn about volunteer planting opportunities, email green@uhn.ca.

A Symphony for the Soul: UHN's Cancer Experience Program partners with TSO

Toronto Symphony Orchestra violinist Clare Semes performs in the lobby of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as part of the "Symphony for the Soul" series. (Photo: UHN)

As a two-time cancer survivor and current patient of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) Board Member Tom Smee understands the role surroundings can play in an individual's cancer journey.

"The environment in which cancer care is delivered can have a really significant impact on the patients, the families, and the staff providing the care," says Tom.

It's a sentiment echoed by fellow patient Jahnis Gillan.

"Going through cancer treatment, any patient will tell you that your anxiety levels will be quite high," Jahnis says. "Something I didn't realize was that music was something that really calmed me."

To that end, the TSO and UHN's Cancer Experience Program have joined forces to create the "Symphony for the Soul" series. This collaboration engages musicians from the TSO to provide calming, intentional, live music in different areas of the Princess Margaret.

"These are areas where patients are actively receiving treatment, spending long and often difficult periods of time," says Dr. Gary Rodin, Director of the UHN Cancer Experience Program.

"We know music can touch their soul and uplift their spirit."

The feedback following the first number of performances has been exceptionally positive from patients and staff alike, with one patient approaching a violinist following a performance near the blood lab on the hospital's main floor to thank her and express how the music had helped lower her heart rate.

TSO musicians have previously contributed to the Princess Margaret's "Music in the Atrium" program, which has provided a wide breadth of musical experiences to the cancer centre's community for over two decades. Recently, the TSO and PM collaborated to create a captivating and compelling virtual performance that complements the serenity and modernity of the cancer centre's space transformation, showcasing "world-class music in a world-class space".

Leveraging the expertise of the UHN Cancer Experience Program and the artistry of Toronto Symphony Orchestra musicians, this ongoing collaboration will also seek to contribute to ongoing research on the therapeutic effects of music in cancer care communities.

"There have been so many advances in cancer care over the last decades, and the Princess Margaret has been at the centre of them," says Dr. Rodin. "Attending to the experience of patients and families who are going through this is as important to treating the cancer itself."

Watch this video to learn more about UHN Cancer Experience Program and TSO Partnership.

Bickle Centre garden allowing staff to turn over a new leaf after busy year

Staff members plant an assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers outside of Bickle Centre to be cared for and harvested by patients for rehabilitative purposes. (Photo: UHN)

The garden at Toronto Rehab's Bickle Centre has always been meaningful to patients, but after a busy year, it's also proved to be especially beneficial for staff.

Since Bickle's GROW (Garden Rehab on Wheels) started in 2016, patients and staff have had the opportunity to assist with the planting, watering, and harvesting of vegetables in a wheelchair accessible garden, which they later get to cook with.

Susan Currie, an occupational therapist who coordinates planting of the garden, says the opening of this year's garden couldn't have come at a better time. It's been aligned with the implementation of UHN's new health information system from Epic, which is to supercharge clinical transformation.

With the implementation being nearly two years in the making, Susan acknowledges that the garden offers many positive benefits on the mental health of staff members across Toronto Rehab, from stress-relief to positive interactions with colleagues.

"Gardening is relaxing for us," she says. "It gives us a chance to engage with other staff that we might not usually see and a chance to get outside and be involved in our community."

All staff members across Toronto Rehab are invited to join, and do not need to have any prior gardening experience to lend a helping hand.

"It's a fun therapeutic activity that is meaningful for both patients and staff," says Jennifer Ireland, an occupational therapist at Bickle Centre. "It's wonderful to witness such enthusiasm and creativity and to know that the garden is enjoyed all season by active and passive participants."

Patients can get involved in the gardening process in any way they choose, whether it's planting, watering, decorating garden boxes or picking vegetables.

How the pandemic led to 100+ secure, indoor bike parking spots for TeamUHN

Lisa Vanlint, Manager, Energy & Environment, FM-PRO, is now using the new secure, indoor bike parking – located at the corner of Gerrard St. and University Ave. in Toronto General Hospital – on a regular basis. (Photo: UHN)

Toronto General Hospital (TGH) is home to 126 new secure, indoor bike parking spots – a direct result of the pandemic.

According to Lisa Vanlint, Manager, Energy & Environment with Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO), public transit was the most common way TeamUHN got to work before COVID-19 hit.

"That absolutely changed with the pandemic and now the pressure on our parking lots is huge," says Lisa. "We needed to give staff another option."

In the summer of 2020, Lisa worked with Ian McDermott, Executive Director, Planning & Integration, FM-PRO to come up with a plan to use unused space at the corner of Gerrard Street and University Avenue at TGH. The empty space, infrequently used for storage, was a dark, concrete room without air circulation, lighting, electricity, water, drainage or even windows. It was affectionately referred to as "the crypt."

"Why not use a space like this for bike parking, where people are in and out in five to 10 minutes," says Lisa. "And there's a clear need for secure bike parking in a city that has a lot of bike theft."

She took the pitch to UHN's COVID Capacity and Physical Space Modelling Committee, which is responsible for looking at space impacts as a result of the pandemic – everything from setting up screening areas, to capacity limits on meeting rooms and procuring signage for physical distancing.

According to Ian, who also chairs the committee, "one of the biggest wins was the creation of the indoor bike parking at TGH."

"The committee was very happy to endorse this as a COVID initiative as it provided staff with safe and secure bike parking, so that they could avoid public transit," he says. "We improved conditions for staff by providing this alternative and increased capacity of parking that was desperately needed."

Once approved by the Committee, the project went to FM-PRO, where Greg Brady, Project Planner, lead the planning and construction.

First, the team blew out the external wall along Gerrard St. to create an entryway. Then the team added electricity, lighting, drainage, stairs, bike rails, fencing, door openers, card readers (for secure access), outlets to charge e-bikes, a panic button, security cameras and dozens of bike racks.

The space – now affectionately referred to as the "Bike Vault" – opened in December 2021, bringing UHN's total bike parking spaces to more than 1,000.

"Bike parking made sense here because it's extremely expensive to expand parking for cars, while a lot more bikes can fit into the same space," says Lisa. "And, of course, one of the biggest parts of our carbon footprint that affects climate change is transportation – even better than recycling is to lay off the gas."

Anyone with a UHN ID badge is welcome to use the Bike Vault – the new entryway at Gerrard St. and University Ave. is not only convenient for staff at TGH, but also Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Toronto Rehab, University Centre.

For more information on cycling at UHN, connect with the Energy & Environment team's Bicycle User Group (BUG) at UHNCycling@uhn.ca

Back to Top