For those not in the know about this small strip of land along the “Left Bank” of the Welland Recreational Canal, it lies between West Main and Division Street Bridges. This reclaimed space, through the efforts of various volunteers from all parts of the community, is a testament to the new spirit of community pride that is growing in the Rose City.
This small parkette had been seemingly abandoned a couple years ago, after what appears to be years of neglect on the parts of grounds keeping, and was once a notorious spot in some circles in our city. Lacking adequate lighting, no through path, hidden from most view, especially after dusk, this spot had a reputation amongst some as being an undisturbed place, and could have been at risk of further deterioration and abandonment. Sadly, this spot also offered some of the best views of the city’s downtown core, as well as its historic decommissioned lift bridge, and I remember a time when I would see photographs taken of various locals of the city in newspaper stories. Its flagpole had gone awry. The benches were old and worn. The ivy that had once adorned the retaining rock walls of the garden had grown into a thick dense tangle.
When first moving to the neighbourhood in June of 2013, I went down to this spot, as I had known about it for decades, and noticed the garbage can was there, so there was some signs of minimal maintenance. A few days later, the garbage can disappeared, as others appeared along the waterway’s banks in accordance with the season. Over the weeks, the grass grew taller, the garbage, already abundant in this neglected place, began to appear more frequently, and it looked as though the end had come for this little strip of green along the water. It was frustrating to see such an area go to waste.
The next year, as Bridge 13 was closed for rehabilitation in the form of a new paint job, the area was fenced off, and I was certain it would be lost for good. Although there was still access through a parting in the chain link fence near Division Street Bridge, I and others took the opportunity to do something about the situation. Inspired by articles we had read online about guerrilla gardening (the act of doing gardening in urban areas where the property is either apparently abandoned, neglected, or simply unsightly), a group of volunteers got together and made a day of clearing out the overgrowth, cutting the grass, cleaning up the garbage, and doing some planting of flowers, plants, as well as some fruits and vegetables. Our efforts had uncovered rich, dark earth from years of growth and decaying vegetation, retaining walls of rocks revealing a two-leveled garden space, and what we calculated as the most seating by park benches in small area as compared to any park we knew of in the city. As well, a day of camaraderie and hard work paid off with a spectacular view of our city on a beautiful day. Alas, with the closing of the bridge for rehabilitation, that summer did not necessarily allow the full potential of this space to be fully explored and appreciated. It would have to sit through another year before this space could be more fully envisioned for what it could become today.
In the Spring of 2015, a community initiative, Project: Downtown, approached myself and spoke with me about last year’s guerrilla gardening project, as it had been planning an event called the Downtown Tidy, in which volunteers would clean up trash from the city’s downtown core. A brutal winter had left its mark in much of the garbage that had revealed itself after Spring’s thaw and melt. As part of the event, it was suggested to also include a day of guerrilla gardening, and the decision was made to again clean up and refresh the same spot for the season. On event day, an even bigger turnout than the year before descended on the parkette, and again the trash was picked up, overgrowth removed, and the garden was planted and expanded, and it was pretty much a repeat of last year’s efforts.
It didn’t stop there. From that day, with a new restaurant now neighboring the parkette, and the proper stairway access clear (as it had been blocked off last year due to bridge rehabilitation), and attention from regular local media as well social media, many began to explore the park that had not done so before. Many of these newcomers also put in their efforts by planting new greens and flowers, donating garbage can and recycling can, and a number of local artists also added colourful art piece, such as painted tires for flower beds, the eventual erection of some large boards with colourful street art painted on them along a chain link fence, and the creation of an impromptu Free Community Library that grew very quickly in a very short time (this little free library is currently registered with the Little Free Library organization, whose purpose is the encouragement of the enjoyment of reading, with it’s motto of “take a book, leave a book”. Recently, this same free library suffered two acts of vandalism within a week of each other, only to be supported by many more in the community in the hopes of maintaining it, through donations of books to replace lost ones, and more permanent/tamper-proof/weatherproof containment is being planned.) Park benches were painted, grass is regularly cut, and many who may or may not have their own garden space, can enjoy digging in a little patch of dirt that is provided to the community. A rain barrel was placed. Eventually, a number of local artists, some who had also participated in efforts to reclaim this space, organized an art show in this parkette, and it received much attention from not only locals, but the media, as well as some of the city fathers made an appearance. All who came that day enjoyed a warm day, lost of colourful artwork, and saw for themselves the beautiful view that is provided here.
Today, if you come down to this little spot, now dubbed Guerrilla Park, nestled between two bridges on the west bank of the old canal, you may find the occasional parson or persons down there, enjoying a game of cards, reading a book, doing some art, digging in the garden, playing a guitar, or just sitting and relaxing and taking in the magnificent view in this little nearly-hidden oasis of calm in the middle of all downtown. I highly suggest you take the time to walk down the stairs beside the patio of Taris on the Water restaurant, and explore this little gem, and pick up a book, check out the art that’s there, plant a seed or dig up some weeds, and relax. When you do, you’ll see why the effort was made to keep this spot alive.