David Suzuki’s ButterflyWay Project & Garden Rangers

Coming to a neighbourhood near you this garden season are a whole new crop of volunteer garden and wildlife enthusiasts who have been recruited by the David Suzuki organization to take on garden projects to revitalize nature and wildlife in the city of Toronto.

I’m excited to say that I am one of the new Garden Rangers! The groups will be focused on two areas of Toronto, Ward 21 in the west end and Ward 32 in the east.

The ambition of the ButterflyWay project was to look at the city map and find corridors for developing the kind of pollinator green spaces that would benefit butterflies and other wildlife. It’s easier for butterflies to travel if they have connected spaces, as opposed to bits and pieces scattered through out an urban space. As Suzuki foundation Jode Roberts explained it, it’s a way of “connecting the dots”.

Our first ButterflyWay project Rangers meeting had visits and cheering-on from Toronto Councillors Mary Margaret McMahon (above) and Joe Mihevic.

Joe Mihevic asked the question, ” As streetcars are to San Francisco, and canals are to Venice, ______ are to Toronto?”

The answer is ‘ravines’. Our ravines already serve as wildlife corridors and will only improve with attention and care. Joe mentioned that the fresh air we get from the lake is “funnelled throughout the city through the ravines.” The ravines are almost like our city’s circulatory system.

Joe talked about city structures like forgotten laneways as being sort of like the “canaries in the mine. Do people care about nature, do they get it?” Now many bleak spaces like laneways and other underused urban spaces are being revitalized by organizations like the LaneWay project and the Green Line Project.

Appreciation of the ravines, like Cedarvale, and countless laneways throughout the city are opportunities to “get it right, then everything else flows,” says Mihevic, “We can produce an environment that takes care of our bees and butterflies.”

Appropriately dressed Toronto Parks nature booster, Patricia Landry.

Toronto’s Pollinator Protection Strategy

Patricia Landry, Toronto’s Parks Programming Officer, also spoke to the Rangers about Toronto’s commitment to biodiversity education and stewardship through their Biodiversity Series of publications. These beautifully designed booklets on Toronto’s birds, butterflies, fish, reptiles, mammals, trees and shrubs, mushrooms, and even—gulp—spiders are chock full of excellent information and great photo identification. They’re freely available for pick up in Toronto libraries or as PDF downloads at link above.

Toronto has an official pollination protection strategy through bee-keeping and meaningful connection with the science community. Check out the covers below.

The city of Toronto is seriously on board with biodiversity, and is Canada’s first certified Bee City. The Toronto Pollinator Protection Strategy

“will highlight the need to create and enhance habitat for native pollinator species, and encourage pollinator-friendly native plants to be planted on public and private lands.”

Patricia, whose job it is to sometimes intervene in neighbour complaints about natural gardens got a laugh from the group when she told us she “longs for the day when I might get a complaint about a boring, traditional lawn monoculture.”

Another presentation from gardener Brianna told us of the renovation of a sunny space in front of her apartment building. She pictured something beautiful growing there instead of just grass. Getting the landlord’s approval, and a few neighbours pitching in was all it took to transform a drab space into both an ornamental and a food garden. Funded initially by the tenants, each season they enlarged the space, and eventually the landlord was happy to chip in to pay for the garden materials.

After our initial speakers we had the strangest “Get To Know You” game I’ve ever experienced, where our new unfamiliar group of Rangers asked each other if we were either a canoe, a paddle, or a loon. Don’t ask. It all worked out in the end, and gave the Rangers an intro to the playful and humourous approach that the Suzuki foundation takes with their programs. Remember the knitting for monarchs one? The idea is if it’s fun, it tends to work, and I’m totally on board with that organizing principle.

ButterflyWay Project: What is it?

Suzuki Foundation strategist, Jode Roberts then talked to us about the ButterflyWay Project and its desired outcome, which is to create 12 interventions that are loosely connected, somewhat on the order of the HomeGrown National Park. The ButterflyWay will be a sort of highway for Butterflies.

The nature connection principle comes from naturalists like Richard Louv and Doug Tallamy who encourage us to “stitch patches of land together” that support biodiversity. Doug Tallamy is a hero of mine, and his book, Bringing Nature Home made me want to plant a million oak trees. (Oaks support the largest amount of biodiversity)

Jode says, “I’m a sucker for art and music and food,” and has supported community projects like the Park Crawl musical parade between four parks, with the Lemon Basket Orchestra. It’s about fun and celebration and getting involved with your neighbours outside.

Instead of parks being a place to walk through, they become outdoor destinations for community and celebration: like outdoor movie or Pizza nights using the wood oven at Christie Pitts Park, with Chef Rocco from Toronto’s Pizza Libretto. They even organized a camp out at Fort York, although the sounds of the Gardiner Expressway took a little bit of the edge off the peaceful night.

Milkweed Isn’t Toxic

There was once a myth that milkweed (asclepias syriaca)was toxic to cows, and it was on the Ontario noxious weed list for quite a while. It’s now been taken off the list and is now known to be so valuable as the only host plant for the Monarch butterfly.

The Suzuki foundation has been encouraging us to plant milkweed for butterflies for several years, starting by sourcing 5oo milkweed plants from garden centres and finishing with selling four thousand plants to gardeners in the city over several weeks of their first campaign. “We’re the biggest weed dealers in the city and it’s all home grown,” says Jode.

The Rangers were asked to picture our dreams—both small, and wild—for the transformation of our parts of the city. We then shared our ideas and drew up some preliminary plans for some selected topics we all felt strongly about. As the season progresses, we will come together and put these ideas into action. I’m excited to be a part of it. Look for Butterfly Rangers around town this summer!

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