Recognizing West Park's oldest residents

Trees at West Park Healthcare Centre

Progress often means sacrifice. For West Park, the progress is a new state-of-the-art hospital that will enable staff to deliver better care for the next generation. The sacrifice is the majestic, time treasured, individually-unique trees that are West Park’s oldest residents. 

For decades they have shielded passersby from the sun, provided little critters big and small with food and shelter, and played a critical role in the healing and recovery for patients. 

Last September, West Park held an unforgettable Tree and Land Blessing Ceremony presided by First Nations Elder Shannon Thunderbird, who led a powerful, traditional aboriginal drumming ritual to honour the trees and land. 

But the axe finally fell this year with trees being removed across campus. 

“When there’s an end, there’s always a beginning,” says Shelley Ditty, Vice-President of Campus Development and Support Services. "We are now officially on the path to build our new hospital, which will ultimately help more people get their lives back."

Repurposing the trees

Staff, patients and visitors may notice several logs have been set aside. West Park will repurpose these selected trees into artwork or furniture that will be incorporated in the new hospital or on the grounds.

Unfortunately, given the species of trees on campus, many of them are unsuitable to be repurposed. According to an arborist report, many of our trees are also in fair to poor condition due mainly to age and disease.

West Park and EllisDon are exploring how the wood will be repurposed. Campus Development has received several ideas including creating a live-edge bench, carving it into a totem pole, slicing a log into a tree ring that is similar to the tree ring West Park has in its archive.

West Park Tree Ring from 1970s

With plans to be redisplayed, this tree ring was sliced from a tree estimated to date from the 1700s. It was removed for the construction of the Main Building in the 1970s. The tree ring  has several markers indicating the years that coincide with historical years such as 1793 – Simcoe founds Town of York, 1904 – Toronto Free Hospital for Consumptive Poor (former name of West Park) Opened.

West Park is also exploring the possibility of creating small mementos for the dual purpose of providing staff and patients with a “little piece” of West Park and raising money for the new hospital.

“Several people have approached us to see whether they can have a keepsake of the trees,” says Ditty. “There are no guarantees, but we’re seeing what we can do.”

Giving back to the community

Tree logs have also been donated next door to York Humber High School’s carpentry class. Every year, grade nine students in the shop class are required to complete the “bird on a stick” project as their first assignment.

The secondary institution is a vocational school with an intensive support program, focused on teaching student life skills and increasing their employability.

Bird on a Stick Project by York Humber High School students

Bird on a Stick Project by York Humber High School students

Neighbouring York Humber High School's grade nine students will use the donated wood from West Park to create their first shop class assignment, "Bird on a Stick."

Dedication Trees and Plaques

As trees have a lifespan, so do dedicated trees and plaques. Two trees will be re-planted or re-dedicated in the new hospital:

1) Currently located on the Rooftop Garden, the Scotch Pine tree dedicated to Dr. Iain Blair will be transplanted into the new gardens

2) When removing the Japanese maple outside the Gage Building, it was discovered the tree was in poor condition. West Park will rededicate the tree to Dr. Joe Fukakusa after the new hospital opens.

For the remaining dedicated trees and outdoor plaques, EllisDon’s contractor will carefully remove the tree stands and donor recognition plaques on the benches across the campus.

The Foundation has been advising donors about this development.

Looking forward: West Park’s future landscape

West Park envisions a future where nature plays a vital role in nurturing care and helping patients get their lives back. Though it may seem far in the future, the hospital will restore the “park” within West Park.

After the new hospital is built and existing buildings demolished in 2023, the extensive re-landscaping of the grounds will take about another year to complete.

For every tree taken down during construction, West Park will plant three in its place. Our tree count will almost double with more than 1,200 trees on campus, offering comfort and therapeutic benefits for future generations.

The landscaping also includes a dozen purposeful, outdoor destinations including therapy courtyards, sensory gardens and a network of multi-surface paths that will create a sustainable ecosystem connecting nature into the building design, treatment and patient experience.

“It may seem like a long time, but the wait will be worth it,” says Ditty. “Our future grounds will be spectacular.”

Contact us

If you have questions about the dedicated trees and plaques, please contact Vicki Nullmeyer in the Foundation at 416-243-3600 ext. 4431.

For other questions, please contact campusdevelopment@westpark.org or 416-243-3600 ext. 2111.