David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from senior strategist Jode Roberts).
A decade ago, volunteers planted a beat-up canoe, retired from active service, at the Fort York historical site in Toronto, transforming it into a garden. They drilled it with holes for drainage, filled it with soil and transformed it into a planter filled with native wildflowers.
The initial aim was to plant canoes in parks and schoolyards along the old Garrison Creek, a “lost river” that had been incorporated into the city’s subterranean sewer system in the late 19th century. Each canoe would be a nod to the not-too-distant ecological past when the creek ran through the neighbourhood.
Over the next three years, volunteers planted gardens in dozens of repurposed canoes throughout Toronto, Markham and Richmond Hill. Today, the canoe garden network stretches from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island, providing pollen and nectar patches for local critters.
The idea to plant a canoe fleet was inspired by American author and entomologist Douglas Tallamy. In his book Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy offered these “Homegrown National Parks” as a citizen-led option to increase biodiversity in communities.
The David Suzuki Foundation took up Tallamy’s challenge to create Canada’s first Homegrown National Park and enlisted the help of a couple dozen volunteers, including Toronto resident Aidan Dahlin Nolan, who became one of the first Homegrown Park Rangers in 2013.
The Homegrown National Park Project morphed into the Butterflyway Project in 2017. It’s now come full circle. The David Suzuki Foundation is collaborating with Tallamy’s U.S.-based Homegrown National Park organization. People in Canada can upload their native plant gardens to the Canadian Homegrown National Park Map.
The project is motivated by troubling trends for insects. Insect populations, despite being the largest and most diverse group of organisms on the planet, have dropped by 45 per cent over the past 40 years as a result of industrial agriculture, urbanization, invasive species and climate change.
But insect devastation isn’t inevitable. Each one of us can play a hands-on role in helping bring back local populations. All it takes is a couple of trays of native wildflowers, gardening gloves and a gentler approach to managing our yards and neighbourhoods — and perhaps an old canoe.