Canada’s rich tapestry of forests has long been celebrated for its natural beauty. Beyond their aesthetic value and ecological importance, these woodlands hold a deeper, often overlooked value as places of healing and reconciliation.
Embracing this profound connection, the National Healing Forests Initiative and David Suzuki Foundation are excited to support 33 groups this fall that are aiming to establish Healing Forests in their communities.
The National Healing Forests Initiative, inspired by the timeless wisdom of Indigenous communities and their relationship with the land, seeks to encourage the creation of Healing Forests — spaces where all people in Canada can come together, connect with nature and embark on a collective journey of healing and reconciliation. Healing Forests serve as a bridge between people of all backgrounds and histories, offering a safe haven for reflection, understanding and unity.
The 33 groups recruited by DSF and NHFI are in the early stages of establishing local Healing Forests. A diverse range of Indigenous and settler-led groups spanning the country are proposing Healing Forests in landscapes that include municipal parks, urban farms and schools, First Nation reserves, rural woodlots and trailheads, outdoor education centres and universities and a historic site. Check out summaries of proposed projects below.
The groups will participate in a series of networking workshops hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation this fall. They will connect with each other and learn from some of the 16 already established Healing Forests throughout the country.
Each new Healing Forests project has its own unique story, rooted in the history and culture of the surrounding community. From urban green spaces in major cities to remote wilderness areas accessible only by rugged trails, these forests represent a wide range of natural landscapes, mirroring the diversity of Canada itself.
Healing Forests are also more than just places to take a leisurely walk; they are dynamic centres of transformation and growth.
Healing Forests are also more than just places to take a leisurely walk; they are dynamic centres of transformation and growth. Within their serene surroundings, visitors can participate in various activities designed to foster healing and reconciliation. Activities in the proposed Healing Forests range from guided meditations and educational walks to workshops that share traditional knowledge and practices — cultural exchanges that help build bridges between different cultural perspectives. Many groups are proposing to get creative through art installations and performances. Perhaps most importantly, many groups will host community dialogues and reconciliation circles, encouraging open conversations about the nation’s history and the path forward.
The Healing Forests are already making a profound impact on communities and individuals across Canada. They provide spaces for people to confront the difficult chapters of the country’s history, including the legacy of residential schools and the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights. By fostering understanding and empathy, these forests are helping to heal wounds that have persisted for generations.
The National Healing Forests Initiative and its expanding network of Healing Forests are a testament to the power of nature as a catalyst for healing and reconciliation.
The National Healing Forests Initiative and its expanding network of Healing Forests are a testament to the power of nature as a catalyst for healing and reconciliation. As more communities and organizations across Canada join this transformative movement, the path toward unity, understanding and healing becomes clearer and more accessible to all.
These 33 new additions to the Healing Forest family underscore the commitment of people in Canada to building a more compassionate and reconciled nation. Through these sacred spaces, we can collectively embark on a journey of healing, empathy, and unity — one step, one tree and one forest at a time.
NEW HEALING FOREST PROJECTS
To find out more about the David Suzuki Foundation’s partnership with the National Healing Forests Initiative, check out our project page. Below are some highlights from the groups participating in workshops this fall. Note all details are preliminary, as the projects are early in the process of establishing a Healing Forest. Stay tuned for more updates as the groups continue their Healing Forest journeys.
Balaclava Park Healing Forest, Balaclava Park, Vancouver, British Columbia
Unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations
Balaclava Park, on Vancouver’s West Side, is the home of the Balaclava Pollinators Butterflyway demonstration garden. The next phase, the Healing Forest, proposes to focus on planting trees and shrubs in place of the mature cedars that were lost due to prolonged drought. Local partnerships will support this effort, along with education workshops featuring Indigenous elders and artists, emphasizing the resilience of urban trees, the Musqueam people and the land in Vancouver.
Partners: Westside Butterflyway Rangers, Indigenous artists and educators, Kitsilano Neighbourhood House Environment Committee members, and the expressive arts and horticulture community.
Pleasant Valley Healing Forest, Armstrong, British Columbia
Territory of the Syilx Okanagan
The Healing Forest within Pleasant Valley Wetland Heritage Park will integrate the grove of 215 trees planted in October 2021 in memory of the Kamloops Indian Residential School’s lost children and two pocket forests with trees dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women. This park is dedicated to Secwepemc Elder Mary Thomas, a cherished figure whose sister was one of the children, and will be managed by the B.C. Small Wetlands Association.
Partners: Splats’in Band, Yucwmenlúcwu, Neskonlith Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Community Foundation North Okanagan, B.C. Conservation and Biodiversity Awards, School District 83.
Payhonin Healing Forest, Sturgeon County, Northern Alberta
Treaty 6 territory
A 20-acre boreal forest parkland in Alberta features outdoor spaces for ceremonies, reflection, meditation and prayer. Serene walking trails, designed like the Big Dipper, weave through an inland forest on farmland. Totem poles, crafted by respected Elder Bill Bertschy (nephew of Chieftain George) convey the Seven Grandfather teachings in this Healing Forest. Property owner and farmer Tam Andersen and Bertschy will be the champions of this Healing Forest.
Partners: Prairie Gardens, Standing Bear Community, Rising Thunder, Enoch Cree Nation, O’Chiese First Nation, ALUS Sturgeon County, Edmonton Tourism, PrairiesCan Western Diversification.
M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre Healing Forest, Owen Sound, Ontario
Traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, part of the Anishnabek of the Three Fires
The M’wikwedong Friendship Centre of Grey-Bruce is a former elementary school property on the west side of downtown Owen Sound. The centre hosts diverse programming, including sacred fires, drumming, ceremonies and community events, catering to vulnerable people affected by intergenerational colonial trauma. The proposed Healing Forest will provide a safe and intimate outdoor space that offers tranquility for those in need, fostering a stronger connection to the land for the urban Indigenous population, recognizing the vital link between Indigenous wellbeing and relationships with the land.
Partners: M’Wikwedong NRC, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, Chippewas of Nawash UFN, Saugeen UFN, Ontario Power Generation.
Whitefish River Healing Forest, Birch Island, Ontario
Land of Anishinabek Nation
The Whitefish River FN Public Library is on a large lot next to the Seven Fires Youth and Elder Centre. A Healing Forest is being proposed as part of the library’s 50th anniversary. This Healing Forest will be championed by the Whitefish River First Nation.
Partners: Seven Fires Youth and Elder Centre.
Healing Forest [Name TBD], Ohsweken, Ontario
Six Nations of the Grand River territory
This initiative proposed transforming the grounds of a decommissioned “Indian day school” into a Healing Forest with a historical plaques and storybook walks. The project would include path marker plaques and storyboards to preserve the history of the former day schoolhouse era for generations to come and fostering reconciliation while nurturing strong families with inspirational and culturally relevant activities within the Six Nations of the Grand River community. A Healing Forest aligns with Haudenosaunee culture, providing a reflective and healing space that resonates with the Woodland people’s close connection to Mother Earth.
Partners: Six Nations Social Services, Six Nations Library, Six Nations Tourism.