Healing Forests

Nurturing a nationwide network of green spaces dedicated to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Healing Forests can rekindle our understanding, love and respect for each other and nature

Throughout Canada, individuals and communities are coming together to dedicate green spaces to the first inhabitants of the land and their descendants, to educate people about this country’s tragic past, and to offer people a chance to begin their own personal journey toward reconciliation. They’re called Healing Forests, and they offer tangible actions that promote health, healing and community.

For the past two years, the David Suzuki Foundation has been partnering with the National Healing Forests Initiative to expand the national network of Healing Forests. Combining reconciliation and healing into one immersive experience, each Healing Forest is different. Today, one is on the grounds of a church. One is on private land. Another is in a woodlot next to a school. They all bring people together to learn about these shared lands and the people who have lived on them for millennia.

How Healing Forests began

In 2015, Patricia Stirbys and Peter Croal were on a healing walk in Ottawa as part of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential institutions. Following that walk, they agreed to work together to develop the concept of a forested healing space. Today, they are spreading the seeds of the Healing Forest idea throughout the country.

Learn more about the National Healing Forest Initiative and its co-founders

By establishing a Healing Forest, anyone can take that first step to bring people together, help them reflect on this country’s tragic past and connect with nature and each other.

Patricia Stirbys, co-founder, National Healing Forests Initiative

Since the National Healing Forests Initiative was founded in 2015, Healing Forest projects have been proposed in dozens of communities throughout Canada.

As of January 2023, 16 Healing Forests had officially been established and at least 13 were being considered. In October 2023, the National Healing Forests Initiative and David Suzuki Foundation selected another 34 projects to participate in networking workshops. Click here to read more about the new projects. Below is a map with brief descriptions of each established and proposed Healing Forest project.

This map includes both established and proposed Healing Forest projects as of October 2023.

How to get involved

In addition to the examples and introductory video below, groups and individuals interested in establishing a Healing Forest should check out the National Healing Forests Initiative’s website at nationalhealingforests.ca. Their website includes examples of existing Healing Forests, plus helpful information about how to create your own Healing Forest.

For the past two years, the David Suzuki Foundation has partnered with the National Healing Forests Initiative with the goal of growing the national network of Healing Forests. From over 200 applicants, 16 Healing Forest projects were selected to receive support in 2022 and another 34 projects in 2023. Though we have not confirmed plans to support more groups in 2024, we are keen to hear from community members who are interested in creating a local Healing Forest. For more information, please contact Jode Roberts at jroberts@davidsuzuki.org and the National Healing Forests Initiative at healingforestscanada@gmail.com.

On June 14, 2023, David Suzuki Foundation’s Jode Roberts was joined by co-founders Patricia Stirbys and Peter Croal of National Healing Forests Initiative to discuss what Healing Forests are, their significance in reconciliation and how individuals throughout Turtle Island can get involved.

A look inside existing Healing Forests. Get inspiration for your own!

Garden at susnset

Noojimo’iwewin Gitigaan Healing Garden

Stewarded by members of the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Group at St. Matthew’s United Church in Toronto, this small green space is home to more than 100 species of native plants. Both the land and the water are acknowledged in signage that situates the garden between the “lost rivers” of Taddle and Garrison creeks, and identifies the four sacred medicines – tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar – that grow here.

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Perth Healing Garden

Perth Healing Forest

To mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, more than 200 people attended a gathering at the Perth Healing Forest in Last Duel Municipal Park on September 30, 2021.

View more pictures from the sacred event

Riverside Knowledge Path

Riverside Knowledge Path

The Riverside Knowledge Path is tucked away behind Riverside School in Albert Bridge, Nova Scotia. An accessible gravel two kilometre walking path guides you through the surrounding Acadian forest. Read a book from the comfort of one of the wooden benches, gather in the Mawita’nej Learning Pergola or make music at the Sule’katike’l Sound Garden. The Path is home to a Healing Forest and a sharing circle, a space where students, staff and visitors can come together in the spirit of reconciliation.

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Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest

Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest

Located in St. John’s Park, Winnipeg, the Kapabamayak Achaak (“Wandering Spirit”) Healing Forest received its Spirit name as a gift from Peetanacoot Nenakawekapo, an Anishnaabe Elder. The gathering space, based on the medicine wheel, provides a place for quiet reflection and ceremony. A sacred fire pit is available. Four large grandmother stones mark the four directions. The steering committee is working with neighbouring schools and communities to develop a living curriculum to learn about medicine plants and Indigenous teachings.

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Fitch Bay Healing Forest

Fitch Bay Healing Forest

On October 7, 2018, the Fitch Bay Healing Forest was inaugurated with ceremony, respect, and community. It’s the first Healing Forest to be created in Quebec and on private land – another first. Its champion, Terry Loucks, established the forest on the two-and-a-half hectares he owns in order to preserve his spiritual ancestors’ legacy and heal people as it did him.

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How to establish a Healing Forest

Since 2015, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities have been coming together to develop their own Healing Forest ideas. The National Healing Forest Initiative has left it to communities to determine what their Healing Forest would look like and how it would function. The only proviso is that each Healing Forest be established and used in the spirit of reconciliation, healing, shared understanding, and respect.

For more information, check out the National Healing Forests Initiative FAQ page.

Help nature thrive

When nature flourishes, we benefit. It’s up to all of us to make sure Canada’s party leaders know we must respect, protect and restore nature so it can sustain all life.

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