This community development initiative to interpret Tessier Park builds directly on earlier efforts by residents of the Tessier Park neighborhood to create an “urban fruit forest” in a public space that had become overgrown and frequented by drug users and sex workers. In 2020, at the instigation of the Tessier Park Neighbourhood Association, and with the financial support of Tree Canada, a Taking it Global Rising Youth grant, and private donations, 60 volunteers planted 180 fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines, as well as companion plants to improve permaculture and pollinator habitat. The current project extends this work by bringing together horticulturalists and folklorists to create up to four storyboard panels. The interpretative panels will: 1) provide information concerning food production and garden maintenance; 2) contextualize the park (historically known as a berry picking spot) within the province’s rich berry picking and food preservation traditions; 3) place the park within the city’s history of food production; and 4) recognize contemporary challenges including food insecurity and the difficulty of engaging in urban food production in areas with high levels of lead contamination in the soil. Smaller plant labels will identify specific species. A walking tour of the park (to be held virtually if necessary) will mark the panels’ installation and share interpretation interactively with neighbourhood and city residents who will bring their own personal memories and experiences.
The project hopes to contribute to the ongoing discussion of challenges around food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador generally, and in St John’s particularly. At the same time, it points to possible solutions in the creative and productive re-use of public land. In the short term, the interpretative signs will enhance visitors’ experiences of the space and help to build their knowledge of food production and preserve making in the city past and present. In the longer term, it is hoped that knowledge of provincial food production traditions will facilitate informed public dialogue around these areas and possibly spark some residents to explore personally engaging in food production and preserve making. It is also hoped that this innovative project may encourage those living in other parts of St. John’s to consider creative uses for public spaces in their neighbourhoods and to initiate more discussion about the possibilities for urban food production in the city.
Partners Diane Tye, Department of Folklore, and Chris Shortall, Tessier Neighborhood Association, join with collaborators, Pauline Cox, Archivist, Memorial University Folklore and Language Archives (MUNFLA); Dale Jarvis, Intangible Cultural Heritage Officer, Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador; Todd Boland, Horticulturalist, MUN Botanical Garden; and Brian Mercer, Municipal Arborist for the City of St John’s, in the interpretation of Tessier Park. Research assistance will be supplied by Folklore graduate student, Megan Webb, and the storyboard panels will be designed by artist and scholar, Pam Hall who is the creator of Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge, Chapters 1 & 2 (Breakwater 2017).