By: Michael Timmermans

Ottawa’s Cancer Survivor park was built through the generosity of the R&A Bloch Cancer Foundation. Located at the corner of Industrial Avenue and Alta Vista Drive, it is maintained by volunteers including Algonquin students. The park is one of only two of its kind in Canada, both established by the Bloch foundation.

When Steve Neumann was approached for ideas on how to get volunteers to pitch in at a park dedicated to cancer survivors, he came up with a “no-brainer.”

Neumann, a horticulture industry (HI) professor at Algonquin, was asked by the Ottawa chapter of Landscape Ontario, of which he also is a member, to help find people to volunteer to help maintain the gardens of the Cancer Survivor Park in Ottawa. He came up with a way to enlist students in Algonquin’s horticulture program.

When it comes to helping out with a cancer charity, “it was not a hard decision to make,” said Neumann.

“It was a matter of ‘tell me when and where.’”

On Aug. 28, Neumann and about 20 of his second-year HI students spent the day weeding, pruning, trimming and spreading mulch at the park, located on the corner of Alta Vista Drive and Industrial Avenue in the city’s southeast.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for us to reach out to the community; to give back,” said Neumann.

Due to the outdoor nature of the program, HI students attend classes from May to October. Neumann devised a way to make the day a course lab. One for a good cause.

“My sister-in-law had breast cancer, so I was thinking of her while I was there,” said Celine Blanchard, an HI student who participated in the day’s events. Blanchard said the students spent time talking as a group about how cancer has affected their lives.

The day of volunteering is built in to the program.

“It is definitely something we are continuing next year and in years to come,” said Neumann.

“It was a good experience for a noble cause,” said Alan Balfe, second-year HI student, who picked up a few new skills observing horticulture professionals also volunteering at the park.

One of only two of its kind in Canada, the peaceful 4.5 acre park was built through the generosity of Richard and Annette Bloch, founders of the R&A Bloch Cancer Foundation. Hansen Lawn and Gardens supplies the tools and material and oversees the volunteer workforce that maintains the park. The company’s president, Ed Hansen, serves on the board of the Landscape Ontario Ottawa chapter.

The park provides “exposure to people who really need to see a place like this and need to heal,” said Diane McClymont-Peace, another HI student who attended the event.

“The time we spent there will have a tremendous impact on people’s feelings when they visit.”

“It was really nice that we got the history of the place when we got there,” said Jennifer Troop, a second-year HI student.

The day’s activities also included a great chance for students to network with people in the industry and have the chance to be mentored by professionals in their field of study.

“All of our teachers have said at some point that we should volunteer and do something in the community. Build a park, donate your time and give back to your community,” said Troop, speaking about her future in the horticulture industry.

“What is really special about the park is that it is well-maintained,” said McClymont-Peace.

“It isn’t just an open space. It is beautiful to experience. And that is because of the volunteers.”