With 7,100 action projects across Canada to date, Evergreen has been connecting people to nature and making cities flourish since 1991. Their overarching mission is to support green cities, with the goal of revitalizing urban landscapes into sustainable cities with low to zero carbon footprints.
Evergreen’s crown jewel project is the Brickworks, an area along the Don River that the city of Toronto once considered wasteland. Forty acres of contaminated, former brick factory land have been transformed into an urban park that draws people from Toronto and the surrounding areas for outdoor learning and play, to buy local plants and farmers’ produce, to volunteer their time, for fine or fun dining, and to meet with neighbours and friends. Evergreen even took care to design a series of ponds to ensure cleansing of water runoff before it flows into the Don.
Geoff Cape is the founder and leader of Evergreen. He and his team are in charge of the wide array of programs across the country, as well as the Evergreen Brickworks. He helped the city of Toronto see not just the Evergreen Brickworks, but the Don River Valley park.
When asked about what childhood experience may have sparked his love for the outdoors, Cape remembered, “Growing up on the Don River in Don Mills and spending every afternoon after school in the valley. It was a place for wilderness adventures. A constant source of fun. I also spent many, many years at a family cottage north of Belleville, Ontario near Tweed, in the middle of the woods, surrounded by crown land with no electricity and no running water. It was a log cabin on a lake surrounded by nature. Our nearest neighbours were seven miles away. It was an immense landscape of endless wild.”
Cape is now invited to speak to eco conferences around the world about what Evergreen has accomplished. He lives what he believes, riding his bike to work every day all year. His more recent projects include work in laneway housing projects, and a strategy to help revitalize the ravines of Toronto. It’s no wonder that, on top of regional and international recognition, in June of 2017 he was named to the Order of Canada.
Schools across Canada have access to Evergreen staff and plans to facilitate schoolground greening projects. Children and youth go to camps that develop new environmental leaders by fostering an appreciation of nature and how we interact with it. Evergreen helps to create community food gardens, and provides innovative ideas for people to grow their own food. Through planting and stewardship programs, Evergreen shows how important it is for cities to have healthy watershed areas and thriving naturalized areas populated with native plants.
One of the keys to all this healthy change for Evergreen is inviting and engaging community members directly in the process. Another key is their active work to engage the corporate world and key philanthropists into the communities, through sponsorship and team projects. Companies like Toyota and Walmart, as well as donors like the Weston family, have stepped up to finance school and greening projects across the country.
Whatever the cities of the future may look like, Geoff Cape and his Evergreen crew will be championing people and wildlife-friendly conditions and practices, so that we can all enjoy living sustainably together on this beautiful planet.
Uttama Anderson is an environmentalist, art therapist and an avid tree hugger living in Toronto, Ontario. Her passion and focus is on creating the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary to keep the planet healthy.