North Otter Elementary students gathered in the school courtyard Friday morning for the dedication ceremonies of their new interpretive garden. School Parents Advisory Council executives Natalie Franklin and Laura Tatarov cut the official ribbon to the cheers of students.

Otter school plants ‘native’ garden

North Otter Elementary unveiled its new interpretive garden Friday afternoon.

To the drumming and songs of local First Nations members, North Otter Elementary unveiled its new interpretive garden Friday afternoon.

As a place to “Play, Learn and Grow” the new garden in the school courtyard will grow only indigenous plants and trees. It also has seven cedar posts, representing the four directions of north, east, south and west as well as “father sky, mother earth and ourselves” in recognition of the four local First Nations; the Matsqui, Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and Katzie.

The school’s Parents Advisory Council had unveiled their new $83,000 playground last year and decided to follow that up with a project in the bare courtyard, to provide a safe and pleasant space for students.

“We decided to turn our old worn out courtyard that consisted of pea gravel, weeds and some rotten seating into a place where the parents staff and students could congregate,” said PAC vice president Laura Tatarov.

“This would include all natural play structures made of cedar, an outdoor classroom table and stools as well as an interactive garden. We also wanted to clean up the entire area by planting trees and shrubs as well as provide seating for parents and students.

“We contacted Habitat Systems, who built our first playground and started working with them on the concept and design. We came up with a budget but unfortunately we had some funds to raise in order to make this all work by the end of the school year… which wasn’t an option as we wanted it for this year,” said Tatarov.

PAC president Natalie Franklin said, “We came across a grant through Ikea and Tree Canada which we jumped on. Tree Canada required that we grow only indigenous plants in our garden which completely aligns with our vision of creating a natural space infused with an Aboriginal understanding about our connection to the land on which we live. This is a major emphasis in the new BC Curriculum along with the emphasis on inquiry and learning in nature. It seemed that we had found a perfect match and in late September we were met with great fortune and were announced the winners of a national competition for a $10,000 grant from Ikea and Tree Canada. With these funds, our project was a go, but in order to receive the grant it needed to be complete by the end of November.”

Habitat built the structures and started the installation and Pam McCotter from the Katzie Nation has helped design and do the planting, which includes the revival of the wapato vegetable in this garden.

Drew Atkins, local aboriginal artist, will be carving four masks to affix to the upright cedar poles that will mark the medicine circle. Some of the carving will be done on site for the students to watch. The four carved animal spirits will be a wolf, eagle, raven and grizzly bear.

Parent volunteers worked with the Grade 6 and 7 students to build raised garden boxes with supplies entirely donated by a locally owned business, Country Lumber. These garden beds will raise traditional edible plants harvested and eaten by the local First Nations.

Further community involvement includes a North Otter family, Trevor and Candice Smith (Arbor Pro Tree Services Ltd.), an arborist and wood artisan who assisted in the planting of trees and making and donating benches and other seating for the garden.

A mural of an otter will also adorn one of the walls inside the courtyard.