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Nurturing North Bay's community beautification efforts

'There’s a variety of wonderful energy and team spirit that you get back from this. There’s a lot more than what people think they will get out of it'

Rooted is all about the people, places, and events, that make us proud to call our community home.      


Enhancing the natural beauty of North Bay’s landscape takes enormous patience, dedication and volunteer hours from groups like the Heritage Gardeners and Clean Green Beautiful.  

Hariett Madigan and Wanda Wallace have been instrumental in spearheading those community efforts giving North Bay residents something to boast about during the spring and summer.  

“The Heritage Gardeners was our first project. It originated through the Living Fit group in 1996 because we had a daunting task to accomplish,” Madigan said, speaking to Lisa Boivin on a recent episode of “To North Bay With Love.”  

“The city was struggling to maintain 53 garden beds and considered relinquishing them. That’s when the community stepped up—181 volunteers signed up to maintain them. And the word got out back then without any digital aid, it was driven by a shared commitment to care for our waterfront, which is truly the heart of our community.” 

Madigan says she was not at all surprised by that kind of response.  

“I believe we have one of the most generous communities in Canada, perhaps even North America,” she says pointing to the recognition by the Ontario Parks Association. 

“They awarded us for our unique community volunteer efforts, we were the first volunteer groups in the country to adopt their waterfront.” 

Wallace says, “The city supported us, they said that the waterfront could become a living classroom. Volunteers could come to the waterfront and help out and take the skills they learned there and put them in place around their homes and neighbourhoods.” 

Wallace says community outreach has grown beyond people volunteering their time to help at the waterfront.  

“We now have free office space on Oak Street thanks to Dr. Rod Johnson and Dr. Mike Ross. That was very generous of them as we now have an Executive Director as part of our operations, something the city supports us on,” she says. “We also have community organizations like Rotary and the Near North Palliative Care Network adopting garden beds.” 

According to Wallace, the Rotary Club even funded the planting materials, and now there’s an International Peace Pole at their site. 

If a community organization is considering adopting a garden bed, Wallace says you need a “strong team lead to organize the efforts to keep it going.”  

Wallace says the bed she is personally responsible for has been growing flowers for almost three decades.  

“I’ve worked with the same team every Monday for nearly 27 years. You need a team lead who coordinates everything, ensuring continuity and care, regardless of the weather. We have had a lot of the same people over that time, but we have new people come on as well. Most of the team leads have some experience and they will help train people in how to develop their green thumb, so to speak.” 

Wallace says some volunteers have been with them from the beginning and have averaged about 3,000 hours per year volunteering.  

“Some of us have put in 175,000 hours to beautifying the waterfront, doing litter cleanups, and all the other work that goes into running a non-profit such as the executive work during the winter, applying for grants, and those kinds of things.” 

Wallace says the community gardens focus primarily on perennials, except in special areas, including around the beds at the Heritage Carousel.  

“They want a beautiful show all summer long,” says Wallace. “Perennials will bloom in stages throughout the summer, but the carousel beds are all annuals, so they get watered all the time.” 

The focus of the Heritage Gardeners group is all about esthetics at North Bays Waterfront, and while Clean Green Beautiful participates in those activities as well, they also have expanded into planting orchards.  

“We have 11 orchards this year throughout the community, where we are growing apple, pear and plum trees,” says Madigan.  

“We sponsor other orchards too. It takes three to five years for them to produce fruit after you first plant them.” 

Madigan says the apple trees from the community orchards were so full of apples last year that the tops broke because of the weight of the apples. She says the apples were picked very quickly after they bloomed. 

“The whole idea is for our children and our neighbours to have an orchard in their little micro-community so they can go and pick an apple or a plum and have that sense of pride when you care for something, you look after something and it grows something that tastes so wonderful.” 

“The other focus is on our community-wide cleanup and we do that right through to the fall, then we do our tree planting, and we partner with four schools in the area and plant trees in their school yards, and we do that with the help of North Bay Hydro.” 

Madigan adds they plant and maintain community gardens at various locations as well. The other big focus is on the Communities in Bloom competition.  

From the Communities in Bloom website; “We are a volunteer and partnership-driven organization that uses a multi-tiered competitive evaluation process to foster community strength, involvement, and continuous improvement. This is accomplished by nurturing environmental sustainability, enhancements of green spaces, and heritage conservation, in cultural and natural environments encompassing municipal, residential, commercial, and institutional spaces.” 

In the summer of 2023, Clean Green Beautiful North Bay, in collaboration with the North Bay Communities in Bloom committee and the City of North Bay, announced the city had achieved the highest possible rating in its Communities in Bloom evaluation. Scoring an impressive 830 out of 1,000 points, North Bay was awarded a five-bloom rating from the Communities in Bloom judges.  

Wallace says these programs don’t just give the volunteers a sense of community pride, but they also promote the physical and social aspects of joining a community group like this.  

“There’s a variety of wonderful energy and team spirit that you get back from this. There’s a lot more than what people think they will get out of it,” she says.  

“I think the social connection piece is the number one health indicator, even before health, having that social connection does so much for your health,” says Madigan.  

“You are creating beauty in your city, your neighbourhood, your community and there’s nothing more beautiful, and more wonderful than that. You have people gathering, and neighbours getting to know their neighbours.” 

Wallace adds they hope to continue to spark the interest of secondary school students to come volunteer with them to earn their required community service hours.  

“It’s really encouraging to see young people get involved,” she says. 

“When you talk about community connection, that was one of the top reasons to get involved 20 years ago and it still holds true now,” says Madigan.  

“When you ask people to give up their time, they are very generous with it and we see families with kids, school groups, and it’s just become intergenerational to want to take care of the environment around you. And that’s what makes a community resilient and strong.”

If you are interested in volunteering with Clean Green Beautiful click here.

If you have a story for "Rooted" send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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