St. Lawrence EMC - Friday, January 3, 2002
By Roy Lewis, Brockville freelance writer on assignment
A successful program to assist socially or economically disadvantaged young people enter the labour market has brought about major changes to the otherwise drab eastern end of the Prescott waterfront and other park areas in the town.
And organizers have just announced plans to possibly involve more youth in a major event in the town this summer.
An estimated 15 - 20 young people will be needed to assist with the staging of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival at Prescott's harbour front concert area from June 26 to July 24. All of the activity is channelled through Prescott Blossoms, an umbrella organization which brings together local and government organizations to improve the public areas in the town.
Prescott Blossoms is the brainchild of Mike Laking, a certified human resource professional who teaches persons how to look for jobs and apply for interviews.
Laking, who moved to Prescott in 1994, has been a training consultant at the Cornwall campus of St. Lawrence College since 1989. But it was his penchant for gardening that ultimately led to the changes in Prescott. He failed in his attempt to start a horticultural society in Prescott but at one organizational meeting had a fortuitous meeting with horticulturist Astrid Strader.
A garden designer, Strader teaches horticulture and nutrition courses at Algonquin College and St. Lawrence College and had also taught at the former Kemptville College of Agricultural Technology from 1985 until 1996.
Laking, who had been involved with the creation of the Millennium walkway (the Prescott Heritage River Trail) on the waterfront, felt the area could be developed even further. He called on Strader to use her gardening expertise to create a conceptual plan. Meanwhile, Laking focused his talents on writing a proposal to receive funding from Human Resources Development Canada through its Youth Service Canada initiative to offer young people the opportunity to develop life and employment skills through hands-on experience.
Prescott Blossoms, the name of the organization they created, was a play on words since the main thrust of the project was to improve conditions or "make things blossom" for young people between ages 15 and 30. The program helps them get more experience, teaches them how to present themselves to a prospective employer, anger management, resume writing and good nutritional habits to give them "more energy."
The main thrust of the project was to create a unified park which would enhance Fort Wellington - the town's main tourist attraction. The two-kilometer stretch of waterfront extending east from in front of the fort to the eastern limits of the town had been vacant for years. Many years ago it had housed rail yards and industrial buildings. In her conceptual plan, Strader attempted to make the proposed park unique with multiple trails rather than just one and no formalized gardens. The park would be accessible to people, their dogs and those confined to a wheelchair.
She also included an educational component where youngsters could learn about native trees and plants. The park will also feature plaques describing the previous uses of the area and how the use contributed to the economic growth of the town. Signage, benches and waste receptacles have been designed to tie in with the historical heritage of Fort Wellington.
Even Laking and Strader were overwhelmed by the response to the project. Not only did they receive federal government funding in the amount of $147,236; they have also been given assistance by local government and other organizations.
Donations of labour and other support have brought the total funding for the project to $331,000 which is well in excess of the normal 25 to 35 per cent indirect support received from a community.
South Grenville District High School students participated in cleaning up the property assisted by trucks and crews offered by Prescott Town Council. Council also provided machinery and labour and $3,500 to allow the students to make improvements to other parks in the town including the planting of 21 trees.
Parks Canada, which oversees the operation of Fort Wellington, enthusiastically embraced the project and provided the services of landscape architect Cameron Smith who has worked on projects around the world including at London, England's famous Kew Gardens.
Organizers though they would ask homeowners to donate existing trees to be planted in the park. But the Prescott Rotary Club provided $20,000 to allow Prescott Blossoms to go ahead with the purchase of trees for the park.
"We still want to raise funds for the trees," Strader notes.
Prescott Blossoms will be selling "memorial" trees in which those wishing to have a living memorial for a loved one can have a tree designated in the park. The platinum level for a memorial tree of either sugar maple or white pine costs $500 while the gold level tree of silver maple can be obtained for $300 and a silver level tree of highbush cranberry can be purchased for $100. Funds received for the trees will recoup money spent on their purchase and provide additional money to obtain material for the trails.
Eleven young people were employed over the 30-week project with horticultural instructions provided by Strader and Laking's business partner, Paul Boivin. This phase of the project will finish on Feb. 21.