Toronto honours BI elder with park named for her in Queen’s Park area
WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—A new 1.6-acre L-shaped park located in downtown Toronto, at 25 Wellesley Street West, mere yards from the heart of the city and a few paces from the steps of Queen’s Park, will honour the late Dr. Lillian McGregor, a tireless Anishinabe-kwe elder who once advocated on behalf of Indigenous rights, treaties, opportunity and dignity.
Dr. McGregor was a dedicated nurse and community leader who spent much of her life supporting our nation’s urban Indigenous populations. She received the City of Toronto Civic Award, the National Aboriginal Achievement Lifetime Award and the Order of Ontario. She was the first Indigenous woman to be awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Toronto and its first elder in residence.
Dennis McGregor was ecstatic upon learning that his mother was to be honoured in such a highly visible and notable manner. The process took several years from concept to shovels going into the ground, but Mr. McGregor said that he wanted to thank his brothers Dave and Ken, along with “kindred sisters,” his cousins Francis Sanderson and Dawn Madahbee Leach, as well as Eric Stadnyk and his team from the City of Toronto for all their efforts and support in seeing this well-deserved recognition come to be a reality. “Chi-miigwetch,” he said.
“I learned so much from her,” said niece Dawn Madahbee Leach, who had the honour of creating her aunt’s regalia. “It didn’t seem like work,” she said, noting the regalia “came together nicely.” Best of all, when it came to donning the regalia “it fit.”
Ms. Madahbee Leach spoke of the deep impact her aunt had upon her own life, but noted that Dr. McGregor’s legacy includes several projects that will continue to play a major role on Manitoulin—including the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. “She always said that we needed the establishment of the hotel,” recalled Ms. Madahbee Leach. “We talked about how we could do something like that—a centre we can be proud of—we talked of it many times.”
Ms. Madahbee Leach spoke of her aunt’s deep love and commitment to both of her homes, that of her birthplace Whitefish River First Nation and, like many Anishinaabe who had to leave their home community to pursue economic opportunities, her adopted home of Toronto.
“It is so fitting that the park is located downtown,” said Ms. Madahbee Leach, who noted that the bulk of the Indigenous population in that city live close to the downtown core. “It will be a special place for them to go for contemplation.”
The park was originally intended to be completed last year, but issues regarding property parcels and underground parking locations complicated the construction efforts—then came the pandemic, Mr. McGregor explained. Those issues have now been resolved and the park will soon be a reality.
The design of the park includes several sculptures evoking Dr. McGregor’s dodem (clan), the crane, from childhood through to adult. Her dodem is particularly appropriate as it represents wisdom and communication for all Anishinabe and whose bywords are to think carefully and thoughtfully before speaking and to do so in a clear and honest manner—it is the crane to whom the Anishinabe look for guidance.
The process of designing the park began in April 2016 with a community consultation and culminated in the final refined park design in September 2017. The artist selected for the creation of the public art, centred on a theme inspired by Dr. McGregor’s dodem, was Eric Lavallee, a Metis from the small Winnipeg of St. Laurent near Winnipeg and is of Metis descent.
“Traditional ideas of balance, order, harmony and interconnectedness gathered from both Indigenous and western learning continue to guide my work as I explore and respond to the spaces around me,” said Mr. Lavallee in his artist’s statement.
The project team consisted of developer Lanterra Developments’ Linda Warth, parks, forestry and recreation staff Corinne Fox, Alex Shevchuck and project co-ordinator Eric Stanyk. Consultants included John Hillier, Tanya Brown and facilitators Jim Fraught and Niki Angelis. The public art team included Mr. Lavallee and public art officer Catherine Dean.