The Mashkikii;aki’ing* Garden, located at Hillcrest Park in Tkaronto**, is a sacred and ceremonial space led by Native Men’s Residence (Na-Me-Res) and grown through their partnership with The Stop Community Food Centre. The garden is a prioritized space for men of the Apaenmowineen (Having Confidence in Oneself) program at Na-Me-Res’ Sagatay transitional housing residence and the Na-Me-Res’ emergency shelter. The garden creates an opportunity to share Indigenous cultural teachings and learn about plant medicine, gardening, and healthy living.
Please read below for more information on the garden’s history, its purpose, and about how the public can engage with the space!
History of the Garden
The Hillcrest Community garden began during a meeting in the fall of 2002. Since that meeting, the garden has become a place where the youth from TUMIVUT (a former Na-Me-Res operated youth shelter), Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence), and the surrounding community have participated in growing vegetables and ceremonial sage for both residences. In 2003, Na-Me-Res staff and residents started turning the soil on the land where the garden is now located and started to grow Indigenous plants in partnership with Parks and Recreation staff.
In 2009, The Stop—in collaboration with Na-Me-Res—started animating the community garden at Hillcrest Park. Sitting atop the escarpment at the corner of Christie Street and Davenport Road, the garden holds historical and spiritual significance for Indigenous Peoples as it is situated within the Portage Route (Gete-Onigaming), used for thousands of years to connect the Don and Humber rivers.
By the spring of 2013, grandfather stones from the Na-Me-Res sweat lodge were positioned to give the garden direction and identity. Vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants were introduced with the guidance of the medicine wheel teachings. The Medicine Wheel Garden officially opened on August 13, 2013 when Elder Jacqui Lavalley named it, “Mashkikii;aki’ing” (Medicine Earth).
The following year, the first Medicine Wheel Garden workshop took place with Apaenmowineen program participants, using the medicine wheel and speaking about the medicinal plants that grew within that quadrant.
By the end of 2014, the garden formally established itself as a deeply significant space: its location along the portage route; the significance of its grandfather stones; and, the medicines and the ceremonies taking place in the medicine wheel, which held the promise of generating positive health outcomes for Indigenous community members.
Land-based work at Mashkikii;aki’ing promotes personal and community resiliency by restoring and promoting Indigenous identity. The garden maintains Indigenous culture and instills cultural pride in reclaiming traditional approaches to food security, health, and healing.
Garden’s Purpose: Reconnecting with the land
The garden runs joint programming on Tuesdays and Thursday and is often frequented for visits, garden maintenance, harvesting, workshops, and community events. During programming, participants share a meal together around the fire and work together to harvest and complete tasks around the garden.
There are ongoing health inequities between Indigenous peoples and the general population which are embedded in the history of colonialism, racism, and social/economic exclusion.
The profound effect these and other systemic factors have had on Indigenous families and individuals has resulted in intergenerational trauma and are responsible for the social and health inequities that exist between Indigenous peoples and the general population.
The Medicine Wheel Garden seek to address, at a community level, the reality that Indigenous peoples are disconnected from the land, particularly when living in Toronto. Being dislocated from the land has negative impacts on indigenous population health.
Self-determination influences all other determinants of Indigenous health, including education, housing, safety, and health opportunities. Community initiatives, cultural pride, and the reclamation of traditional approaches to health and healing have helped to improve and promote mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health of Indigenous communities.
The Mashkikii;aking Garden engages Indigenous participants in a reciprocal relationship with the land. Participants are engaged and share in ceremony and cultural practices. Regaining and deepening existing Indigenous cultural identity through land-based work influences positive health outcomes.
What’s growing in the garden?
Over 50 different types of plants grow at the Mashkikii;aki’ing Garden, including fruits and vegetables such as, blueberry (highbush and lowbush), blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, white cherry, plum, crabapple, sunchoke, peppers, tomatillo, corn, tomatoes, callaloo, okra, zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber, kale, and lettuce. Diverse fungi, such as, lion’s mane, turkey tail, reishi, and puffball also grow in the garden, as well as medicinal plants and flowers, including tobacco, yarrow, sage, thyme, rosemary, dandelion, burdock, lemon balm, mint, catnip, motherwort, evening primrose, sweet grass, nettles, comfrey, valerian root, nasturtium, and lavender.
Beyond the plants, the garden acts as a sacred space for Three Sisters ceremony and teaching, drum circles, Ojibwé language lessons, medicine wheel teachings, tobacco and pipe ceremonies , sweet grass harvest and braiding, smudging, fire ceremonies for Mother Earth and our dead, and winter harvest and cooking.
How can I engage with the garden?
Visiting the Garden
The Mashkikii;aki’ing Garden is open to the public, however we ask visitors to observe the garden by walking around its perimeters. This is to avoid any trampling and destruction of the space used for gardening and ceremonies. Please respect the participants of the space during programming hours.
If staff are present in the space during your visit, you are welcome to ask if you can enter the space to explore the garden further. Staff are happy to answer questions about plants and the use of the space.
The Mashkikii;aki’ing Garden prioritizes volunteers and participants who reside at Na-Me-Res, however we do occasionally accept volunteer groups (6 or more people) who offer to help out with garden maintenance. Please reach out to email@example.com if you are interested in volunteer opportunities.
Our community events are great occasions to learn more about the garden and its cultural importance. Keep an eye out for community events in the spring, summer and fall at the Mashkikii;aki’ing Garden through our social media or our website.
The Mashkikii;aki’ing Garden is happy to accept the following donations:
Organic soil or compost
Unused garden tools
Plants and seedlings (vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers)
Food for our meal program (unopened packaged healthy food, fresh unspoiled produce and meat that can last for 5 days, and healthy frozen food)
Monetary donations to support the maintenance, supplies, and staffing to keep the garden growing
If you are interested in partnering with us for collaborations or to host a cultural event, please reach out to us!
To contact us regarding donations, partnership opportunities, and more, please email Hilda Nouri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Mashkikii;aki’ing is an Ojibwe term which translates to Medicine Earth. **“Tkaronto” is the Mohawk word for Toronto and means “the place in the water where the trees are standing”.