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Elijah Williams and Wai Chu Cheng kneeling by the Medicine Wheel Garden

Sharing Indigenous ways of knowing

Oct 5, 2018

Since its official opening in October, 2017, the Medicine Wheel Garden has become a gathering place for students, staff or faculty taking a few moments to relax and enjoy the beautiful garden, conduct an outdoor class, or hold an Indigenous ceremony.

The Garden’s development was led by the Office for Sustainability, with input from the Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support, which proposed the concept.  It was designed by landscape architect Paul O’Hara, and installed with the help of a group of volunteers.  “The garden is another example of our commitment to share Indigenous ways of knowing,” says Elijah Williams, Manager of the Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support. “As we collectively move forward in our journey towards Reconciliation, it will serve as an important teaching tool for our students and the wider community.”

The garden’s circular design is inspired by the First Nations’ Medicine Wheel, to symbolize all things connected in the circle of life, on Mother Earth and within the universe. Its four quadrants represent the four directions, four seasons, and the four dimensions of our well-being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The garden’s circular shape is rooted in traditional teachings that remind us to walk our life in balance, and also fosters collaboration—making it the perfect spot for an outdoor classroom space, a conversation space or Indigenous ceremony.


“We hope that the format of the medicine wheel will encourage people to ask questions and learn about the different medicines that are in the garden, medicines that would have been traditional to this area,” says Williams.

The majority of the plants used in the garden are native to Southern Ontario and are pollinator-friendly. The three indigenous sacred plants – sweetgrass, sage and white cedar – are also included. “Through the Medicine Wheel Garden and the other gardens on campus, we are trying to protect the pollinator populations,” says Wai Chu Cheng, Coordinator, Office for Sustainability. She says it didn’t take long for pollinators to find the garden. “Butterflies and bees were already visiting it within a few days of the garden’s completion. These little animals somehow found their way to the garden quickly.”

“The garden is another example of our commitment to share Indigenous ways of knowing. As we collectively move forward in our journey towards Reconciliation, it will serve as an important teaching tool for our students and the wider community.” – Elijah Williams

Butterflies at the Medicine Wheel Garden.

One of the garden’s main objectives is to increase biodiversity on campus, as the site was previously overrun with the invasive Buckthorn species, which not only began to destroy its surrounding plants, but also blocked visibility on the path to and from the parking lot. A decision was made to remove the Buckthorn plants in fall 2015.

The Office for Sustainability team worked to secure community partners, raise funds and organize its installation.  The project was sponsored by the Province of Ontario, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, the Oakville Community Foundation, and Spinton Roofing, with additional support from the Oakville Green Conservation Association.

Cheng says the reaction to the Medicine Wheel Garden has been positive. “During the final stages of the installation and the planting of the garden, I visited the garden frequently, and noticed that students were stopping by—they slowed down their pace, they sat on the stones, listening to their music or resting,” she explains. “It’s a good place for people to contemplate and slow down and relax.”

Cheng says having green spaces on campus promotes health, well-being and creativity. “I’d like everyone on campus to enjoy a nourishing place to help them feel well,” she says. “We get so busy with our day-to-day work, we don’t realize how the surrounding natural environment nurtures us by helping us breathe and feel well, and how creating those opportunities for connection to the environment can help us to stay healthy.”

Cheng says the next phase of the garden’s development is to create educational resources for the garden, such as signage, specific plant labels, and additional information on the website. The Office for Sustainability will also be looking for volunteers to help maintain the garden.

Pictured at top of page (left to right): Elijah Williams and Wai Chu Cheng.

Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.

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