Urban forestry in Regina: Cathedral Village Forest Project

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Framed against a blue sky, urban buildings stand tall from left to right, but green trees grow even taller in the foreground.
Reimagining a city as urban wild means rethinking how we define nature. geralt via Pixabay

Organizers and volunteers hope to plant 7,311 seedling trees in Les Sherman Park

Regina is getting its very own urban forest. Organizers in Regina’s Cathedral Village neighborhood have been actively planning a Cathedral Village Forest Project. The project has been approved by the City of Regina who have provided a large area of land for the planting of trees. The forest will find its home in Les Sherman Park, a beloved neighbourhood park.  

The project is largely being overseen and guided by Chris Sale, a landscape architect with the city and member of the Cathedral Village Association. In an interview with CBC, Sale says that the inspiration for the park came from the pandemic, when he spent a lot of time walking in his neighbourhood and that got him thinking about trees. Trees are a major facet of the Cathedral neighbourhood, and the city. Sale points to the history of the trees which he says were planted during other major world events like world wars, depressions, and pandemics, but in good times as well. Regardless, these trees were planted with an optimism for a hopeful future, said Sale.   

In Saskatchewan, there is a long history of afforestation, which refers to the establishment of forest and trees in an area with no recent tree cover. The completion of the Transcontinental Railway in Canada in 1885 combined with the homestead provisions of the Dominion Lands Act to encourage agriculture in the area. The government felt it was critical to plant trees in the prairies to encourage ongoing settlement.  

In doing so, large scale prairie forestry was promoted between 1870-1886 to attract settlers and address forestry concerns in Eastern Canada. Over the past 100 years, tree plantations across the Saskatchewan plain have flourished, and afforestation methods, such as shelter belting, have been particularly successful. The City of Regina is a clear example of afforestation which describes the process of tree planting where there have previously been none. The city was established on a treeless native grass prairie and today has over 500,000 hand planted trees maintained by the city and residents.  

The project is looking to ‘wild’ the city with a space that fills the gap between formal spaces such as lawns, soccer fields, and traditional urban spaces with natural and informal spaces.  

Organizers and project planners have secured thousands of seedlings. As it stands, the plan is to plant 7,311 trees in a dense grouping in Les Sherman Park. Although the number seems odd, it’s reflective of the number of residents in the area as of the 2021 Canadian Census. Project members will plant seedlings as they are easiest for volunteers to plant and maintain with the existing irrigation systems. The existing sprinkler system that draws water from Wascana Creek will be used to irrigate and water newly planted seedlings.  

Seedlings will include a wide range of trees sourced from prairie nurseries: oak, elm, maple, pine, spruce, larch, and poplar. A variety of shrub material will fill the middle layer of the forest bed. The emphasis on a wide variety of trees makes this project a great example of mixed-species polyculture forestation.  

Urban wild is a concept that captures the co-existence of nature and urban living in unexpected places within cities. These urban wild spaces show the sometimes unimaginable connections between humans and the natural world, even in spaces that, at first glance, do not seem wild at all. Part of reimagining urban spaces as wild requires us to rethink how we define nature and what we see nature as being. Instead of imagining nature as somewhere beyond the city line, we must reshape our thinking in favour of the idea that nature exists everywhere. Prairie cities are already home to a host of wildlife that include white tail jackrabbits, foxes, pelicans, sharp tailed hawk, and even passing deer or moose.  

Unbeknownst to many residents, the City of Regina is one of nine Canadian cities to be recognized with the Tree Cities of the World designation from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Arbor Day Foundation. To be recognized, cities must meet five core standards that include establishing responsibility, setting the rules, knowing what you have, resource allocation, and the celebration of achievements.  

In addition to providing shelter and ecosystems for wildlife, urban forestry has a range of positive impacts on human residents. Tree Cities of the World states that “urban forests help define a sense of place and well-being where people live, work, play and learn.” Spending even a short amount of time in the company of trees has been shown to lower stress levels, boost feelings of happiness, improve mood, and even alter brain chemistry. Make no mistake, the benevolence of trees far surpasses even these benefits as they also actively combat global climate change.  

Elsewhere across North America, cities have been actively planting trees to increase equitable access to trees and nature, providing shade and reducing the effects of climate change. As climate change continues to be a pressing issue with global temperatures increasing, cities are among the first to be impacted. This is because cities already tend to be hotter than nonurban counterparts, a phenomenon called “urban heat island.”  

Trees, when planted effectively, offer the potential to cool down these cityscapes and offer short-, mid- and long-term solutions. Recently, Dr. Vivek Shandas, a researcher from Portland State University, conducted a study during the June 2021 heat dome in the City of Portland to record how hot it gets in urban areas. He discovered that there was a 20-degree difference between areas with tree canopies and neighbourhoods surrounded by industrial buildings.  

The Cathedral Village Forest Project offers a hopeful opportunity for the greening of urban spaces in Regina and combatting global climate change right here at home. This is a story that continues to evolve, and the project members are hosting a round table on September 28. Regina residents are invited to attend the event hosted in the upstairs of the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre at 7 p.m. 

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