British Columbia

A plant for every child: Tk'emlups garden provides space for reflection — and nourishment

Last fall, the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc's Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program planted an edible garden near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, providing a new space for visitors to reflect — and help themselves to some fruits and herbs.

215 plants were first placed in the soil when the garden was created, says garden designer Shelaigh Garson

The public garden is located near the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site. More signgage will be installed to let people know when fruits and other crops can be harvested. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Visitors to the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School have a new place to gather and reflect.

Last fall, the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc's Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program planted an edible garden near the former residential school site and the community's current elementary school, Sk'elep School of Excellence.

Now, the plants are flowering and starting to bear some fruits.

Since more than 200 possible unmarked graves were identified on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, thousands of people — from regular citizens to the prime minister of Canada — have visited the memorial in front of the building. The site has become an important gathering point, with calls for even the Pope to visit

Fruit trees have been planted in the garden, which is open to the public. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

The public garden, less than 15 metres from the memorial, marks a new kind of space. Strawberries blanket parts of the ground, sending out dozens of runners. The scents of herbs like lavender and creeping thyme gently waft in the air. Traditional plants like sweet grass, yarrow and chokecherry are growing.

According to the garden's designer, Shelaigh Garson, the plants hold a connection to the Le Estcwéy̓ (The Missing), the name Tk'emlups elders have given the children who never returned home from residential school: when the garden was first planted, 215 plants were put in the soil. 

"Everything happened just serendipitously," said Garson, owner of EveryOne's Eden Garden Design and a member of the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program, which is run by the First Nation to help improve access to healthy and traditionally appropriate food, and improve food security.

"We had planted 215 marigolds in the school garden with the [students at the nearby elementary school] prior to that and I thought, I wonder if we can get 215 plants in here of various types, and then it just kind of kept building and building."

Shay Paul, project co-ordinator for the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program, says she sees the public garden as a place for people to gather — and learn about food. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Garson said she made sure to say a few words to commemorate the children as she and her team put the plants in the soil.

"My intent is that people can come there and pray, cry, eat, gather, learn, whatever they need to do."

Since the garden was installed last fall, more plants have been added.

"This is going to be an oasis for people," said Shay Paul, project co-ordinator for the program and a former student of the nearby elementary school.

Yarrow has also sprung up in certain spots of the garden. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

"It's inspiring and gives me a lot of hope for the children that are growing up now to be knowledgeable about these plants and to be able to go out and harvest and pick and provide for themselves."

More signage will be installed at the garden, which is open to the public, to let people know when the fruits and herbs are ready to be harvested, Paul said.

She added that there are plans to create gardens near other former residential school grounds.

LISTEN | Shay Paul says the new public garden will be an 'oasis' 

If you walk near the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential school, you might notice a new garden planted between the former school and the current elementary school. It's a project by Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc and it recognizes the children -- the Missing, who never came home from residential school. Daybreak's Jenifer Norwell stopped by to hear more.


Jenifer Norwell

Story Producer

Jenifer Norwell has been working with CBC since 2008. She's worked in Prince George, Vancouver, Sudbury and now makes her home in her hometown of Kamloops. She works with CBC Kamloops and with Daybreak Kamloops.