In the Gardens with Volunteer Susanne

Flora and Fauna, Volunteers

Susanne Lamoureux has been getting her hands dirty volunteering in our Heritage Gardens at Fort Edmonton Park, and this summer she’s making it her full time job! Joining our veteran Garden Supervisor, Bill, Susanne will work with our team of over 25 talented gardener volunteers to bring to life the over two dozen historic gardens on site! We took some time to get to know Susanne, and see what makes her excited about volunteering:

Why do you volunteer at Fort Edmonton Park?

Susanne: For over twenty years I regularly visited this Park. Being raised on a farm, growing up with dirt under my fingernails and being exposed to television shows such as Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons, Fort Edmonton Park naturally suited my prairie spirit. To express my passion for this place, I have purchased several seasonal passes over the years, savored Sunday brunches, attended numerous Christmas Reflections, and brought my students here to sketch.  Needless to say, it is my favorite place to be in the entire city. A common thread that links every experience together when visiting Fort Edmonton Park was how enthusiastic everyone is. Volunteering was the next logical thing to do. While volunteering, I have met wonderful people, learned lots about our history, had a tremendous amount of fun, and am able to make a difference by helping out at the Park.

 How did you first get started as a volunteer?

Susanne: One Sunday I was wandering around the greenhouse when I bumped into the Heritage Garden Supervisor, Bill. I am not sure how the conversation started, but I remember Bill informing me how the gardens have to be historically accurate to the time period and they do not use herbicides/pesticides in their gardens. My interest immediately perked up as I was at that time right in the middle of an organic gardening course and was eager to learn more. Bill, sensing my interest, invited me to apply online to volunteer with the Heritage Gardening Program so I applied as soon as I returned home. My gratitude goes to Bill for his wise suggestion.

Gardens volunteer Fort Edmonton Park

Susanne shows off the weeds to be picked

You use historically accurate techniques in the gardens on site. I bet that’s more challenging than modern gardening?

Susanne: I was involved with the garden clean up and our mission was to cut back the peonies, bag them so the remains could be composted. It sounds rather straight-forward. The tools thought otherwise. Eagerly grabbing the shears to cut back the peonies, I attempted to scissor my way through the stalks only to realize they were not cutting. Stems would bend left or right. It took several minutes of desperate attempt to cut anything. Even after trying different shears I was not having much luck. The boys though had a great method of slicing and dicing those stems and by coordinating our efforts together, we were able to run a very smooth production on accomplishing the task. In little time, the entire peony garden was cleaned up, bagged and waiting for the new season.

Why is it important to share history with the public?

Susanne: Sharing history with the public provides an understanding of how Edmonton evolved over the centuries and what created the changes. It gives an appreciation of how things were done in the past and how innovative and resourceful individuals were. An interesting example occurred to me a few years ago before I started volunteering at the Park. I was sketching inside the fur trading post and plunked myself down inside the ice-house. This building was used to store ice throughout the year and, of course, this was prior to the invention of refrigerators. Inside the building there was a pulley, massive saw, chains and an ice tong to grab the chunk of ice. While sketching I heard many amusing comments from the visitors who had quite the imagination. Some even stated that this building was used by the fur traders as a torture chamber to punish anyone who was out of line. That comment made me laugh but took the opportunity to educate them before they walked away with the misconception that the Hudson’s Bay fur traders were tormented by saws, ice tongs and hung on pulleys!

Sharing history also educates the public on how people interacted with one another to operate a community effectively for surviving and thriving. For example, cooperating with the indigenous individuals allowed the traders to learn about native plants that could relieve specific ailments such as snow blindness, headaches, or digestive issues. In exchange, gardening seeds were used to trade with the indigenous individuals. Thus allowing the indigenous individuals to expand their knowledge about cultivating food.

Why should others consider volunteering in the heritage gardens?

Susanne: Volunteering in the heritage gardens allows one to work with soil that has both health and therapeutic benefits. Soil contains a healthy bacteria called M Vaccae which is known to increase one’s immune system, decrease inflammation in the body, as well as, increase serotonin levels in the brain. Overall, by gardening one feels better. Nurturing nature gives a sense of accomplishment and pride. One just cannot help but feel better by taking care of plants. Moreover, Fort Edmonton Park does not use pesticides or herbicides in their gardens thereby promoting health at all levels. Volunteering is a wonderful way to meet people, form friendships and have a great time. I have met wonderful people while volunteering and have immensely enjoyed my experience. It is a great way to help create an environment where visitors can appreciate, enjoy and learn. Finally, as a result of ones efforts, the produce in the fall is donated to the food bank and this benefits others nutritiously.

Does volunteering in the Heritage Gardens sound like your cup of tea? Come down and see Susanne in action, and get involved in our gardens!