Signal Hill Elementary School & Community Garden

By Caroline Bloomfield | January 28, 2022
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by Caroline Bloomfield
January 28, 2022

The Signal Hill Elementary School garden is a community haven for all visitors in Pemberton, British Columbia. Teachers and parents created it, the school owns it, and it is used by the students. But this garden is only part of the story of this colorful and extraordinary community. 

Claire Fuller and a small team of parent volunteers coordinate the garden’s activities at spring startup and over the summer, and the teachers take charge in school time. Formerly a resident of the UK, Claire relocated to Canada seven years ago. She has since learned much about Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being through the BC Curriculum, which is connected to the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), implemented in 2007. 

A primary objective of the Commission is to facilitate reconciliation among survivors of residential schools, their families, their communities, and all Canadians. The program aims to deepen awareness of the trauma of colonization, and to bring a new level of respect and honor to the Indigenous people of Canada. Signal Hill honors this goal in a number of ways. The simple but foundational Indigenous principle of connecting to the land paves the way for students to respect Indigenous culture.

Líl̓wat Nation

Members of the Líl̓wat Nation (part of the St̓át̓y̓emc Nation) make up 33% of Signal Hill’s student population. 

Canada’s 1876 “Indian Act” authorized the federal government to remove Indigenous children from their families and place them in residential schools. Between 1887 and 1984, twenty-one of these residential schools operated in B.C. The TRC estimates that at least 150,000 students were forced to attend residential schools nationwide. Recent efforts have located the remains of more than 6,000 children who died at these institutions through unattended disease, neglect, and abuse, although the number is thought to be significantly higher. At Signal Hill Elementary there is a keen acknowledgement of these damaging, painful memories of the past.

The road to healing will be long, but a new wave of energy and hope is emerging in Canada as the country attempts to heal its past. Signal Hill School is proud to be making steps towards reconciliation. You can see more of their journey in this short film. 

This year the Canadian federal government has created an annual “National Truth and Reconciliation Day,” a statutory holiday on the 30th of September. This holiday is intended to be an opportunity for all Canadians to learn and reflect, and signifies a unified occasion to work through this process together.

Claire tells us that Pemberton’s public school pedagogy focuses on teaching self-awareness, motivation, resilience, and the development of capable confident citizens. There’s an emphasis on teaching the fundamentals required for being a successful human: to collaborate, contribute, create and innovate, and think critically. These values take precedence over exams and test scores. Students are encouraged to use a growth mindset, take ownership of their learning, and hold in high regard their connection to others. So, what role does the Signal Hill school garden play in this new thinking?

Signal Hill Elementary Garden

The school garden is a natural part of Pemberton’s progress and evolution. It is recognized by all as a symbol of unity and sharing. Here’s a quote from their website

Beautiful Signal Hill school garden” provides a “seed to table” educational journey for our 425 student (K to Grade 7) with reconciliation at its heart. It covers food production, local cultural practices and a school wide harvest festival of food. The process is part of our ongoing learning of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being.

Some of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being include the 4 Blankets of self, family, community and land culture. These guiding connections help students to self-evaluate, to value their own expertise, to consider how it helps the entire community beyond themselves, to acknowledge how we are all connected to each other, and to become true stewards of the land. 

Parent volunteers watch over the garden in summer, tending to irrigation and maintenance until classes resume in September. Then teachers take over and, with student support, they prepare for October’s harvest festival. All the plants from the garden are used in cooking and food preparation in the classrooms and school kitchen. 

Traditions

Pemberton’s Healing Through Harvest festival features pit-cooked garden vegetables and a traditional ceremony in the month of October. Ceremony is an important aspect of Indigenous culture. Claire tells us about a particularly beautiful blanket ceremony held to honor St̓át̓y̓emc Elders. There is a great sense of love and care for those whose voices are finally being heard. That ceremony has had the effect of educating and uniting the community, and engaging family members of all ages. 

Four-Legged Visitors

Pemberton has a large deer population. Visiting deer brought a tear to the eye of many local gardeners when half of the school’s tomato starts were demolished by them. We’re happy to report that Gardening Know How’s sponsorship program helped to fund a substantial fence around the garden – problem solved!

Claire Fuller’s deep regard for the cultural movement in Canada is contagious. Her generous spirit and lilting British accent made me want to spend a day in the garden with her. The world could use more Claire Fullers.

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

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  • Coiumbus crayton
    Comment added August 17, 2022Reply

    look I am a 81 year man that always wanted to have a small garden. my problem is I live in a area that have only sugar sand which is not good for nothing melons because good drainage. I made some metal raised beds put in a sprinkle system and now I need soil for the raised beds that I cant afford at this time so its on hold for another time, I thought I might try a winter garden but its been so hot I dug up all of flower garden and decided to put that on hold and rethink both Ideas the raised beds that I do have are under shade cloth I thought would stop my plants from getting burnt from the sun. I was wrong again the fact is it is just to hot this year. My friend down hill from plowed his garden up this he said it is just trying to keep his plants alive would t costly. so if you have any ideas please are send me a e-mail and let me no if there anything I can do for a winter garden. soil is my other problem thanks for listening.

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