“Ecology Re-imagined: Nature and Culture in Historic Places” was held to mark Canadian Environment Week 2016, and featured a panel reflecting upon an ecological approach to conservation.

Editor’s Note: On June 7, a cross-section of the architecture, urbanism and conservation communities, and many from the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts / Willowbank Centre for Cultural Landscape community, was welcomed by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, to Queen’s Park in Toronto. Below is an edited “re-tweet” from Willowbank’s newsletter on this event. It highlights leading thinking regarding MTBA’s approach to conservation at the interconnection of Built, Natural and Cultural preservation. This approach embraces heritage conservation as playing a key role in fostering a sustainable future.


The panelists were Sophia Rabliauskas of Poplar River First Nation in Manitoba, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Willowbank’s  Dean of Faculty, Julian Smith. The conversation was moderated by Paul Kennedy, host of CBC Radio’s Ideas, and will be broadcast on national radio across Canada this summer. 

Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell, whose past services includes the roles of Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, set the stage from the podium by underlining the social and cultural dimensions of environmental stewardship, and the significance of human and natural histories in the places we inhabit.

Sophia Rabliauskas, an advocate for the recognition and protection of ᐱᒪᒋᐅᐃᐧᓂᐊᑭ (Pimachiowin Aki) as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, spoke of how cultural heritage is bound up and closely tied to the land, and how the protection of the 43,000 square kilometres of Boreal forest that form the traditional Ojibwe lands of many First Nations will ensure this cultural heritage can be passed on to future generations. 

Julian Smith, one of Canada’s most renowned heritage practitioners, spoke of how historic places are gateways for understanding our shared histories. Julian spoke of his work on Canada’s Vimy Memorial, and how its restoration was shaped by the voices of our public historians –writers, poets and artists– as well as by the contributions of skilled craftspeople.

Glen Murray spoke candidly about his time as mayor of Winnipeg, and the way our urban sustainability is connected to an understanding of how communities are rooted in the materiality of their environments – whether through buildings or cultural landscapes. He also underscored the value of indigenous perspectives as integral to our more sustainable future.