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COVID memorial garden creates lasting tribute to local 'resiliency'

New addition at Barrie's Sunnidale Park honours lives lost during pandemic, while also showing appreciation for health-care workers and community
The official groundbreaking ceremony of the Covid 19 Hero’s and Memorial Garden Ground Breaking took place September 18, 2023.

What started simply as a desire to honour and remember loved ones who died and those who cared for them during the COVID-19 pandemic has sprouted into a large, outdoor space at Sunnidale Park in Barrie. 

The new addition to the city's iconic park also recognizes the pandemic's effect on the community as a whole.

"We want to do something to make a difference for the people who have suffered,” Rotary Club of Barrie president Betty Ann Lewis said following an official ground-breaking ceremony on Monday for the COVID-19 Heroes and Memorial Garden, which is located on the east side of Sunnidale Park.

The goal of the garden is to provide a “quiet but active outdoor commemoration and memorial of our shared trials through the COVID pandemic.” 

It has been envisioned as a “contemplative area, with places for celebration as well as illustrative representation of the struggles that all of us endured and overcame,” according a news release provided to BarrieToday.

The COVID-19 Heroes and Memorial Garden is located at Sunnidale Park in Barrie. | Nikki Cole/BarrieToday

The project includes seven different gardens, aimed at depicting an element of the community’s collective experience during the pandemic, and culminating to a central feature at the park's south end, celebrating neighbourhood heroes, front-line workers, first-responders and community leaders.

Lewis says she was also at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) during the pandemic and saw its impact on many people. 

"I saw a lot of families (go) through so much … they couldn’t sometimes spend the last moments with their family," she said. "(I saw) the workers that were out there, afraid to bring COVID home to their family.

"(The garden) honours a lot of people and, because we’ve got money we can raise, we can do this and hopefully we honour them,” Lewis added.

Although the garden is currently mostly dirt, new trees were expected to arrive Monday afternoon, said Jim Hosick of Landmark Environmental Group, the company responsible for designing the garden. Flowers will also be planted in the spring.

“This is neat because this is the whole community coming together — Rotary, City of Barrie, other community businesses — and as a result of that, everyone has come together to celebrate the resilience of the people have come through (COVID)," he said.

Hosick said it's also a "celebration ... of all of the doctors and nurses, staff, first-responders and the common people who had loved ones in the hospital or who passed away or were sick as a result of COVID. That’s the inspiration."

Of the seven gardens included in the design, Hosick said each reflects the community's "toughness and resilience ... as well as the pain and sorrow we experienced.”

The garden, which was conceived and initiated by the Rotary Club of Barrie in co-operation with city staff and members of council, has seven planting areas and an open plaza in its design. 

It also recognizes the teamwork of several health-care organizations, including RVH and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, as well as physicians, nurses, first-responders, other health-care professionals and everyone who helped bring the pandemic under control, stated the release. 

The COVID-19 Heroes and Memorial Garden “commemorates the extra care and kindness all community members showed each other during the pandemic” and hopes to serve as a "lasting tribute to Barrie’s resilience as a community."