Parks Foundation Calgary grant warms communities to winter

·4 min read
Parks Foundation Calgary's Embrace the Outdoors grant helped groups imagine a winter outside.  (submitted by Keith Hlewka/CBC - image credit)
Parks Foundation Calgary's Embrace the Outdoors grant helped groups imagine a winter outside. (submitted by Keith Hlewka/CBC - image credit)

A little grant money has helped take the chill out of winter in several Calgary communities.

Parks Foundation Calgary launched the Embrace the Outdoors Grant last year but quickly ran out of capital as the grant was snapped up by enthusiastic groups. Now, the foundation can offer the grant again.

Each group can apply for up to $4,500 as long as they meet all the criteria and can create an experience for citizens that adheres to Alberta's COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Projects must be carried out before the end of April.

For the first round, there were approximately nine projects, and the foundation hopes with this second offering they can fund 15 additional ideas.

"Winter is long and people spend a lot of time indoors," said Sheila Taylor, the foundation's CEO.

"Coming out of this past summer … outdoor spaces became more important to people's physical health and mental health, and there was a strong desire to find ways to help people continue to go outside."

One of the first projects made hay with the grant — literally. Larry Leach with the Phoenix Education Foundation School said they quickly agreed that a hay maze would be a fun way to get kids outside.

It's quickly become a favourite activity for students and has even created some fun conversations online. Leach said on Twitter someone asked him how many passes it would take through the maze to make 10,000 steps. He immediately had to try it out.

The Phoenix Education Foundation School created a hay maze with the help from a grant from Parks Foundation Calgary.
The Phoenix Education Foundation School created a hay maze with the help from a grant from Parks Foundation Calgary.(Helen Pike/CBC)

With the extra funds, Leach said they will create a music wall that can become a permanent fixture outside of the school.

"This music wall will be something that's permanent and will be, you know, used forevermore," Leach said.

Taylor said this was a theme — many communities fit their applications within the winter mandate, but chose to come up with projects they can continue to use.

"If a community purchased dozens of sets of snowshoes, they'll be able to continue to use that next winter, too," she said.

While the doors to Fort Calgary remain closed at this time, an outdoor storytelling exhibit takes walkers back through time with help from a grant from Parks Foundation Calgary.
While the doors to Fort Calgary remain closed at this time, an outdoor storytelling exhibit takes walkers back through time with help from a grant from Parks Foundation Calgary.(Helen Pike/CBC)

Fort Calgary may be closed, but outside its doors, there's a storytelling exhibit taking walkers through time. Dating way back, before the fort walls went up — told through the Indigenous storytellers and their connection to the confluence.

Those passing by can scan a QR code to listen to audio stories.

"Going into this project we just really wanted to find out the real significance of this site," said Troy Patenaude, director of cultural development at Fort Calgary.

"In that regard, the staff at Fort Calgary are very much learning alongside the public."

At the fort, they've worked to deepen relationships with Indigenous groups. Patenaude added while the outdoor grant helped get this project started, it's something Fort Calgary plans to build off of to include more stories and voices.

After adopting a rink in Bridgeland, lead volunteer Keith Hlewka said the funding helped bring the 9A Street N.W. rink to life. Now, it's a fixture — with public art, games, seating and fire pits, it's a space the community is now going to that didn't exist last year.

"We get notes all the time and comments from people that they never would have made it through winter without this," Hlewka said.

The group was even able to buy yarn for residents in nearby seniors homes who, in turn, adorned the trees with colourful creations. The seniors are now renting a bus to drive by and see their work.

"It's really, really interesting how it's sort of taken on a life of its own and never really anticipated," Hlewka said.

The group was able to make it happen in partnership with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

While the grant isn't a permanent fixture, Taylor said it's made an impact. The foundation hopes to bring it back.

"What does it take to create habits and people?" she said. "Or to inspire people to change how they're doing things? I hope that if a family got in the habit of going outside and enjoying winter in a different way, that would be something that could continue as well."