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One Bench One Tree offers a place for rest and reflection

Started by U of G students, project set for Guelph General Hospital installation

An initiative aimed at expressing gratitude to frontline healthcare workers will soon have a local installation, a place where they can take a breather from their battle against the pandemic and know their efforts are appreciated by the greater community.

That’s the idea behind the One Bench One Tree project which was born out of a concept that came out of the University of Guelph and has come to life at a variety of the province’s largest hospitals. 

“After 18 months of the pandemic, I feel like we’re seeing a lot of healthcare workers at the end of their rope and tired of working with COVID,” said project spokesperson Alli Neuhauser. “I feel like having this bench and tree, a place of nice, quiet reflection to thank them for everything they’ve done … it lets them know that Canada hasn’t forgotten their efforts.”

In each case, a bench is affixed to a concrete pad outside a hospital, with a locally native tree planted two metres away – the physical distance Canadians have been asked to maintain from others since the pandemic began.

A plaque placed at each tree explains the donated landscaping is a “gift of rest” dedicated to frontline healthcare workers on behalf of their fellow Canadians.

The first One Bench One Tree installment came in June, outside Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto where Canada’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. Since then, the project has grown to include sites at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton, with one outside Sunnybrook’s St. John’s Rehab Centre in North York and a fourth at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas.

“We’re aiming to have 10 installations in Ontario by the end of the year,” said Neuhauser.

Guelph General Hospital (GGH) is among the next group set to receive One Bench One Tree, along with London Health Sciences Centre, Thunder Bay Regional Health Science, The Ottawa Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

The local effort is being done in conjunction with Rotary Club of Guelph-South.

“Our environment committee heard about One Bench One Tree and the wonderful work they're doing and immediately thought of our local hospital,” said club member David Turvey via email. “We respect the hard work of our front line workers and helping provide a nature based respite for them during their busy days is an exciting opportunity for us.”

The hope is to complete the GGH installation next month.

“We have a great spot right in front of the hospital. It’s nice for our staff to have another spot to be able to be outside and just take a break from all that they’re dealing with inside the hospital,” Suzanne Bone, CEO of The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital. “Hopefully we’ll have some beautiful fall weather and folks will be able to start to enjoy it in the very near future.”

The concept for One Bench One Tree came about when a group of landscape architecture masters students at the U of G got together during the winter break to discuss how they could show their appreciation for the efforts of frontline healthcare workers.

Neuhauser was part of that group, along with Everett Dejong, Casey Ross, Manuel Spiller, Marika Li, Tiffany Adair, Ethan Aquino-Chien and Abigayle Lalonde.

“They’re fighting on our behalf every day,” said Neuhauser. “The hospitals have been very responsive and thankful that a group of MLA students took the time to think about them in this way.”