Jim Galbraith never had any doubts the judges would love the place.
“Western is an amazing, beautiful campus. But that doesn’t happen on its own,” said Western’s grounds and recycling supervisor. “From the folks who started this whole thing more than 100 years ago, to those who planted many of our great trees we enjoy today, we have to carry the torch forward.
“We need to do things for 50 years down the road, things that were done for us 50 years ago. We need to keep it moving forward.”
Galbraith and his Facilities Management team, as well as dozens of others across campus, took away several positives from the extensive judges’ comments provided from the university’s participation in the 19th edition of the Communities in Bloom National and International Awards.
The Communities in Bloom program consists of communities being evaluated either provincially or nationally by a volunteer jury of trained professionals on the accomplishments of their entire community. The campus was evaluated in July; winners were announced last week.
In 2004, Western took first-place honours in the Parks and Grounds category of the organization’s annual awards, beating out Alberta’s Banff National Park and Okanagan University College in British Columbia. Prior to this year, it was the first – and last – time Western entered the competition.
This year, Western was entered in the Special Attractions category. A change from previous years, this category is only evaluated and rated; entrants do not complete against one another. There is no category ‘winner.’
Entrants are allowed to enter themselves for one or more of the organization’s Outstanding Achievement Awards. Western entered only one of those competitions, the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association Environmental Action Award, a category won by Yarmouth, NS.
The real advantage to the competition, Galbraith said, is getting an outsider’s view of the campus.
Communities in Bloom judges Gérald Lajeunesse from Ottawa and Bruce Hay from Brampton rated the university on six categories – tidiness, environmental action, natural and cultural heritage conservation, urban forestry, landscape and floral displays. Overall, the judging pair gave the university an 89 per cent, a figure good for the organization’s top rating – Five Blooms.
“The budget allocated for the grounds and the staff’s expertise are impressive, resulting in a campus that is not only attractive and functional, but also one that is respective of its heritage, both natural and built, and environmentally sustainable for future generations,” wrote Lajeunesse and Hay. “Of the many challenges facing the campus in the coming decades, the greatest will be the protection of the heritage character of the campus, the integrity of its green space and the control of its built environment, its ‘urbanization.’
“The judges are pleased to recognize the Western University campus with Five Blooms and encourage staff to continue striving for excellence in their work.”
The category breakdown held some interesting commentary for the campus:
- Environmental action. “The on-site apiary was a most enjoyable discovery by the judges, as was the delicious honey tasted during the campus visit. An essential service provided by these insects ensures the cross-pollination of the many fruit trees, shrubs and flowers throughout the campus; a fine example of environmental sustainability at work.”
- Natural and cultural heritage conservation. “The judges quickly realized that this campus was not merely ‘old’ in years, but that the heritage continues to resonate throughout the years and today, the same respect and recognition can be seen in the natural and built environment of the overall campus. Apart from a short period of questionable architectural expression during the late 60s and early 70s, the built form remains true to Western’s roots and recent additions retain the expression of the early architectural vocabulary through the use of noble materials such as sandstone I limestone and the preservation of the cultural landscape that accompanied the original structures. … The judges enjoyed viewing the recent development of the Aboriginal garden, as it will provide an educational venue and a connection with the cultural landscape and First Nations heritage, the campus and the region. Hopefully sufficient assistance will be provided to ensure the success of this initiative.”
- Urban forestry. “It was quite obvious to the judges the campus tree inventory was well tended and routinely assessed to ensure safety, aesthetics and health were addressed. The best technique is applied to ensure the tree not only survives but thrives during planting and ongoing nurturing. The judges were taken by the vast array of tree species found on campus and considered the quality of specimens to rival many existing arboreta.”
- Floral displays. “The predominance of purple and white, the university colours, was omnipresent and delightful to see. Bravo to the team. … Further initiatives could also be developed with the Friends of the Garden and First Nations representatives in order to better sustain the existing partnership gardens and thus ensure their continuing presence on campus. Such partnership should be seen as going beyond accommodation, with the common goal of providing value added to the community’s well-being and quality of life.”
While the physical attributes of the campus dominated the commentary, Galbraith was pleased the judges frequently nodded to the people who make the campus beautiful.
“The people who work at Western are committed and fortunate to have a campus as beautiful as we have,” he said. “It’s part of our staff’s dedication to making this campus what it is.”
Going forward, Galbraith sees an opportunity to use some of the commentary to inspire future projects – like refreshing the Campus Walking Tour, even adding in a separate Campus Tour for Trees. He also saw a place where some of the commentary – like developing a more consistent campus in the outdoor amenities, such as benches and tables, signage, etc. – could inform the upcoming conversation on the Campus Master Plan.
“We always say this, but we really are a city within a city. They judge towns and villages, but a place like this is a bit different for them, a bit unique. There is such a vast array of things going on all the time on campus. We try to make the best experience for anyone visiting here for any reason,” he said. “The campus has to look good all the time.
“And that’s our challenge.”