Open Letter from the RoncyWorks Green Team

For close to 10 years, we, the undersigned volunteers,  have designed and maintained the 21 gardens along Roncesvalles Avenue, in partnership with the Roncesvalles Village BIA (RVBIA).  We embraced that task with enthusiasm after the street was redesigned and rebuilt, and at a time when the RVBIA did not have adequate funds to pay for the upkeep of the street beds. 

It is with great sadness, therefore, that we have chosen to leave that relationship, and end our commitment to create gardens that were diverse, environmentally friendly and increasingly filled with native and pollinator plants.  We believe our years of volunteer street gardening, which won awards, contributed to Roncesvalles’ unique identity as a community. 

Last December, the RVBIA streetscape committee hired a landscaping company, Urban Garden, to prepare a report for redesigning the gardens to create a uniform look, with repeating patterns and colours.  A small outspoken group within the RVBIA were pressing for a commercial style to fit with the street rebranding they were envisioning. 

We were not informed of these plans and were not invited to the table until January. By that time the clock was ticking, with the plant-ordering and planting season fast approaching. 

We prepared seven submissions for the RVBIA’s streetscape committee, including a recap of the gardens’ history and eco-friendly objectives, a description of changing growing conditions, suggestions for native and pollinator plants that would fulfil the RVBIA’s vision, a list of possible eco-friendly consultants who could work with us and the RVBIA to redesign the beds, and suggestions for the Request for Quote that the RVBIA streetscape committee planned to issue for the garden redesign and maintenance in March.  Our input was largely ignored or rejected, other than a concession to include pollinator plants.

In the end, no contractor submitted a bid to the first Request for Quote. In mid-April, a meeting was called to discuss a contingency plan. But, what was supposed to be the RVBIA’s first working committee meeting with us degenerated into a cascade of criticism of the gardens and an approach on the part of the RVBIA members present that made constructive discussion impossible. 

The joy and satisfaction we had felt as volunteers, contributing to the community, managing the Roncesvalles Avenue gardens and nurturing the plants, was shattered. We agreed unanimously not to continue with a partnership that was now so compromised. We informed the BIA that we would not continue.

Another Request for Quote was posted in early May. The contract, now awarded to Urban Garden, includes removing virtually all plant materials  “in all beds in order to achieve the desired uniformity and functionality.” 

The RVBIA let us know their decision and offered us a chance to come back and stay involved. But, given their plans to remove all of the existing garden plants; to impose uniformity; as well as the likely impact of their digging on tree roots in the ten large beds; and the lack of respect shown by members of the RVBIA’s Streetscape Committee for our work and advice,  the prospect of re-engaging as volunteers holds no appeal to us. We feel that having a mix of garden styles was a strength, not a weakness.

However, we are grateful for the many years that we have worked together to bring some beauty and interest to the street. We are also grateful for all the support, encouragement and praise we’ve received from the community and from the RVBIA in the past. And, of course, we will continue to shop locally to help Roncesvalles businesses survive and thrive. 


RoncyWorks Green Team:
John & Hilary
Peter & Corinne

33 thoughts on “Open Letter from the RoncyWorks Green Team

  1. Thank you for all the incredible work you did, you made a difference.

    All the best on this next stage of the journey.

    Peace, Joy, Hope, Charity, Gratitude, Patience, Gentleness, Respect and Humility,
    Steve De Quintal
    Teacher, St. Mary Catholic Academy, 66 Dufferin Park Ave. Toronto, Ontario M6H-1J6.
    416-393-5528 ext. 84293
    “that they may have life and have it to the full.”
    ***You can always email but a call or a visit will get a quicker response***


  2. Were the struggling businesses on Roncy paying for your hobby gardens? There is lots of entitlement in that.

    • They’re volunteers, so unpaid workers… The city only pays for their materials, which is far cheaper than hiring a contract company to redo everything/ removal costs/ upkeep/ labour etc.

      I’m sure the struggling businesses worry more about increased rent as a result of all this rebranding the RVBIA is doing than these small gardens maintained by a few volunteers 😦 See comments below that these “hobby” gardens attracted a lot of business to the area!

  3. This really disappoints me. As a longtime resident, I have appreciated your efforts and the splendid results all through the decade past. I feel that the disrespect, contempt and lack of gratitude on the part of the RVBIA toward you is wholly unwarranted. They are wrong. The charm of Roncy has been very much enhanced by the unique and diverse gardens you have cultivated. A huge thank you for your many years of selfless volunteerism.

  4. Thank you for all your hard work in volunteer hour over the years! I for one love the gardens and appreciate that people put in what they like and what is appealing to them. I am sad to hear about this ending; keep your heads up high.

  5. This is so unfortunate! At a time when our local habitat and promoting biodiversity is crucial. Please tell me they are at least allowing you to salvage any native plants that might be in the space. If not, I’d be happy to come and take them off their hands.

  6. “We believe our years of volunteer street gardening, which won awards, contributed to Roncesvalles’ unique identity as a community.” Absolutely! I am so sorry and sad to see the end of your work and dedication to what has been real community building and civic engagement.

  7. This saddens me to learn of and read. I live in Roncy and love seeing those volunteer gardens and really appreciate the work of this volunteer group. Thank you for all you have done. Very sorry to hear of this change which I think is a step in the wrong direction. If there’s any way to save it, I hope you may continue (but it sounds like a done deal, unfortunately). Again, thank you.

  8. This is a terrible mistake.
    I appreciate all the hard work and effort of the volunteers to build what has become one of the nicest streets to walk along in Toronto.
    The city definitely needs native and pollinator plants. I hope that the corporate entity responsible for the new gardens reflects the needs of the city and also cares for them with as much concern and responsibility as the volunteers have done.

  9. I disagree with this decision. Uniformity is not what I want. Uniformity is not what nature wants. The gardens are beautiful. I wondered who kept them. How dare the RVBIA make this decision without consulting the neighborhood it purports to be part of. You want us to shop there? Listen to us. And I want to thank all those volunteers and to urge them not to get too rested. You will be back.

  10. This is sad news indeed. I will miss staring into the various gardens to identify the many different perennials and self-seeding plants.

    What a shame that your vision (and many others in the neighbourhood as well) does not match the vision of those who want order and uniformity.

  11. Just heartbreaking. Thank you to all the volunteers for your years of hard work, care and creativity. Your gardens helped make Roncesvalles a unique and joyous experience

  12. I love the work the volunteer gardeners have been doing. The plantings were lovely, always interesting, and ecologically sound, using native plants and encouraging biodiversity. I am devastated that the RVBIA would destroy all the work done and hire a landscape company to plant uniformly matching plantings. How unimaginative and boring. It is another step backwards in making Roncesvalles a places for humans!

  13. I’ve always enjoyed the diversity of the Roncesvalles gardens. It would be a shame to change to a uniform, generally environmentally sterile landscape company.

  14. sad sad sad and infuriating! Uniformity and matchy match! what a crappy concept. Long live nature and its diversity!

  15. Actually the original group did a lot more than you see mentioned here:
    We met, when we heard the street would be torn up for new street car lines, and decided that we would see it was made into a really special street. We made a list, some of which I recall:
    Benches, bump-outs, Trees and more Trees, with tree guards, tree grates and finally labels with both botanical and common names. Then better lighting, better garbage/cig. butts clean up, then community engagement, i.e. finding out what the business owners would like to see in front of their shop and more. We invited an arborist from the City to give us a talk and consultation on the subject of urban trees. We did our homework. Everyone said it couldn’t be done….it was. Power of the people you know.

    After the first year when the contract for maintenance was given to a local flower shop we felt it was not good enough. We petitioned that we would take over maintenance charging only for plants, mulch, compost, worm castings etc. Watering was done by a separate contractor. We felt we had done well and, saved the BIA money. We did.
    We gave ourselves a bit of a party once a year (bringing out our own drink and food to one member’s big house). Later the BIA put on an event to thank us each November, food donated by local businesses. It was a lot of fun as we recognized various workers for their outstanding and unsung successes.
    THis is a very small piece of what we did, at the moment I can’t recall everything, but others will for sure.

    The Peace Garden is a separate item, driven forward by the amazing Abby Bushby. This too was achieved after many years dogged work, and won a major award.

    So now that we are invited to help with maintenance…er picking up cig butts and so on? No thanks.
    Cheers and I look forward to the next.

  16. The gardens are superlative. Thank you all for your inspiration and hard work. I have often paused to look at the gardens, in all seasons. Many very stunning displays. You are visionaries; they are not. But I am confused: do the gardens “belong” to someone? Or are they there for all of us…?

  17. CBC Here and Now is looking for someone to go o the air today to discuss this.

    Are any of you available to do so. Note the comments on the facebook feed.

  18. The RoncyWorks Green Team deserved so much better from the RVBIA.
    I would like them to know there was at least one RFQ provided (from me) late in the timeline that specifically proposed their ongoing involvement in design, implementation and management of the project. I decided to submit the proposal in order to give a voice to what the RoncyWorks Green Team have been doing, and to attempt to move the RVBIA towards a more climate-resilient, open-ended landscape approach. I would be happy to share the proposal with them, since I doubt the RVBIA shared any of the proposals with them.

    Sam Benvie MES (Ecological Economics)

  19. Very disappointing! Hoping the RVBIA reverses this decision. If they don’t what will become of the plants? I would be interested in rehoming them in the Junction at Vine Avenue butterfly garden. Please feel free to reach out! Georgina Blanchard

    • I believe you may take any left before they are all dug up and dumped.
      I gave away many chive plants that had earlier encircled one of my beds. Actually the Calendula that I planted last year has self seeded so if you see sprightly little Calendula in the bed opposite where George Brown Legal used to be, help yourself, they are such a cheery orange flower. George is from Jamaica and he wanted orange flowers to remind him of home. I obliged.

  20. This is so unfortunate. Could we please get a list of businesses that were wanting “uniformity”, as I would like to boycott them. Also, I would invite any gardeners to please approach our Parkdale BIA or Parkdale Gardening group as we would likely welcome any and all volunteers to garden here. Lots of businesses and neighbours are creative, diverse and hard working and just don’t have the time or income to offer volunteer support. We welcome that!

    • I second this. I’d love to know exactly who is responsible for this horrible decision as I’d love to avoid their businesses in the future.

      • RoncyWorks does not wish to identify businesses for boycotting or backlash. We’re about community collaboration and cooperation. We appreciate the community’s deep support and gratitude for the work of our volunteer gardeners. This year our volunteers did not work in the gardens because their role going forward was unclear. The rest is stated in their open letter.

    • Leading up to the reconstruction of Roncesvalles Avenue completed in 2011, the community was invited by the BIA to identify features they would most like to see included. The community prioritized healthy trees that would grow to maturity to provide a canopy along with gardens and benches. The City installed the gardens and trees, paid from municipal funds, however, the BIA was responsible for the ongoing maintenance.

      For many years the BIA had insufficient funds to cover the full cost of plants, soil, nutrients, etc. and labour for watering, weeding and pruning, trimming and cleaning litter in the 21 gardens. So local gardeners volunteered to support the BIA by providing free labour and planning with the intent of designing perennial gardens that eventually would be low maintenance. These gardeners soon aimed to create more sustainable, eco-friendly gardens by Introducing native plants and pollinators. In this sense, the gardens belong to both the BIA and the community.

  21. So saddened that you guys were treated this way. Truly discouraging and frustrating. I hope there will be some path forward in the future for your group to reclaim leadership and stewardship of these gardens. I hope the BIA does the right thing and apologies for your mistreatment and offers some form of reparation for your return.

  22. Thank you for adding character warmth and charm to our neighbourhood. If there are specific actions that you feel that the neighbourhood can take to support your efforts please advise!

  23. This conflict saddens and angers me. It is an incredible waste of community spirit, everyone’s time, energy and resources. Volunteers are the unsung, lifeblood of a community.

    I am in awe of and so grateful for the Roncyworks commitment and results. However, we all should remember that the BIA is run by very committed volunteers as well.

    The Roncywork’s team deserves control over these gardens (in collaboration with the community and BIA), as the creative vision, inspiration, and manpower that made them happen. The BIA should have dropped this issue to focus on priorities around supporting our valuable businesses as they emerge from the shutdown.

    I believe it is incumbent on the BIA to apologize and figure out a way to work with RoncyWorks – its never too late.

  24. Pingback: Petition asking the Roncesvalles Village BIA to repair relationship with volunteer gardeners gained 200 signatures in 24 hours. – Kathleen Rea

    • What you see in the gardens at present is what grew back on its own, minus some plants that have been removed at the request of the BIA, by the gardeners, and by some members of Project Swallowtail and some members of the Horticultural Society of Parkdale and Toronto. Anyone wishing to remove plants should contact the Roncesvalles Village BIA for permission and direction.

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