Published on November 16, 2023
A career typically has twists and turns, each step building from the last. For Sheila Boudreau, 15 years after working on the very first landscaping plan for Evergreen Brick Works, she’s back in the space she helped create. It is her favourite place in the city for many reasons, including family ties.
Sheila now owns and operates SpruceLab, a landscape architecture and planning firm that moved their Toronto office to Evergreen Brick Works this past August. She is working on a variety of projects and contributing to a national task force on housing and climate policy. Recently she was asked to collaborate on a proposal for Toronto’s Keating Channel pedestrian bridge design competition. Have a look at their submission “All my relations” or NDA – Nwendaaganag.
EVERGREEN: How did you end up working on the original landscaping plan for Evergreen Brick Works?
Sheila: I just got off mat leave, and I was excited because of the focus on ecological restoration and placemaking in the Don Valley. It had been discussed for decades, what to do with the Brick Works. There was a huge amount of community and government support, and then Evergreen stepped in.
Evergreen was our client, working in partnership with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the City of Toronto. DTAH had entered a design competition with Claude Cormier of Cormier and Associates (may he rest in peace). I was really fortunate to work with Claude – they were the lead landscape architects with the overall vision and DTAH was hired to work and support the vision and also to be there on the ground during the construction drawing sets. Taking it from the ideation to getting it built.
It was a great opportunity for me to be working with DTAH at that time, and they knew I had expertise in planting design and [was] passionate about plants. And so that was my role, to lead all the planting design, and to support them as needed. I was drawing up details for the bioswales and I was drawing up the beautiful metal fence with the angles that change. There was not one part of that project I wasn’t involved in at some point, even if it was just my minor revisions.
EVERGREEN: What are some elements you considered when you were creating the planting design plan?
Sheila: I love thinking of that, like higher level, the context ecologically, and then also, what do you do on the ground? How are you going to plant? How are you going to design a planting plan with specifications that help the plants thrive? It all has to work – all the way from ideas to implementation and stewardship. In terms of the planting design itself, I worked with Dugan and Associates on the recommendations for plant species so they’re all native to the Toronto area. We refer to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority’s lists of flora. And we worked on some innovative solutions around erosion control methods, that integrated native plant seeds and organic materials to help stabilize the slopes and give the plants time to start to grow.
And then the idea for along where the water flows, the design would be riparian species. The Brick Works is designed for the water to come from the north and flow right through the whole site. But it has to go through the greenways in between the buildings, where the Trembling Aspen or the Alders are. Basically, when you look between the two buildings you see the green space is growing. And so that’s been designed as a bioswale.
The back slope where it’s facing southwest was the Carolinian forest. And those plants were specifically chosen to help recreate the sense of what a Carolinian forest is. That’s where we did the erosion control blanket and seed mix to help stabilize it. The planting plans strove to create growing conditions that were realistic because we’ve got a hot parking lot, but we wanted to put plants in there that naturally grow in those conditions so that they have the best chance of survival. We were trying to think of it from the perspective of: what does the plant need, what does the plant want?
EVERGREEN: What does regenerative landscaping mean?
Sheila: If we act in a way that’s only sustaining things, then we’re not going to get a planet that will thrive. For humans and all beings, we need to think about what we do to move towards regenerative—where things are thriving and changing and growing and we’re supporting it in a holistic way. It’s more like that Seven Generations thinking that Indigenous peoples remind us of. You must design things so that they’re not just sustained, but they’re actually improving over time and they’re able to continue to thrive when we’re gone.
EVERGREEN: What is your favourite place in the city?
Sheila: My favourite place is the Brick Works. No really! The Mud Creek trail system. All of it: the multi-use bike trail and the bridge crossing.
The beautiful thing about the Brick Works is its heritage buildings. My papa was a bricklayer, and my mom remembers as a kid going to the brick works to buy bricks with my Popa. So there’s even a family connection there. And the fact that I did my master’s thesis on community-based planning for the Don watershed and how you create an integrated approach at a watershed level.
After that I’m going to say Cherry Beach dog park because my dog is super free and happy and then I’m relaxed, and I can just chill out because she’s getting the exercise she needs.
EVERGREEN: What does SpruceLab specialize in?
Sheila: So many things. Our tag line for SpruceLab is engaging design. The reason we do engagement is, as designers, as landscape architects, even as planners, [we] want to hear firsthand from people and have that become a part of our emotional intelligence as [we’re] listening, and it inspires the design.