Butterflies, benches & a boost for those living with dementia

Angus McIntyre demonstrates part of the history of Balaclava Park

By Andrea Sara

Imagine a lovely bench in a boulevard garden where people, especially those living with dementia, can rest in the sun or shade, surrounded by pops of bright flowers while listening to the sounds of birds and bees and watching butterflies dance and play.

That idyllic scenario is the potential outcome of two Dunbar-area initiatives that have coincidentally been developing together over the past year. One initiative encourages the creation of habitat for pollinators; the other encourages those with dementia to participate in community life and works to ensure their access to physical and social opportunities.

The dementia project, combining the efforts of the DRA, the Westside Seniors Hub and UBC Nursing, grew out of a desire by many in the community to find ways of helping isolated seniors during the early days of the pandemic. Since the DRA is not a United Way-sponsored community services organization, it was outside its scope to assist with delivering groceries and medications.

 Instead, the DRA worked with the Dunbar Youth Network to develop a database of neighbourhood benches and picnic tables that could be used in creating a map of supportive walking routes. All along the routes would be stops where people could rest on a bench or share a socially distanced conversation at a picnic table over a coffee and a sandwich.  A big thank-you to Sophia Bi for compiling the database and riding her bike around the neighbourhood snapping photos of all the benches and picnic tables.

Separately, but at the same time, a group of neighbourhood parents began an environmental stewardship project. The Balaclava Pollinators, part of the David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway program, have been building indigenous-plant butterflyway pollinator habitat gardens on boulevards, pathways, front yards and Green Street corner gardens. https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/butterflyway/vancouver/.

The DRA hopes to integrate these garden plots into the walking map so people can plan neighbourhood walks that include beautiful boulevard gardens. Ideally, as in the scenario described above, benches could be incorporated into the gardens so walkers can stop to rest amidst flowers, birds and butterflies.

The dementia and pollinator projects are also coming together at Balaclava Park, where the Balaclava Pollinators have built a demonstration butterfly pollinator habitat garden to educate people about native pollinator plants that attract B.C. butterfly species. A wheelchair-height raised planter box has been added to the garden, so those who use a wheelchair or walker can participate. This new initiative, called the Fireweed Club, is part of the dementia project, which is officially known as ‘Building Capacity for Meaningful Participation by People Living with Dementia’ under the Public Health Agency of Canada and a new federally funded Dementia Community Investment strategy.

A celebration was to be held October 1st at Balaclava Park to showcase all the 2021 Building Capacity initiatives by the partner organizations of the Westside Seniors Hub. Due to the continued social restrictions of the pandemic, many of the partner initiatives focused on outdoor programs and virtual programs. The partner projects can be seen at these websites: https://www.westsideseniorshub.org/ and https://www.buildingcapacityproject.com/.

At the October 1st event, the DRA showcased its 2021 contributions to building a Dementia Friendly Dunbar via the mapping project, as well as showcasing the self-guided and virtual walking tours developed for Salmonberry Days.

This fall and winter, the Balaclava Pollinators will focus on planting perennial herbs and greens and on workshops with eco-artists to learn about the various uses of fresh dried herbs. If you would like to participate, please email Andrea at balaclavapollinators@gmail.com.