Three years ago, it was an empty lot on the wrong side of the tracks.
Today, it’s the Woodfield Community Rail Garden – a bustling place full of raised garden beds, fruit trees, perennials and special plants for butterflies.
“I think everybody who walked this path to Monarch Park thought it would be a beautiful place for a garden,” said Jen Hendriks, one of the four women who got it started.
Wedged between the railway tracks just south of Monarch Park and the north end of Woodfield Road, the area gets plenty of sun. And thanks to volunteers and the city’s parks department, it now has a shed and a water tap, too.
But getting the Rail Garden’s soil in shape took a lot of legwork, arm work, even paperwork.
“It was backbreaking,” said Miranda Snyder, laughing. When she and others dug the first 10 beds in 2012, they only had to dig a foot deep to find thousands of bricks – the legacy of a former brickyard.
Last summer, the city stepped in to improve the walkway that tunnels under the rail line to Monarch Park. They re-graded the entrance, put a retaining wall along the hill next to it, and made the tunnel feel much safer by adding new lights with vandal-proof shields.
But before any of that could happen, the city had to take the land off of the real-estate block.
“This was all going to be surplussed,” said local councillor Paula Fletcher. But given that it has no road access, she said it made much more sense to make it a park.
It sounds easy, but three city divisions and CN Rail all had to work together to get it done.
“The small projects are often the hardest,” she said, shortly before the garden’s official opening on Victoria Day.
As dozens of families shoveled soil into garden beds set aside just for kids and community use, Fletcher looked at the blank concrete surrounding the railway tunnel and saw the Rail Garden’s next step.
“Now I think we’ll try and do some kind of mural there,” she said.