Over the past weekend, two Kingston-area elementary schools were the targets of vandalism, as École James R. Henderson Public School and Archbishop O’Sullivan Catholic School both had property defaced and destroyed.
On Sunday, Jul. 3, 2022, officials at École James R. Henderson Public School on Roosevelt Drive were made aware of an act of vandalism involving the school’s Medicine Garden, with vandals allegedly knocking over planters in the garden, leaving soil and other materials scattered on the ground. “In the incident… all six planters had been flipped over, and all of the contents spilled out; many of the plants were buried,” said Shauna Peart, Principal at James R. Henderson School.
“No other parts of the school were vandalized, although in the past there have been incidents of graffiti on various parts of the school building during the summer months.”
While the planter boxes themselves remain intact, Peart noted that much of the garden will need to be repaired, which will come with a bit of a price tag. “We will need to replace all of the gravel and the soil, and many plants. The total cost of this will likely be around $1,500.00,” said Peart. “We do plan to look into how we might secure the planters so that they cannot be overturned – they would have been quite heavy, but were not staked into the ground in any way.”
According to Peart, the garden is part of an ongoing effort to embed Indigenous practices into teachings at the school. “We consulted with the Indigenous Parent Council representative on our School Council about creating a Medicine Garden and she collaborated with me, our VP, several other Parent Council members, and a group of teachers to provide us with the knowledge that we needed to move forward.”
“The Medicine Garden is intended to be a way for our school community to continue to learn about Indigenous culture and traditions, and to create a space where students would take care of and appreciate nature’s bounty,” added the principal.
As for who may be responsible for the incident, and why they vandalized the garden, Peart suspected that it was a “random act of mischief.”
“We do not know who did this or why the planters were targeted,” she noted. “I don’t think that anyone who was not part of our school community would have been aware that this was a Medicine Garden, with a special significance.”
Peart said the school will care for the planter boxes this summer before the garden can be fully rebuilt in the fall. “At this point, our plan is to move the cedar planters into the school for safekeeping until we determine when we will move forward. This may be a goal for the first couple of weeks of school, as it is really important for our students to be part of the restoration of the Medicine Garden and to take part in some new planting ceremonies.”
According to Henderson Place-area resident and school parent ,Jessica Peace, the incident is just one of several that have occurred in recent years. “I was disappointed, but not really surprised. There have been quite a few vandalism acts or just general mischief throughout the neighbourhood in the past couple [of] years.”
Peace added, “I think the bigger problem is that there is little-to-no police presence in our neighbourhood, and the school doesn’t have cameras, which is where the majority of these offences occur.”
Peace said that members of the community have been in contact with school officials, and hope to assist with reconstruction efforts in the fall. “I’ve had many volunteers contact me, hoping to assist in repairing and replanting the medicine gardens,” she shared.
While the school is disappointed by the incident, Peart said the support from the community has been “heartwarming.”
“We have been overwhelmed with the offers of support to replant and repair the garden… Despite how upsetting this incident was, we are so grateful for the support of this community,” she expressed.
Meanwhile, on the morning of Monday, Jul. 4, 2022, another incident occurred at nearby Archbishop O’Sullivan Catholic School in the Bayridge area. This incident involved hate speech, with vandals breaking windows and spray-painting a racial slur on the property. “The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board have been made aware of some minor damage to the school property at the Archbishop O’Sullivan Catholic School site,” said Kelly Taylor, Communications Officer for the Board.
“Aside from some broken glass, there is no permanent damage to the buildings. The vandals did write some hurtful comments on the building, luckily these were easily removed without much effort on the part of our caretaker team.”