Therapeutic Pearson Gardens

George Pearson Centre sits on an unusually large site of sprawling lawn, considering the price of real estate in the City of Vancouver. And that will soon change, as land owner Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) recently sold most of the site to developer Onni.

Back in 2008 that underutilized land and the hospital-like nature of life in a care facility inspired a few determined people to bring therapeutic gardening to the residents of Pearson. We managed to convince the then-manager of Pearson to allow the building of community gardens and a small urban farm on the site. It is likely that the close working relationship CARMA had with the manager was a critical part to this being accomplished, as many garden proposals prior had been rejected. VCH allowed us to use the land, but was otherwise uninvolved in the development of the gardens. At least they didn’t stop us.

And so began Farmers on 57th. The support of the DABC (then the BCCPD) and a grant from Vancity in January 2009 enabled the initial build. Friends and family members contributed their sweat equity. The snow that fell in March that year didn’t help, as a few of us struggled to roll up wet sod!

Preparing land for the Market Garden at GPC in March 2009
Preparing land for the Market Garden at GPC in March 2009
Friends & Family help build the Pearson Therapeutic Gardens in 2009
Friends & Family help build the Pearson Therapeutic Gardens in 2009

The project has grown in scope and strength since then, adding a CSA program, programs that reach out to isolated community members, links to the Community Kitchen and more. The GPC administration now funds the residents’ weekly gardening program. The Recreation dept staff are important to bringing Pearson residents and volunteers together to garden, make flower bouquets and share knowledge. And once the harvesting starts, we juice the fresh fruits and veggies — sadly fresh produce is rarely part of the meals served at this facility.

Gardening is therapeutic for so many reasons. Many residents here have limited physical abilities to garden, which makes the experiences of smells and the visual stimulation of bright colours all the more impactful.

This image depicts a basket of lavender
The smell of fresh lavender is therapeutic

Simply being outdoors amid the plants cannot be understated as incredibly important to health and well-being. See a recent Georgia Straight article which speaks to this. They interviewed the wonderful Aimée Taylor, who helped coordinate the Pearson Garden program in the earlier years but has since moved on to a full time job, spreading her knowledge throughout the community.

Living in a hospital-like setting isn’t a normal human habitat. Plants are, in contrast, normal. The gardens provide a balance to the call bells, medical equipment and procedures. Growing plants is beautifully unpredictable and chaotic in contrast to the routines of living in a care facility. The first time I’ve seen some people smile has been in the gardens, with an armful of smelly lemon balm or a clutch of colourful sweet peas. The therapeutic power of plants on humans continues to inspire me.

This image depicts a residents reading in the garden
Finding Balance in the Gardens

Thousand Origami Cranes (Senbazuru 千羽鶴): Good Wishes for all at Pearson

There’s a story about a young Japanese girl who had leukemia. She was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped about 1 mile from her.

This girl started folding origami cranes as per the ancient Japanese story that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish. The young girl died when she was about 12 years old. Her friends and family helped finish her goal of 1000 cranes.

Romilda Ang told this story at the Pearson Resident Council as she presented her one thousand origami paper cranes held together by strings. Ro is the manager at George Pearson Centre. She starting making the cranes when she was on holidays, then her friends and family helped her reach 1000. On the underside of the crane wings are about 500 names — including residents and staff at Pearson. Residents were impressed by the effort and touched by the meaning.

In Japan, the crane is a mystical creature, like a dragon. This crane is said to live 1000 years, which is why there are so many cranes. By folding 1000 origami cranes it is said that you may receive good luck, long life or recovery from illness or injury. Having 1000 cranes hanging is certainly considered good luck. And no doubt — it takes a lot of care and effort to create such a hanging piece. And such effort is inspirational!

This image shows the origami cranes of Pearson hanging in a window.

Part of Pearson Land to be SOLD to developer Onni Group

It is a slow process, but then something big happens. VCH is selling most of the Pearson-Dogwood lands to a developer.

Back in September 2014, Vancouver Coastal Health posted a Request for Proposals regarding the Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment. While they had been looking at doing the development themselves, they now looked to developers to see what offers they might get. According to VCH, they received ten proposals – and one offer won over the health authority.

The majority of the land will be sold to the Onni Group of Companies, a Vancouver-based privately owned developer with offices throughout North America. According to VCH, the proceeds from the sale of the Pearson Dogwood Lands will be reinvested into health care infrastructure, including on the site.

In a release dated February 13, 2015, VCH says the Onni Group will purchase two parcels of the Pearson Dogwood lands totalling 22.18 acres – about 87% of the total 25.4-acre land space that currently includes Pearson and Dogwood. The plan is for Onni to develop the lands into a mix of residential, commercial and retail, with green spaces.

VCH will keep 1.3 hectares in the middle (3.2 acres), which is almost 13% of the land it now owns. On this land they plan to build a 150-bed facility to replace Dogwood Lodge. Dogwood is currently located just east of Pearson, on 57th Ave. It is home to seniors, many with dementia and special health needs. Other plans for the VCH-retained lands include building a Community Health Centre, a YMCA and a new therapeutic pool to replace the Stan Stronge Pool.

In a recent news release, VCH states that 114 housing units with supports for those with disabilities will also be included, but dispersed throughout the 25.4 acre site. Since there are currently 114 residents living at Pearson, it likely refers to Pearson residents.

What’s next? VCH and Onni plan to submit a rezoning application to the City of Vancouver in late 2015. The rest remains to be seen.

the imPearsonators tackle Movember

Tomorrow is the big day! The imPearsonators will begin cultivating their lip gardens on Movember 1st. Pearson staff, residents and friends of George Pearson Centre have once again joined the fight to improve men’s health through the Movember campaign.

You can find the imPearsonators by following the link or by using the get involved or donate tabs in the Movember website.

We ask you to support Movember this year and help raise money and awareness of men’s health issues. Thank you to all the people who have donated to the imPearsonator campaign so far.

Please get to the Movember site and learn about men’s health issues, sign up as a Mobro or Mosista, or
donate to the imPearsonators

We look forward to the crop of made-in-Movember mustaches. It is a great opportunity to make a difference in men’s health.

This year’s campaign was again organized by John, the singing carpenter. Thanks John!

Changes to the Redevelopment Plan

In the months following the City of Vancouver’s approval of the land use policy statement, residents at Pearson had heard no news about the redevelopment. Then in September there was a memo.

The revised plan looks quite a bit different. In this new plan, VCH might sell up to 85% of the land. VCH has put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for redeveloping some amount of the land. This RFP does not commit VCH to sell any of the Pearson Dogwood Lands. It seems that they are seeing what what kind of offers they get before they commit to a specific plan.

Through the RFP, companies can apply to develop only the Dogwood land, or apply to develop both the 16 acres around GPC and the 6 acres around Dogwood. They need to fulfill the vision and plans such as the transit station and both market and accessible non-market housing. The RFP deadline is October 28, 2014. View all 37 pages on BC Bid ( by browsing for Opportunities By Organization for the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services.

VCH would keep ownership of approximately 3.2 acres, where the current Farmers on 57th urban farm currently exists. On this land, VCH would build a “150 bed residential care home, a community health centre, an expanded YMCA, and a new therapeutic pool”. The 150 bed residential care home is also known as the New Dogwood Facility. See VCH news for more details.

Residents at George Pearson Centre are uncertain where exactly they will be living and how the services will look, but many are hopeful.

Proposed Pearson Dogwood Land Division Map
Proposed Pearson Dogwood Land Division Map
This image depicts the Farmers on 57th Garden in July. It is lush and sunny with blue skies.
Farmers on 57th in July

A Welcome Contribution

On a gorgeous sunny day in September, employees at Stantec visited George Pearson Centre as part of their community engagement program. They spent an afternoon at Pearson putting together eight tabletop garden beds for gardeners with disabilities. It was coordinated by DIGA (Disabled Independent Gardeners Association) which has had a long and fruitful relationship with the community gardens at Pearson. Residents living at Pearson were thrilled to see the new garden beds and marvelled at the nice quality materials and solid construction.

Stantec is a giant “design, consulting and engineering services” firm. We think that means they do a lot of the things required to build large structures, just not actually physically build them. Anyway, the table top beds are still standing, which is a good sign!

Stantec employees building tabletop garden beds
Stantec employees building tabletop garden beds

farm fresh harvest at Community Kitchen

Able Community Kitchen meets every month. Some say once a month isn’t enough! A rag-tag bunch of folks get together here and make a delicious dinner together, with community volunteers joining forces with some of the residents here. It gets a bit crowded in the kitchen with everyone in action, often with four cutting boards going at a time. Part of the fun is sampling the aromas — from simply smelling a fresh basil leaf to taking in the sizzling onions and garlic. The regular meals here are served on trays, hospital style. You make menu choices at least a week in advance. And no 2nd helpings of the dish you really liked!

October’s meal was amazing by all accounts. And it was a vegetable stew!

using the late summer harvest

using the late summer harvest

The recipe was called “Three Sisters Stew” after the three foods that Native Americans long ago realized will all thrive when planted together: maize (corn), beans, and squash. Beans climb the maize stalks and squash grows on the ground protecting the roots and base of the maize and bean plants. Among beans, there are so many kinds to choose from — various kinds of fresh green, purple or yellow beans and the dried beans like kidney, navy, pinto, etc.

The trick to the deliciousness of this particular stew is that most of the ingredients were harvested just outside, in the Pearson Community Gardens. These gardens were created as part of Farmers on 57th and are tended by GPC residents and other gardeners.
With its southern exposure, plants grow very well there. Organic gardening is practiced. And ah! the flavour of those ripe red tomatoes! Some of these tomatoes were frozen whole, soon after picking, destined for this stew.

Below is approximately the recipe we made. We used what harvest we had, in what proportions we had, so it’s not exact. But stews are very forgiving!

Able Community Kitchen’s Three Sisters Stew 
(serves about 12–15 people)

2 large onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno chili, finely chopped
a bunch of chopped fresh tomatoes (or whole fresh frozen — we cooked tomatoes a bit first and put in blender to make smooth)
fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, parsley
2 mid sized butternut squashes, halved and roasted 375 til just tender.
sliced zucchini / yellow summer squash
2 cups of green and yellow beans
1/2 cup of shelled peas
cup of corn kernels
2 19-oz cans of kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
salt and pepper

Sauté onions in oil, add garlic and jalapeno and cook til onion is soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer til ready.
We served it with mashed potatoes, but you could serve over rice, with biscuits, anything good. Enjoy!

Community Kitchen coordinators Shannon and Sarah can be contacted gpccommunitykitchen at

New report: Visitability and Accessibility for the Pearson/Dogwood Redevelopment

The PRRG has issued a second report: Visitability and Accessibility for the Pearson/Dogwood Redevelopment. It is available for download here.

PRRG Report February 2013

An excerpt:

The Pearson Residents Redevelopment Group issued its first report in October 2012. Since that report, PRRG members participated at all four Vancouver Coastal Health sponsored Roundtables in November 2012. These Roundtables engaged over 120 organizations and individuals in envision– ing the future of the Pearson Dogwood site in terms of health services, community development, sustainability and housing.

PRRG members also participated at the City of Vancouver sponsored Open Houses in January and February 2013 where they met many of their neighbours to discuss their needs and ideas.

Using this concept, PRRG believes it is possible to realize the opportunities identified at the Roundtables:

The creation of new housing options where residents can live full lives integrated with their community
An opportunity for VCH to contribute to sustainable public funds for health care in an innovative way
A unique opportunity to envision a forward thinking, diverse neighbourhood where healthy living and health services are community priorities.
To read more about the PRRG’s unifying concept of Visitability and Accessibility for the Pearson/Dogwood Redevelopment, please download the report from here:

PRRG members attending City of Vancouver Open House

An illustration of an ideal future Pearson and all of the buildings from a birds-eye view.

This week, Pearson Resident Redevelopment Group (PRRG) members will attend a City of Vancouver Open House about redevelopment of Pearson lands.

We invite you to join us at the Open House.

Pearson Reception Area - redevelopment planning. This image has a picture of a reception desk with a greeter, a big window, a woman in a wheelchair greeting another woman with a child and dog, there is a cafe with two people drinking coffee and a welcome mat. There are directional signs. It is a cheerful and bright illustration.

PRRG members are delighted to meet members of the community and to talk about our hopes for the redevelopment.

Residents want more choices by having a variety of housing and health care support options right on the Pearson lands. We believe that a unique mix of housing and health supports for people with disabilities could build a world-class facility.

The Open House will be an opportunity to talk with PRRG members who live at Pearson, with the City of Vancouver, and with Vancouver Coastal Health.

For more information, please visit this link to see the PRRG report with our recommendations and more illustrations.

PRRG Report Oct – 2012

Dates & Times

Thursday, January 31st , 5–8 pm

Saturday, February 2nd, 10 am — 2 pm


Pearson Dogwood Project Office: 601, West 59th Avenue, Vancouver

Do you take mobility for granted?

Two things that don’t really go well together are motorized wheelchairs and RAIN. Snow is even worse — many people in wheelchairs become stuck at home because their chairs can’t navigate snow. One of the reasons many of us look forward to summer in Vancouver is that there is usually less rain — and it is warm, daylight is long, and everyone just seems happier!

All of the residents here at Pearson use a wheelchair — either motorized or manual. Motorized wheelchairs are much heavier and can be operated in a variety of ways. The most common is a kind of joystick operated by hand. Some people can’t use their hands or arms, so operating a chair can be done with something commonly called a “sip ‘n’ puff”. Assistive technology can enable someone with a disability to focus on their abilities.

The wheelchair is really really important — it is a person’s mobility; it gives you the ability to move yourself around. If you can’t turn your head, you need to turn your wheelchair to see something. You don’t really notice the freedom of mobility when you have it, but when you lose it, you sure do. Sometimes you have to stay in bed if you get a bad pressure sore that won’t close up, or for other reasons. Technology can help there too, with environmental controls connected to lighting, heating, TV and computer, for example.

This image shows a hallway at Pearson

Some folks who live at Pearson are able to push themselves in a manual wheelchair but here the main hallway is a long climb — it runs 150 metres (about 490 feet) at a slope is that is 7 degrees away from flat ground. The railings aren’t totally continuous (almost!) so you risk rolling backwards as you transition from one railing to the next. At least there is a mattress at the bottom of the hill, if you happened to roll to the end…

Bottom line is…mobility is a right that most people take for granted, rushing from one thing to another. But if you think about it, not being able to mobilize physically should not mean you have to sit in the same place all day long — having a disability is not the same as committing a criminal offense!