The aunties, the politicians and the national urban park

In this week’s newsletter, we share some good news from the pod, and reporter Fatima Syed spills the beans on her trip to Windsor, Ont., where she met with ‘a staunchness of aunties’

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Fifteen Narwhal staff members pose for a photo.
Pardon the good vibes, but it’s been a week of heartwarming news for our pod. When we told you about the costs behind our investigative reporting, a whopping 193(!) of you stepped up to become the newest members of The Narwhal. 

Next, our staff gathered at the Canadian Association of Journalists conference in Vancouver, where our oilsands coverage took home an award for human rights reporting

And for the cherry on top, the Canadian Journalism Foundation recognized our expansion into Ontario with a digital news innovation award (shoutout to the Metcalf, McConnell and Echo foundations for supporting our bureau launch!).

We are so, so grateful for these honours — and for all of you who make The Narwhal possible. Each person who chips in is helping us green-light reporting on issues and places that often don’t get the attention they deserve, like the story we’re about to tell you about in this week’s newsletter.
Caldwell First Nation Chief Mary Duckworth (centre) with members of her nation on Ojibway Shores
“What the hell? This place is so magical!”

Reporter Fatima Syed was strolling through a park in Windsor, Ont., when five deer walked by her and biologist Catherine Febria.

Catherine, an assistant professor at University of Windsor, was talking to Fatima about restoring the natural world and our connection with it — even when surrounded by gargantuan structures.

Windsor might be a city known for its auto industry, but it’s also a place filled with natural beauty and a surprising number of endangered species. And soon, it’s set to be home to Ojibway National Urban Park — the second national urban park in the country and the first national park in Ontario that will be officially co-managed with First Nations.

Back in December, Catherine got in touch with our Ontario bureau to shine a light on a group of municipal leaders, biologists, naturalists, Indigenous stewards and mothers who have been working hard to make this park a reality.

So, in March, Fatima headed to Windsor, where she and photographer Kati Panasiuk got to meet the “staunchness of aunties.
Reporter Fatima Syed chatting with five other women, all facing away. Fatima in focus in the woods
Turns out, the roadmap to this dream national park is political, bureaucratic — and incredibly messy.

The creation of national parks has often been a colonial practice. That’s where Ojibway has the chance to mend some harms of colonization, by working in collaboration with Caldwell and Walpole Island First Nations — that claim a part of the proposed park’s territory as their once-stolen home.

“Reconciliation is just a word. You have to put an action behind that,” Mary Duckworth, Chief of Caldwell First Nation, told Fatima. “This park, it’s an action. Just watch. It’s going to be awesome.”   

Parks Canada has ambitiously promised to create 15 new urban parks by 2030. Ojibway National Urban Park is slated to be the first. Now, following federal pledges made in December to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s land and water by 2025, the agency is in talks with six other cities with the aim to give them their own national urban parks.

“The story of Ojibway National Urban Park won’t end because politicians have declared it’s happening. It will end when the people who are working behind the scenes get the national park of their dreams,” Fatima said. 

“They’re still fighting hard to figure out how to do that. And I can’t wait to tell that story.”

Although the process has been tiresome (largely because of two very different political visions), community members are determined to see the park through.

“I know this park will be here forever,” Chief Duckworth said, “because we’re here to take care of it again.”

Take care and believe in the power of aunties,

Karan Saxena
Audience fellow
Jonathan Kawchuk records the percussive sounds of a stick drumming on the forest floor with a special microphone inserted into the ground.

Protecting — and photographing — Earths last quiet places

When Alberta-born composer Jonathan Kawchuk decided to record a new album, he had a wild idea: what if he went into the mountains of Kananaskis Country, a network of public land and parks just west of Calgary, and collaborated with the Engelmann spruce and grey jays that call the area home?

But when Kawchuk got there, he was hard-pressed to find beyond five to 10 minutes of silence between the incessant buzz of helicopters and the distant hum of traffic.  

The experience led him down a path to become an advocate for the planet’s last remaining quiet spaces — a journey that piqued the interest of photojournalist Ryan Wilkes.

Ryan was selected to be a participant in our fellowship dedicated to providing opportunities for emerging photographers who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour — a program done in partnership with the mentorship program Room Up Front

After joining Kawchuk in the forest, Ryan put together this captivating photo essay, with video to boot, that shines a light on the efforts to preserve areas that, if lost, could have significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem health.

We’re grateful for the fine folks at The Reader’s Digest Foundation and the generosity of The Narwhal’s readers, who together make our annual fellowship a reality.


This week in The Narwhal

Calvin Waquan at his family's store and gas station in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., holding a box of water bottles with oil mixed in them.
‘When is enough enough?’ Downstream from the Kearl oilsands spill, residents grapple with what comes next
By Drew Anderson
An Imperial Oil tailings pond leak — kept quiet for months — has renewed debate about the complicated and complex reality of life in northern Alberta.

Photo of the Port of Vancouver
Opinion: Roberts Bank Terminal 2 approval by the feds is a blow to biodiversity
By Arno Kopecky
An artistic illustration showing a historic photo of men walking on pipeline segments.
Coastal GasLink, LNG Canada get $24M break despite B.C.’s plans to shift away from subsidies
By Sarah Cox
Papa G stands in his living room holding up a Narwhal tote bag on an ironing board.
No GIF today, just the cutest photo of Papa G — our editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist’s dad — ironing out some wrinkly tote bags for new members. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter so they know when to snag a crisp tote bag, courtesy of Papa G.
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