For decades the Bolton Camp offered a brief respite from the city’s heat for low-income Toronto families. Now the approximately 254-acre conservation area is the setting for a unique program introducing construction skills to female high school students.
“It’s a very practical program,” says Nadia Zanardi, project lead of Girls Can Too, which is operated by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) with the assistance and support of key members of the design, construction and related industries including E.R.A. Architects and Milwaukee Tools.
Since its implementation in 2015 participants in the summer volunteer program have built garden and pollinator boxes, gabion baskets, repaired cabin decks and stairs, and restored a section of a trail, says Zanardi, emphasizing the program is equally oriented to heightening environmental awareness and the area’s ecology.
Their open air workshop is the camp which opened in 1922 as a fresh air retreat and still has approximately 50 cabins and other historic buildings. Located on the east side of Bolton, Ont. — hence the name — the former Family Service Toronto facility closed in 1999.
In 2011, however, it was purchased by the authority which is repurposing the property into a community cultural hub.
To help kick off a long-term multi-phase revitalization/transformation, several initiatives were undertaken in 2014 by young employees hired by the TRCA through its summer employment program. There were a number of different teams including ones focusing on arts and media, arts and design, ecology and a construction crew comprised, for the most part, of young males, says Zanardi.
“But then we noticed the girls, or some of them, wanted to be part of the construction and ecology teams.”
That observation was brought to the attention of senior TRCA staff and that eventually led to the creation of the Girls Can Too Program which has been offered every summer since its 2015 launch with the support of the Town of Caledon and various other partners, she says.
While there is no cost, prospective applicants have to register on the TRCA website. The sessions are only one week, but are offered for four weeks in July and August.
“Over the course of a week we notice a complete change in confidence in the girls, some of whom have little or no construction experience,” says Zanardi, adding a critical component of the program is that all the guest instructors are females.
Included in that list is Milwaukee Tools sales representative Rozalyn Lewis who starts each session with a demonstration on the safe operation of tools. The manufacturer has also donated some tools.
In its role as design consultants and program mentors E.R.A. representatives talk about design and its application to construction.
And, in the summer of 2016, the firm conducted a special architectural model workshop specifically geared to Grade 7 to 8 students using an assortment of both purchased and found-on-site materials. It included a tour of the property after which the students drew diagrams, cross sections and 3-D perspective drawings of a building onsite, incorporating the terms and techniques they learned during the tour, says Janice Quieta, an associate with the firm.
Andrea Buikema, a registered Red Seal apprentice for general carpentry who was recommended by E.R.A., conducted three workshops last year where she and TRCA staff helped the girls build pollinator boxes and gabion benches that are now part of the camp’s walking trails.
“My main goal is to ensure the girls have fun and learn some new skills. During our time together in the workshops,” she says. “I try to have them do as much as possible. That way they feel as though they have actually built these projects themselves.”
Although based in Prince Edward County, which is a “bit of hike,” Buikema says she is prepared to make the drive to Bolton because she supports the program’s goals.
“The Girls Can Too program is a collaboration between many different partners and supporters. We have various program components that different partners participate in from hands-on-workshops to Lunch N’ Learn sessions,” says Bolton Camp redevelopment program manager Lucia Piccinni.
In addition to the Milwaukee donation of tools, local organizations such as The Udder Tournament, 100 Women That Care Caledon, Rotary Club of Bolton and the Bolton Kinsmen have provided financial support to cover material and supplies. Grants have also been obtained through the Laidlaw Foundation and TD Friends of the Environment, she says.
This year’s project is the building of a trail kiosk and in 2019 the ambitious plan is to restore one of the cabins, says Piccinni.