by Valerie Bassett, ASLA
The Quinterra Legacy Garden
Seven years after five university students were killed at a house party in Calgary, Alberta, a memorial park designed to honor them opened recently in the local South Glenmore Park. The design of the area, now known as the Quinterra Legacy Garden, was informed by sensitivities surrounding the planning process and shaped by the steps taken to support the families’ design vision for the creation of the park.
The tragedy happened in April 2014 on “Bermuda Shorts Day,” a time which used to be a celebration of the end of the university school year. After several years of mourning, in 2019, we were contacted by the Quinterra Group, set up by family and friends of those lost, to meet with them to understand their aspirations.
In short, the Group’s vision was for a peaceful, contemplative, and vibrant outdoor community space for people to be inspired, to heal, and to connect with nature. They also wanted it to be a special place to celebrate the students’ lives and bring a positive light to the tragedy. With each of the students being known for their love of music, art, and the community, this had to be at the core of the legacy garden.
Numerous research papers have found that music doesn’t just help us retrieve stored memories—it also helps us lay down new ones. The idea of using musical instruments was the natural connection with the students’ artistic backgrounds. Music is truly universal. From celebration to sorrow, from exploration to relaxation, music transcends all of our everyday lives. Using musical instruments was a natural fit in the design.
As the landscape architects for the project, it was important for us to make a connection between the landscape design and the role it plays in fulfilling the healing and spiritual needs of our clients while creating a unique and special place for the community. It required connecting our senses to nature and music, to create a place of respite and of positive energy.
It was at the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Conference on Landscape Architecture and EXPO that Percussion Play’s outdoor musical instruments first caught my eye; I knew instantly that these would be ideal for the park. We consulted with the team to include the right instruments to suit the widest range of people for the Quinterra Legacy Garden.
After several months of collaboration, a design concept was developed to reflect and celebrate the students’ individual personalities and their lives in a way that would resonate with the families as well as the larger community.
Securing the Site
The first challenge was securing the park space. The City of Calgary Parks Department and Calgary’s mayor were very supportive of the project but had concerns over its long-term maintenance. The negotiations had to be managed very carefully, but after putting aside funding to maintain the legacy garden for the next 20 years, we were given the beautiful tree-lined setting of South Glenmore Park next to the Glenmore Reservoir, with stunning views across the water as the site for the garden.
The next step was to raise the funds. We set a budget of $750,000 to build the park and maintain it for the next 20 years, as per the city’s requirement. However, unfortunately, this came at a time when Calgary was experiencing an unprecedented economic downturn.
And then came the pandemic!
What might have previously been a relatively easy job raising the money became the next hurdle to cross. A very small group with no fundraising experience came together in creative and innovative ways to raise the needed money. This proved to be an incredibly special part of the journey as Calgary foundations, corporations, and individuals all came together to help achieve our fundraising target within 18 months.
One of the objectives of the park was to be accessible and welcoming to everyone. Unlike the traditional playgrounds that you find in most parks, the seventeen musical instruments can be used by children, adults, older adults, and/or those with physical or intellectual challenges; it appeals to everyone and is accessible by all. The instruments were selected because they are pentatonically harmonized, which means that regardless of how many people are playing any number of instruments, the output will always sound musical.
One concern was whether the sound would be a nuisance for surrounding homes, but after testing this, we proved that the sounds didn’t travel far and that has not been an issue. The instrument supplier helped us select the right instruments with the right layout design to ensure they would all work together and be accessible to all.
Designing for a cold city like Calgary can be challenging to ensure winter use. The opportunity to play the instruments and continue to be accessible in the winter months is made possible by kind local residents that were already connected to the park and regularly donate their time to clear the snow.
Power to the site and lighting was donated by the local utility company so we could design low LED lighting allowing for extended hours in winter and create a warm ambiance.
At the heart of the park is an accessible concrete stage with a five-pointed star design containing a single light in the center lit skyward. The stage welcomes everyone from impromptu dance performances by families, to scheduled events for larger crowds picnicking in the adjacent large grassy area. Five uniquely designed chairs sit below five flowering trees overlooking the stage creating a peaceful space to sit and take in the beauty of nature and the hum of the park.
The park has certainly fulfilled the dream of the Quinterra Group, giving the community a beautiful place to celebrate music, art, family, and friends. The families have been an inspiration to work with. Despite their personal heartbreak they have worked tirelessly to see this vision come to life. Especially in these days of COVID, people’s connection with each other and with nature in these special outdoor spaces seems so much more meaningful.
In terms of the park’s contribution to people’s healing, Gregg, the father of one of the five students, Kaiti, commented, “First and foremost, it is the visual impact. The beautiful commemorative chairs for each of the five loved ones have heartfelt, thought-provoking comments, such as ‘Follow Your Own Spirit.’ This combined with the incredible view from the chairs over the water to the city’s skyline in the distance provides a feeling of calm. Many members of the five families have been at the garden and heard people reading the comments and taking a moment to remember. Conversations about each of the sayings, their embodiment of the children’s perspective on life, and their shared moments about the tragedy naturally unfold, but more importantly, discussions about other people’s loss and the path forward unravel.”
Sensory qualities are imbued at the garden, as Gregg continues: “The Quinterra Legacy Garden has a meandering pathway lined by massive Percussion Play instruments where people of all ages can make music. Rhythm, beat, and melodious sounds are healing in so many ways, much like a heart beating full of life. Music and art such as dance bring the community together, much as we have seen over the years during festivals such as Farm and Live Aid. The garden will provide opportunities for song, joy and laughter for decades to come.”
Gregg concludes, “And finally there is love. The greater Calgary community came together to donate, support and celebrate the space. Through the generous support of passionate volunteers and hundreds of individuals, corporations, and foundations, the community’s outpouring of love shows that there is light after loss.”
Gregg and the other families have been an inspiration to work with. Despite their personal heartbreak they have worked tirelessly to see this vision come to life.
The opening had to be delayed by nearly a year due to the onset of the pandemic, but this pause has given us all time to reflect on the journey and how a little park designed around family, music, people, collaboration, and healing has made such a huge impact on our community and will continue to build legacies over many years.
Valerie Bassett, ASLA, is Principal of Bassett Associates Landscape Architecture in Calgary. Bassett Associates volunteered their services throughout the two-and-a-half year project described in this post.