In Search of…ROOTS

The Oculus Pavilion, designed by architect Alan Crossley, was built in 1959 in South Humber Park. It once served as a space-aged rest stop on the Humber River Recreational Trail and is currently undergoing revitalization.

The Humber River has been an integral feature of the area currently known as Etobicoke /Adobigok (Place of the Alders in the Ojibwe language) since time immemorial. The river has traditionally been and continues to be, a life-giver and important mode of transportation to many diverse plants, animals, and people.

Oculus Pavilion

Alan Crossley
Architecture | 1959 – ongoing
Humber River trail in South Humber Park | Etobicoke

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Watch. Listen. Read.

Follow Alan Colley of Toronto Aboriginal Eco-Tours and herbalist Shabina Lafleur-Gangji as they encounter the Oculus Pavilion and walk along the Humber River. In this video, they discuss the ongoing significance of the Humber River to local ecosystems and share their knowledge about the balance between all living things in our changing world.

In Search of… Conversation

Video Transcript

In Search Of… ROOTS

Oculus Pavilion, Designed by Alan Crossley

South Humber Park, Etobicoke

Alan Colley: As an architect – or when I see this space –  it’s open, it’s right here on that trail, but also, you know, it is away from the city. So you do get a sense that you are in nature or you’re in that part of Creation. And so, you know, I think the vision was to open up a space where people could get out of the sun and to be able to gather.

Shabina Lafleur-Gangji: This space in and of itself tells a story. It’s that regardless of, you know, if the city or council wants to allow people to come and steward the land, they should be. You know, the land will do what it wants to do, and will take that space, right? And so, it’s just how we want to engage with it, and I think, you know, that’s absolutely necessary. I think your [Alan’s] work is vital in that.

Alan: One of those things the Elders always said to me is that there was no such thing as the wild. Traditionally speaking, this valley system was a pharmacy, was a grocery store, and everything grew within a very specific relation. Many of our ancestors that came from abroad, they brought with them all sorts of different plants from home. And so, as that introduction began to happen, different plants that took foot would be called what would be invasive. And so with no natural predators, as well as no stewards taking care of them, they often took over.

Shabina: You know, you have so many settlers planting a lot of introduced species, when really, maybe what’s best is to just listen to the original caretakers around what we should be doing with the lands that are here.

Alan: If we really focus on that stewardship, as well as opening our relations, we can really do a lot of wonderful things, whether it’s bringing down the schoolkids, it’s bringing down the grandparents, the families, giving them space, creating spaces, it really is in our own healing process, as well, that the future is open. [Laughs] There’s so much that we can be doing, and that is already being done as well.

So, the Humber River, it’s just like a major artery of a vein that we have running through our body. And so when we look at sustainable relationships, we really have to start with the water. And from that water, we have to look at, you know, those marshlands. So right now on the Lower Humber, it really is a significant area where all that water that’s coming down from those headwaters is being able to settle and filter before it gets out into the lake. So when we start from the water and we work our way out, we realize that as well that plant life is of huge significance. And of course, you know, if you’re coming down in the early mornings or the evening, you’ll see the deer, you’ll see the coyotes, you’ll see the rabbits, the fox, the minx, the beavers. It’s still home to a lot of those different lifes.

One plant that we can find in the area right now that really has a significance is that thimbleberry, also known as a purple flowering raspberry. And so traditionally speaking, when we’ve seen that berry growing, we knew that we were at that last moon of the berries. And so we really knew that this was a time when lots of work was about to begin into our fall harvests. And so I encourage people to come out and to really connect with the land, and you’d be really surprised just how unique that flavour is to that berry.

Shabina: If there’s anything that our various systems of Indigenous knowledge that we all come from have taught us, it’s that we’re no different from our ecosystems. You know, this concept that we’re any separate, is – is so false and so colonial. And so I think the more we care for the world around us, or the land that we’re on, the more that we care for ourselves. We’re a direct reflection.

Alan: Wherever we are in Creation, Indigenous peoples have had that relationship from time immemorial. And so when we look at the mineral life, the plant life, and the animals, that traditional knowledge is key in establishing and maintaining those relationships. 

Shabina: For me, liberation always means that our people – our communities of people, plants, animals, insects, all of that – are cared for, respected, and can live abundantly and happily. And to me, that’s liberation, at the source of it. And so, you know, we think about how to make that happen – I think there’s no other way forward other than to bring our traditional knowledge forward. That is the only way to care for the earth, and in turn care for ourselves. To reclaim and to restore those systems of knowledge is essential for that freedom.

In conversation with

Shabina Lafleur-Gangji, Herbalist

Shabina is a community herbalist and the co-director of Seed, Soil and Spirit School. She has been involved in healing justice work and movements for liberation for over a decade. She works to uplift Indigenous medical sciences and supports people in accessing their traditional knowledge.

Alan Colley, Toronto Aboriginal Eco-Tours

Alan’s spirit name is Whooping Crane and he is Wolf Clan. Alan is the creator of Toronto Aboriginal Eco Tours, a company which honours the traditional Indigenous way of life and also allows for mainstream concepts of tourism and experiential learning. His goal is to bring together – in a traditional way – elders, adults, youth and children to make a difference while applying the seven Grandfather Teachings, 13 Grandmother Moon Teachings and the Medicine Wheel Teachings.

In Search Of… Prompts

What words would you use to describe the Oculus Pavillion’s shape?

How does the Oculus Pavillion relate to the surrounding environment?

What plants have developed a personal significance for you?

Is there a local plant or a local landmark that you’ve recently learned about?

Where does our collective knowledge of plants come from?

Thank you to our funders and partners

In Search Of… received grant funding as a part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022, a year-long celebration of Toronto’s exceptional public art collection and the creative community behind it. Working closely with artists and Toronto’s arts institutions, ArtworxTO will deliver major public art projects and commissions, citywide, from fall 2021 to fall 2022. Supporting local artists and new artworks that reflect Toronto’s diversity, ArtworxTO is creating more opportunities for citizens to engage with art in their everyday lives. This September, the City of Toronto invites the public to discover creativity and community–everywhere. Visit for full details.

In Search Of… is a Signature Project of Cultural Hotspot produced in partnership with the City of Toronto.