City man spearheading rest area for hospital workers

Health-care workers at at a One Bench, One Tree installation outside St. Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton, Ont. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

Workers at Bluewater Health are the latest group to be honoured by a new project that aims to place a bench and a tree at every hospital in Canada.

The One Bench, One Tree program is meant to provide a place for hospital staff to take time out from daily job stress, particularly after so many months of coping with COVID-19.

“It’s a wonderful gesture that lets our health-care heroes know that the community is cheering them on, day in and day out,” says Kathy Alexander, executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation.

It’s anticipated the bench and tree will be installed by the end of October outside the hospital entrance on Russell Street, she said.

“It will be a daily reminder that our staff members are appreciated.”

The One Bench, One Tree project was started by a group of post-graduate students studying landscape architecture at the University of Guelph and is chaired by a Sarnia man in the program.

Manuel Spiller, 33, said his team of seven students brainstormed online during the January lockdown to find a way to recognize workers.

Their ambitious plan is to design and install a bench and tree – symbolically placed two metres apart – outside as many of Canada’s 1,200 hospitals as possible.

“Even as fewer people may be getting physically ill, experts don’t really know what is going to happen to people mentally and socially with all the stressors we’re experiencing,” Spiller said.

“Our benches are meant to provide a place to reflect and take a break from it all.”

A tree and bench have been installed at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, where Canada’s first COVID-19 case was treated, and at six other Ontario hospital locations.

Bluewater Health’s is one of three more going in this month.

Spiller said he’s witnessed the impact the gesture has had on health-care workers and was determined it would happen in the community where he, his wife, and children live.

“I’ve been pushing for it, to be honest,” he said. “It’s very important to me to bring this project home and to feel like we’re making a difference in Sarnia.”

Almost everyone has been impacted in some way by the pandemic, he said.

“I know people who have died, people who know someone who died or got sick, and people trying to deal with this very long process.

“That’s why I’m committed to making this happen across the country.”

The Bluewater Health Foundation and John DeGroot at DeGroot’s Nurseries enthusiastically stepped up to help, Spiller said.

Each site costs $3,000 and One Bench, One Tree is actively fundraising to keep the project rolling. For more information, visit 1bench1tree.ca.

One Bench, One Tree is in partnership with Landscape Ontario and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Any excess funds donated when the project ends will be given to CMHA.