Happy International Youth Day from the Greenbelt!

Date: August 12, 2017 Author: Zoe Koritko Categories: Latest

Happy International Youth Day!                                       

Every year, International Youth Day takes place on August 12. This day was declared by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 1999 to promote the empowerment and inclusion of youth. Today, youth make up 1.8 billion people on the planet – the largest in history!

At EcoSpark, we work directly with youth to empower them with the knowledge, skills and spark to become future environmental leaders. We find the best way to do this is directly connecting with the landscape environment.

Last May, we led a group of 40 students from Dunbarton High School in Pickering on an educational tour of the Greenbelt in Durham Region. This tour included visiting a national historic farm in Pickering (Thistle Ha’ Historic Farm), a thriving rural business in Claremont (Native Plants in Claremont), the Oak Ridges Trail in a pine plantation in Glasgow, and a land trust in Whitby (Thickson’s Woods). Students got to experience the landscape firsthand while hiking and exploring, meeting the people who steward these lands and learning what shapes the communities where we live, work and play.

Click here to check out all of the photos from this Greenbelt Bus tour!

Thistle Ha’ Historic Farm

Our first stop was Thistle Ha’ Historic Farm which was settled by Scottish immigrant John Miller back in 1839. Today, his great-grandson Jim Miller owns Thistle Ha’, the only privately owned family farm in Canada that is also a National Historic Site. Jim showed us Class 1 Soil. Soil is categorized into seven different capability classes, with 1 being the best or with the highest capability to grow many different crops. Thistle Ha’ is very proud of their Potato Project, where they work with elementary schools from across the GTA. They believe in the capability of today’s youth and love to pass down the knowledge they have gained over nearly two hundred years of farming. 


Native Plants in Claremont

The Native Plants in Claremont team gave us the full tour of their gorgeous facility. Students got to see bee “condos” (click here to find out how to make one of your own!), Duffins Creek that flowed through the property, their steamy greenhouse and several gardens. The interactive demo was fun for everyone. The students got to get their hands dirty by “transplanting” native species and got a taste of the daily life of an employee there. Dunbarton High School currently has a partnership with Native Plants in Claremont with students have co-op placements at the facility and Native Plants in Claremont provides plants to their school grounds. Dunbarton now has TWENTY-TWO different kinds of native trees! 

Oak Ridge Trail, Glasgow Forest

We stopped for lunch in a rest area outside of Glasgow Forest on the Oak Ridges Trail. Leigh gave a brief tour there and talked about the pine planation - dark skies were looming above with the threat of rain! When she asked the students what kinds of trees they were, there was silence punctuated with the response, “Maple!” Unfortunately, the rest area was covered with all sorts of garbage that left an impact on some of the students. Andrew Fryer pointed out that there probably was so much garbage because travelers would see the trash that was already there and come to the conclusion that it was acceptable to follow suit.

Thickson’s Woods

Thickson’s Woods was the last stop for our students. It’s an old-growth white pine forest that is home to various migrating songbirds. Back in 1983, the forest was in danger from being logged but was saved by some dedicated naturalists who raised $150,000 to buy back the forest. This speaks to the importance of land trusts in protecting our natural spaces.

We were greeted by Otto Peters and other members of the TWLT. Otto presented the students with a little experiment: do chickadees prefer peanuts or sunflower seeds? The students excitedly feed seeds to some of songbirds from the palm of their hands, but the results were inconclusive! The students hiked through the trails and learned about the forest, its native plants and unfortunately the invasive ones too. We hopped back on to the bus and waved goodbye to our new friends at TWLT – just in time too as it started to pour!


EcoSpark believes that by engaging members of the community to experience, monitor and learn about the environment we will empower people to take an active role in protecting or sustaining nature. Protection begins with connection and often, individuals - no matter what age - in urban and suburban communities do not have regular opportunities to seek this out.

This experience would not have been possible without the support from the Durham Community Foundation, David Gordon at Dunbarton High School as well as our fantastic volunteer, Leigh Paulseth. Thanks as well to our two Greenbelt Youth Ambassadors from Dunbarton High School – Andrew Fryer and Edward Hewitt – who joined us for the day, sharing their own knowledge and experience from their Greenbelt tour and Greenbelt Youth Charter development in 2015. Lastly, thank you to all of our tour collaborators: Jim Miller from Thistle Ha’; Karen Abrahams, Rob Messervey and the whole staff team from Native Plants of Claremont; Otto Peter and members of the Thickson’s Woods Land Trust.