Karen Miranda Abel

Three Fires Prairie

Three Fires Prairie

Walpole Island First Nation, Ontario

Three Fires Prairie is a collaborative community project created with the Walpole Island First Nation with support from the Ontario Arts Council and University of Western Sherwood Fox Arboretum.

The circular tallgrass prairie garden was created as a celebration of Walpole Island First Nation’s rich natural heritage and the community members who have protected and honoured the ecological significance of this unique territory for tens of generations. In collaboration with the Walpole Island Heritage Centre, the site was created in July of 2005 by more than 20 community members and Heritage Centre staff.

The work represents a living map of the rivers and islands that form the traditional territory of Walpole Island First Nation, called Bkejwanong in Ojibwe, meaning “Where the Waters Divide.” The 65-foot circular planting features two footpaths that meander through the garden symbolizing the St. Clair and Snye Rivers that form the northern tip of Walpole Island.

The Walpole Island First Nation is part of the traditional homeland of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi, who through a common heritage formed a political and cultural compact known as the Three Fires Confederacy.

A series of aerial photographs I took during several flights in a Cessna 172M Skyhawk illustrate landscapes of the Walpole Island First Nation and surrounding areas including Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley.” Low-flight photographs of Three Fires Prairie show children and community members exploring the site a few days after the planting was completed.

Native plant seeds were hand-collected and propagated from rare tallgrass prairie and oak savannah ecosystems on the Island with Clint Jacobs, Natural Heritage Coordinator of the Walpole Island Heritage Centre. Species include Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Missouri Ironweed (Vernonia missurica), Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera), Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), and Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

A very special and heartfelt Chi Miigwech to Clint Jacobs and the Walpole Island Heritage Centre, Dr. Jane Bowles, Anika Altiman and family, Teresa Altiman, Sean Hoogterp and all the community members and Heritage Centre staff who were part of the project including: Calvert Wright, Ron Sands, Kendall Sands, Wayne Fisher, Jen Altiman, Brent Blackbird, Kevin Smith, Naomi Williams, Audrey Logan, Summer Sands, Jared McBeth, Lindy Altiman, Nolan Riley and many others.

Tallgrass prairie is a globally endangered ecosystem. The Walpole Island First Nation is home to the largest, and most significant remaining tallgrass prairie in Canada.

The Walpole Island Heritage Centre is a community-based organization that has received numerous awards recognizing leadership and significant achievements in natural and cultural heritage preservation and sustainability.