June 22, 2021
1bench1tree gives back to frontline heroes
The first installation of 1bench1tree took place at Sunnybrook Hosptial in June 2021.
It all started last Christmas, when a group of landscape architecture masters students at the University of Guelph couldn’t help but notice the difference between the restful post-semester break they were enjoying, and the never-ending mental toll faced by frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We use the term heroes and frontline workers a lot and, historically, in Canada we've always found a way to remember them,” says Everett DeJong, founder of 1bench1tree. “So, one day I emailed [our cohort] with this crazy idea of giving [frontline workers] a place to rest the body and the mind. A bench and a tree — the forever gift for their compassion, fatigue and the overall cost of caring.”

That idea and sentiment quickly became a project the group was determined to see through.

“We didn’t know where [1bench1tree] was going to go and there was a lot of vulnerability with starting this project,” said Alli Neuhauser, the external communications coordinator of 1bench1tree. “But we knew that vulnerability and hospitality are two key words that describe hospitals now — they open their doors to Covid-19 and they’re opening their hearts and minds to the sick. So, we want to offer the same back to them.”

They came up with a design that could work for any hospital — a simple concept of a single bench and a tree.

The first was installed at Sunnybrook Hospital in June 2021. After seeing the emotional impact of their small gesture on the hospital’s staff it became even more apparent how needed the space for rest was.

man preparing to pour a concrete slab on a lawn
“I’m sitting in my basement or we’re in our homes and in a sense we don’t really see what’s going on,” says DeJong. “So say five years, 10 years from now, we’re going to look back at these times and grieve for the losses. For frontline workers who are experiencing it now, this space gives them the opportunity to pause. Let their mind meditate and reflect on where they are at this point in time.”

The bench and tree symbolizes the much needed rest that the body and mind needs after dealing with the overwhelming stress frontline workers are experiencing. Described as an “invitation to heal,” the group says that this isn’t a single hospital project and it may extend to long-term care homes or anywhere frontline workers have contributed their time.

“The concept is there for anybody at any place,” explains Dejong. “I think for the landscape industry, to step up and be able to contribute shows how much we care, even if we start in a small way.”

In the short term 1bench1tree’s plan is to expand the initiative across hospitals in Ontario and in the future, across provinces. Even beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, frontline workers deserve to be recognized, they say.

“It’s been all hands on deck Covid-19 wise, but post pandemic they’re still going to be busy and frontline workers won’t have as much of a break because they’re catching up on all these [cancelled] operations,” says Neuhauser. “Getting back on track is also going to be tough.”
man sitting on a bench outside a hospitalThe completed space provides a great place for health care professionals to take a quick mental and physical break.
Landscape Ontario is proud to support the mission of 1bench1tree — to give back to the frontline heroes who have supported our communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. LO and its professional members believe spending time outside in nature is beneficial to both mental health and wellbeing.

“Ever since the Covid-19 [pandemic] started, we’ve all been spending more time outdoors,” says Neuhauser. “We’re all going outside and just enjoying nature. That’s always been something that stood out to me, that while we can go to the park, frontline workers might not have the time. So, we wanted to bring that right to them — right to their workplace.”