January 2, 2023
50 years of landscape and horticulture excellence
Award-winning project by The Landmark Group.
Years before the creation of Landscape Ontario, deserving members of the respective associations within Ontario received awards for achievements during the previous year.

When Landscape Ontario became a reality in 1973, a number of citations were carried over from the previous associations. Bill DeLuca headed a committee to create an awards program and organize judges for presentations by the new association.

Unlike today’s Oscar-like galas with over 600 people in attendance to celebrate winners, the new LO program had only four categories available. There were no big screen images in the room, nor grand entrances by entertainers. At the 1973 Congress banquet, award recipients received a ‘commemorative plaque’ in their respective category: Residential, Civic, Commercial or Specialty. As well, four special awards included: Dunington-Grubb, Trillium, Frank Ewald Jr. Award and Garden Writers’.

The Dunington-Grubb Award was created in 1971 by the Ontario Landscape Contractors Association (OLCA) to honour the late landscaping icon. It continues to be awarded to the highest scoring project in the construction categories.  

The Trillium Award was an early distinction presented by the Ontario Nurserymen’s Association (ONA). Beginning in 1959, it recognized persons or firms who made noteworthy and creative contributions to the betterment of horticulture and Ontario’s nursery industry.

The Frank Ewald Jr. Award was another creation by the ONA. It was instituted in 1961 to acknowledge a person under the age of 35 who made the greatest contribution to the growth of the ONA.

award winning landscape projectEdengrove Landscapes Ltd.
The first Garden Writers Award was presented by the ONA in 1968. Over the years LO has continued to recognize garden media, with what is now called the Garden Communicators Award.

A rare presentation at the Awards of Excellence was created during LO’s first year of existence, when Burke McNeill was presented an the Honorary Life Membership. The award wasn’t handed out again until 1982, when Casey van Maris received the honour. In 1991, Marc Thiebaud and Neil Vanderkruk joined this exclusive club.

Marc Thiebaud, LO’s third president, wrote in 1975 about the new awards program developed by Glenn Peister. Marc wrote, “These awards will receive public recognition within the province. It will help promote members’ work and include a dinner and news media.”

In 1976, Landscape Ontario announced a new approach to the annual awards program. Awards committee chair and LO Past President Glenn Peister said that for the first time recognition would go toward the contractor, architect and owner of the winning project. As well, a public relations firm was hired to promote the awards program.

The first annual Landscape Ontario Awards Night was held on May 2, 1977 at the Inn on the Park in Toronto. Approximately 150 people attended. Aldershot Landscape Contractors won the Dunington-Grubb Award. The Trillium Award went to Gerry Brouwer of Brouwer Sod Farms, while Don Ziraldo of Ziraldo Farms and Nursery received the Frank Ewald Jr. Award. Frank Ewald was present to hand the trophy to Ziraldo.

The Past Presidents’ Award was created in 1978 by Landscape Ontario to honour ‘outstanding long-term’ contributions to the association.

Special awards honour pioneers

In 2001, Landscape Ontario developed a new award to honour one of the association’s most respected and influential members. The Casey van Maris Award is handed out for the highest points in design and landscaping excellence. The first winner was Kim Price Landscape Design.

The Don Salivan Grounds Management Award was created in 2010. On stage that year to present the award in the memory of his father was Gregg Salivan. “I can’t think of any higher honour for my father than to have this prestigious award — the very symbol of the best maintenance quality in the province — now carry his name.” The inaugural winner was The Cultivated Garden of Toronto.

The Horst Dickert Memorial Award came into existence in 2011. The award honours one the industry’s leading pioneers. It recognizes the best use of native plant material in a sustainable landscape.

award winning landscape projectLandscape Plus Ltd.
In 2022, the latest high honour was added to the ceremony with the Neil Vanderkruk Award for Excellence in Landscape Design. It is awarded to the most outstanding and highest overall scoring project from the design categories. The award was presented by Neil Vanderkruk’s son, Mark, and grandson, Brent. It is in memory of a man who breathed life into every endeavour he took on. Neil Vanderkruk was a founding member of Landscape Ontario, a Past President, and an Honorary Life Member. Derue Designs took home the inaugural award.

Awards handed out at luncheon

With 4,970 people, attendance at Congress ’86 was the highest ever. The awards luncheon was moved to the last day of Congress. The idea was that it would reduce crowding for the event. Past Presidents’ Awards were handed out to Burke McNeill for his work toward the association, and Vic Palmer for his efforts in building the Toronto West Chapter.

The awards program took on the name Awards of Excellence in 1990. The presentations again took place during a luncheon at Congress. Awards were presented to the top three entries in the 17 categories available.

Over 8,300 delegates visited Congress ’92 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, where Awards of Excellence coordinator Ann Lederer said the number of entries jumped 40 per cent that year over the previous event. Avalon Landscaping won the Dunington-Grubb Award, while Audrey Partridge earned the Past Presidents’ Award.

Landscape Ontario announced that changes were coming to the LO Awards of Excellence in 1993. It was decided to add retail and growing segments of the industry. As well, new categories were added to the construction sector.

In 1995, the awards luncheon was changed to a Recognition Breakfast where the Awards of Excellence and individual winners were presented with their hardware.

Congress 2001 featured many changes from past events. The Awards of Excellence program that was normally held on Tuesday afternoons, was changed to Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Then in 2004, an Oscar-like night saw numerous awards handed out at the Awards of Excellence ceremony. Hogan Landscaping received the Dunington-Grubb, while The Beach Gardener took home the Casey van Maris Award. The growers and garden centre awards took place at Garden Expo the previous fall.

Growth of the Awards of Excellence continued in 2008 with the ceremony themed “Viva Las Vegas,” complete with show girls and the King himself for the grand finale. Performing master of ceremonies duties was Haig Seferian. LO president Tom Intven stated, “This gala tonight drives home my vision of prosperity through engagement. This evening encompasses our past, present and future as an association. We will be wowed by the pictures of the incredible work our members have submitted.”

award winning landscape projectCedar Springs Landscape Group
“The excitement surrounding the awards programs just keeps building every year, and exceeds expectations,” said former LO Executive Director Tony DiGiovanni. “Somehow, our members continue to reach new levels of craftsmanship, paired with breathtaking designs.”

The 2012 LO Awards of Excellence ceremony included cheerleaders, politicians, a TV sports personality, bright lights, music and an evening filled with excited award recipients. Under the leadership of emcee Seferian, the impressive production created an exciting atmosphere.

Over 600 industry leaders gathered to recognize the achievement of their professional colleagues at the 2012 ceremony on Jan. 10 in the Doubletree Hotel. “Our awards program provides a marketing tool for the membership as well as a source of pride for member company employees. Is the ceremony long? Yes. Is it worth the wait? Absolutely! The moment in the spotlight for employees is worth its weight in gold, and gives them a sense of accomplishment and something to be proud of starting their season,” said Kristen McIntyre, LO awards coordinator.

In 2021 and 2022 the awards ceremony transitioned into a virtual event due to restrictions on large indoor gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas of the newly renovated LO home office were decorated and transformed into sets for film crews. Award presenters arrived in staggered times slots to film their segments and an aerial acrobat even dangled from a ribbon in the building entrance. The online ceremony allowed members to chat online as the ceremony progressed, with many expressing how proud the image montages and exceptional work shown on screen made them feel. They were also able to congratulate winners in real time and watch acceptance speeches. The highly-entertaining and often emotional live streams connected the membership in a time when connectedness was scarce and left everyone feeling optimistic about the future prosperity of the profession.

On Jan. 10, 2023 the awards gala will return to a live event at Congress and celebrate 50 years of handing out award honours to deserving LO members. The milestone and the return to a live event will surely be another memorable moment in the storied history of the Landscape Ontario Awards of Excellence program.