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Vandals cause $20K in damage at Rockway Gardens, but the cost is more than monetary

Many of the trees, flowerbeds, and stonework vandalized are dedicated to someone lost
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Rockway Gardens in Kitchener

A seven-acre gem nestled in the heart of Kitchener can be surprisingly easy to miss. That's a shame, since there's an incredible amount of hard work -- both volunteer and paid -- that goes into keeping Rockway Gardens beautiful.

Unfortunately, the space has become a target of frequent vandalism in the last year. The first instance happened in August of 2020, and since then, flower beds have been ripped up, stone benches destroyed, and trees broken or maimed. 

The total damage is around $20,000 and counting, but the cost is more than monetary.

"All the benches are memorials, the trees that have been broken are memorials," said Karin Clemens, supervisor of GardenKitchener, which manages the property. "They are where loved ones have come and chose something that means something to the person they have lost."

Clemens has been coming to the gardens since she was a child, so seeing damage to something she actively cares for is an emotional experience each time.

"We spend so much time here just trying to make it beautiful for everyone to enjoy, and it's being ruined by a small group of individuals that don't take into consideration how they affect other people." 

Clemens' daughter Samantha also cares for the grounds, and also expressed frustration, along with gratitude to those who volunteered their time to help fix damaged property.

In the case of 80 to 95-year-old trees, however, some damage can't be undone.

"It baffles me, really," said Samantha.

Clemens said that there has been an increase in people experiencing homelessness attending the gardens, and they are welcome to come and enjoy the space. She also noted an increase in garbage and drug paraphernalia strewn about the gardens, and reports of some using illicit drugs in front of other visiting families.

Why the destruction is happening could be any number of reasons according to Clemens, though drug use has crossed her mind. She also isn't sure of who is perpetrating the destruction.

What the solution should be as far as increased patrols or security goes is hard to determine. For now, Clemens is calling on those visiting to show respect.

"We are open to everybody," she emphasized. "It's just be respectful, clean up after yourselves, treat everyone around you the way you want to be treated, and think of this as something that's for everybody, not just for yourselves. It's an important thing to be a little selfless."

Over the last 10 years, GardenKitchener has ramped up their efforts as a "teaching garden." They're now growing enough vegetables that they're able to give six homeless shelters in the region bushels of vegetables.

"We're trying to do our part and give back. So, when somebody comes along and destroys something, you're not just hurting one person, you're hurting a whole community."

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