Couple takes on beautification of Flinders Place gardens

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

A few fallen trees inspired a picturesque garden area for residents, with high school volunteers chipping in to make the dream a reality

A couple who reside at Flinders Place took the opportunity during multiple lockdowns to work on the beautification of the area around their residence.

Ralph and Debbie O’Connor now enjoy sitting in their new favourite spot behind the parking lot, where they have landscaped with rocks and flowers.

The couple started working in the area early this summer, mainly to get some exercise. Together they helped create a sitting area surrounded by plants where they can have their coffee, chat and watch the deer, birds and squirrels.

“That’s the best medicine,” Ralph said. “You can go walk and do all you want, but you’re not getting the same or as much as when you’re gonna do something to pick it up and carry it and go for walks. It gets all your muscles.”

Debbie said they began working on it last year when they had a few fallen trees, which were hauled away for firewood. Ralph added that he would always go back to Debbie for final approval on how things should look.

The couple was also able to get some students to volunteer to get their hours. They had four girls help them at one time.

April Szpara, Flinders and Columbus Place manager, said Ralph was supervising the students. Szpara said the students were following all safety protocols put in place, while taking instructions from Ralph and Debbie.

Although it is hard finding volunteers to do physically demanding jobs, Szpara said they were lucky to have students happily do the work, chat with the seniors, get their volunteer hours and letters of recommendation for summer jobs.

“They were cleaning up all the trees and cutting down shrubs,” Szpara said. “We got a little bit of topsoil to help fix up some of the ruts. The students helped spread all the topsoil, and helped some of the seniors that were doing the front garden because they have a big garden. It was pretty heavy lifting. They were pretty excited when the students came.”

The couple moved to Flinders Place in 2017 and Debbie said it is like a small community inside the bigger community of Fort Frances. They all share vegetables from the garden and help out whenever needed.

“If somebody that does not drive needs groceries we’ll get it for them,” Debbie said. “We try to stay positive.”

Ralph said living at Flinders gave them the opportunity to go on trips without worrying about the property.

“Last summer our kids thought we were crazy because we dug out our old tent and we went camping and canoe paddling in July and August,” Ralph said.

Ralph and Debbie have been married for 35 years and they just live it day by day.

“We owned a heavy equipment, air conditioning and safety inspection business,” Ralph said. “Debbie took care of all the books and the phone calls. ”

Debbie said sometimes they worked 12 hours a day and when the phone rang, she always answered, even if it was midnight.