In 2018, ReForest London was awarded a $5,000 Eco-Grant from Nature London to assist with the restoration of the gate house at the entrance to the Westminster Ponds Centre (WPC). Situated behind Parkwood Hospital, the WPC is a cluster of buildings and associated grounds that once served as a recuperative village for veterans following World War II. Recently, ownership of the site was transferred to ReForest London from the London Health Sciences Centre.
ReForest London’s vision is to transform the site into an Environment & Sustainability Centre that will be a hub for sustainability initiatives in the London region. When complete, the WPC will boast over 20,000 square feet of space over four buildings on 14 acres of grounds. Restoration of the gate house was among the first steps in a much larger effort to redevelop the entire site.
Melchers Construction was principal contractor for the task which involved an extensive rebuilding of the long-neglected structure. The refurbished gate house retains the design and architectural features of the original structure while incorporating space for educational signage (where the windows once were) as well as lighting. Nature London’s contribution covered approximately one-quarter of the total cost. Additional funders, and in-kind contributions, covered the balance.
The now-restored gate house, which once welcomed visitors to the veterans’ village, now welcomes visitors to the WPC, providing them with information about the WPC project and the Area. As well, it provides information regarding
the site’s natural and cultural heritage as well as the tenants occupying office space on the property. Of particular interest to Nature London members will be information referring to W.E. Saunders, one of the property’s former owners and the founding president of the ornithological section of the club which was renamed the McIlwraith Ornithological Club in 1902.
As one of the first tangible signs of the site’s revitalization, the gate house provided a focal point for the launch of the Westminster Ponds Centre in a formal ceremony held on 9 October 2019. A wide cross section of supporters gathered under sunny skies to mark the occasion. Nature London President, Gordon Neish, represented the club with several other club members also on hand for the event.
The afternoon’s program began with an Indigenous acknowledgement and recognition of the site’s cultural heritage
as a veterans’ recuperative village. ReForest London Executive Director, Dean Sheppard, then outlined the vision for the complex which included relocation of the Thames Valley District School Board’s environmental education centre to the Huron Pavilion, now completed. Following additional presentations, the event concluded with a social and tours of the property which, of course, included a stop at the newly renovated gate house.
The early support of groups such as Nature London and the London Community Foundation’s Endowment for Heritage has inspired other individuals and organizations to become involved with the project. For example, an additional use for the gate house will soon be for snowshoe storage. A local neighbourhood association, the Westminster Working Group, submitted the idea as a “Neighbourhood Decision Making” proposal to the City of London, and it was subsequently approved. Once additional work inside the gate house is completed this summer, it will be ready for
Westminster residents to use for snowshoeing events on the property next winter.
Nature London’s contribution has been recognized on the property next winter. the gate house signage as well as on the WPC website and social media, among other places. The next time you are visiting the Westminster Ponds, why not make a point of stopping by the gate house to see for yourself the unfolding transformation at the WPC site, a transformation supported by our Eco-Grants program.