Depave Paradise Group Picture

Let’s Dig In! Volunteers’ Perspective on Waterloo Region’s First Depave Project

We were greeted by cheerful faces as we arrived in the cold, wet weather for the first depave event at Sheppard Public School. It was a great opportunity for community building while better managing rainwater and creating a beautiful space. News crews came out to document this historic event, the first ever in Waterloo Region. In an effort to to remove under-utilized pavement from urban spaces and replace it with green spaces, Depave Paradise Canada partnered with the environmental charity, Reep Green Solutions to bring the Depave program to Waterloo Region.  Sheppard public school was the first stop!

BEFORE: The area about to be transformed!

The day started with unpacking gear and setting up tables for volunteer registration, first aid and refreshments. The kids ensured that the timbits were distributed fairly and no one was excluded from the sugary treats. A quick team meeting got tasks assigned and positive energy flowing just in time for community members to start arriving. Evergreen provided some nature play activities to occupy the kids while their parents were busy depaving..  As the morning progressed and tasks began, the hot beverages would become essential for motivating community members.

Four work areas were set up for volunteers and their families.  Team 1 was the depavers.  In their steel-toed boots and heavy-duty gloves, they chewed through the pavement in a mere hour and a half filling a whole waste bin with slabs of asphalt.

Team 2 were the diggers.  Like industrious dwarves, they sifted through gravel pulling out the nuggets of tar-coated stones and pavement crumbles. Digging into the sodden ground, buckets and wheelbarrows full of gravelly clay soil was removed to improve drainage in the site.  It was amazing to see these superheroes clear out so much fill, shifting and heaving buckets into the bins.

Beside them Team 3 took up the sod with manual sod cutters to add more space for plants and an area for the students to relax during recess.  Like a plow with a horizontal knife, the sod cutters sliced grass right below the roots allowing strips of grass to be peeled off the soil.  It looked so easy, and then I tried it.  Not so easy!

Team 4 were the queens of the castle. They presided over the three waste bins helping to dump buckets and steer wheelbarrows.  They also ensured that no pavement contaminated the clean fill and no clean fill dirtied the pavement bins. While the parent volunteers did the hard labour, the kids were also hard at work! Setting up natural shelters using sticks and rope they were challenged to be creative and logistical. Volunteers were around to support and discuss the set up while the kids determined the function of their creation. A group of girls set up an entire campground, only missing the marshmallows!


Pizza arrived and everyone was excited to take a break. The energy at the break was high as volunteers chatted and marveled at the progress of the Depave. A hot chocolate refill arrived just in time to warm up the volunteers before getting back to work. Once the pizza was gone, the energy surged as we switched from clearing out the depave site to filling it in with dirt and mulch.  

A mountain of soil and mulch remained, waiting to breathe life back into the newly depaved areas. Parents, children (with their little shovels) and community volunteers got hard to work filling wheelbarrows to complete the job. Some children were more preoccupied with climbing the dirt piles and made for a playful environment amidst the laborious task at hand. Who would be able to fill their wheelbarrows the fastest? A little friendly competition between depavers made the experience all the more cheerful and productive.

Some hours later and after much hard work and determination, the never-ending pile of soil seemed to be finally clearing. A couple more hours passed and after countless mulch-filled wheelbarrow trips, the depaved areas began to resemble the precursor of a lively green space more and more.

By 5pm, the tasks were complete, and volunteers were finally able to marvel at the fruits of their labour, making the entire experience well-worth the end results.  Overall, the depave as a community building event was a success! Volunteers, young and young at heart, all engaged with one another to complete the project which would beautify the school yard, keep the area cool in summer, add shade, manage stormwater runoff and countless other benefits. Knowing all this, even with the gloomy weather there was a ray of sunshine at Sheppard Public school!  

Depave in the News!

Students plant trees at former paved playground – CTV Kitchener

Transforming asphalt into a green play space – CTV Kitchener

‘Schlepping wet dirt’ key to environmental renewal in Waterloo Region – The Record

By: Heather McDiarmid, Pamela Kisun, Jamylynn McDonald

Photography: Christine Tan


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