A Sacred Place

I remember the first time I went to Tin Can Beach. It was during the winter and snow covered the ground. Paths in the snow led to the water and indicted that other people had been coming to the area. It was calm and beautiful to sit and look across the harbour. I am a new resident to the City. I remember the excitement I had about my discovery that such a place existed on the peninsula. Here is a natural area with access to the water!

The first person I told about my new discovery was clearly not as excited as I was. I was told that Tin Can Beach is dangerous – a place to be avoided. Since then I have heard many stories about Tin Can Beach. For the most part I've heard that it is a hidden gem and a place with great potential. I also hear the story of it being dangerous and neglected.

I can’t help but wonder how these stories shape the way we use and interact with this place. Collectively, how do these stories form the environment of Tin Can Beach. If we treat this place as somewhere to be avoided it may become the dangerous area that some fear it is – it will remain dark at night, people may stop going there, we may even abandon the area. I am optimistic though. I have a feeling that more people are telling the story of Tin Can Beach’s potential. This is the story I like most! It encourages us to be stewards in our community and to recognize Tin Can Beach as an asset and a sacred place. This place is a unique asset for the community! It is a natural coastal setting in an urban environment. We have a chance to shape this place to be what we want, both physically and in the stories that we share.  

I believe that Tin Can Beach is a sacred place for many people in our community. Randolph Hester describes sacred places in his book Design for Ecological Democracy as places where community members feel connected to their personal and cultural identity. Sacred places are often hidden gems - they may not be recognized by an outsider. A sacred place can be a historic building or district, or it can be as small as a neighbourhood swing that holds special memories for the youth of an area. By recognizing sacred places we are invited to discuss the qualities of our community that make life truly worth living. City design is often dominated by functional and economic debates and the sacredness of a place can be overlooked. In recognizing Tin Can Beach as a sacred place, we can apply the concepts of ecological democracy that Hester describes.

Ecological democracy emphasizes direct, hands on involvement by the people. “Actions are guided by understanding natural processes and social relationships within our locality and the larger environmental context.” Hester argues that the surrounding community and people who frequent a place know it best and should be involved in the design process. There should be a feeling of collective ownership over sacred places. He describes how North American cities have been in a cycle where “insecure and unrooted individuals make insecure and unrooted cities, which make even more insecure and unrooted individuals, [this] was generations in the making and will be generations in the undoing. Shifts that disrupt the unhealthy cycle are essential. This is the great challenge of our time.”

I see shifts happening in Saint John.

Here is another opportunity to shift the cycle. Community members have already stepped into the stewardship role at Tin Can Beach with tree planting and beach cleanups. I hope that through the process of enhancing the area we can shift the collective story of Tin Can Beach to the story of its sacredness for everyone. 

Hester’s book is what inspired me to study community design and I am thrilled to be a part of a project that aligns with his teachings at Tin Can Beach.