Marigolds on Main Street Saint John

Marigold project assists in developing civic pride

New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Tue Jun 7 2011

SAINT JOHN – Every June, Barry Ogden stands on the sidelines on Main Street while thousands of children plant a sea of bright marigolds on the north end street.

As the children plant the flowers they’ve been learning about since March, Ogden enjoys “a feeling of fulfillment,” knowing children are gaining a sense of community pride.

On Thursday, thousands of children will decorate Main Street with the orange flowers for the 14th year in a row.

The festivities start at 9 a.m. when children will parade down the street. After a ceremony, the planting will begin.

At this year’s event, two people who have worked with kids in the community will receive the first-ever Marigold Award.

This year’s recipients are Debbie Cooper for her work with the Boys and Girls Club of Saint John and J.K. Irving for his work with the PALS (Partners Assisting Local Schools) program.

“We have to say ‘thank you’ more in our community and I think we have to encourage more goodness,” said Ogden, who created the award.

“By saying thank you sometimes, that really encourages good things to happen.”

Children will present the award to Cooper and Irving and the award itself will reside in Centennial School, where the Marigold tradition was started by Ogden and City of Saint John leisure services commissioner Bernie Morrison in 1997.
Since then, about 2.3 million marigolds have been planted and the project has spread to 55 sites across school districts 6 and 8.
“We’re promoting the whole idea that we’re not just growing marigolds but we’re growing children,” Ogden said.
“It’s a tourist attraction, it’s a learning tool, it’s a way to create pride in the community, it’s a way to create unity in the community.”

This year, the marigold project has spread to the Saint John Regional Hospital, where students from Hazen White-St. Francis School planted the flowers on Monday.

The partnership was a natural fit because the hospital is one of the school’s PALS partners, Ogden said.

“I called the Regional one day and just asked them if they would be interested in having a marigold garden.”

ONE (Old North End) Change will also plant marigolds at the bottom of Main Street for the first time this year, while Ogden is in talks with University of New Brunswick Saint John Seawolves quarterback Jeremy McAulay to arrange for a new mural to be painted on Paradise Row.

The mural that’s there now was painted back in 1999 and is starting to show its age.

The planning for the beautification initiative starts in January every year, when Ogden starts making calls to potential sponsors.

Hundreds of volunteers from Saint John to Sussex play a role in making the project happen.

Ogden hasn’t ruled out expanding his idea to other school districts in the province, but overseeing the marigold project at 55 sites already takes 10 months of work a year.
Even though the project requires a lot of work, Ogden can’t help but be amazed by how much his idea continues to grow.

“When you say Marigolds, people smile,” he said. “I think it’s really helping to change the community.”