Cynthia (l), Monica, and Lisa pose in the yard that will get a refresh thanks to Monica and Rachelle from HTFC

Cynthia (l), Monica, and Lisa pose in the yard that will get a refresh thanks to Monica and Rachelle from HTFC


Each year we present the Spark Outstanding Pro Bono Award at the Volunteer Manitoba Awards. We look forward to this day because it gives us a chance to recognize one of our volunteers and the impact their work has had on the community, as well as celebrate volunteerism throughout Manitoba.  


A number of organizations we worked with this year nominated their Spark volunteer and wished to recognize them for their fantastic leadership and coordination, the outcome and impact of the match on the organization’s work, the depth and quality of their expertise, and their commitment to doing pro bono work for a stronger Winnipeg. So for the month of March, we are celebrating these nominees for the Spark Outstanding Pro Bono Award, and their contributions to their community through a series of volunteer profiles.  


Today we are profiling another dynamic duo- Monica Giesbrecht and Rachelle Kirouac of HTFC Planning and Design.


HTFC Planning & Design is the largest independent landscape architecture and planning firm in the Winnipeg region, offering a broad range of environmental design services. The firm has been recognized both nationally and internationally for its collaborative planning processes and innovative design.  Most recently they were recipients of the Design and Building Award at the Spirit of Manitoba Awards hosted by The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. 


HTFC began their partnership with Spark in 2009 because of the firm’s belief in supporting community groups and initiatives.  Since then, they have completed three Spark matches, including projects with Taking Charge!, Aboriginal Visioning for the North End, and the North End Women’s Centre.  It is the latter project for which Monica and Rachelle are nominated for the Spark Outstanding Pro Bono Award.    


A Principal at HTFC, Monica is an award-winning landscape architect specializing in a number of areas, including community planning, public consultation, site selections and feasibility studies, and site planning and design.  The Millennium Library Park, Victoria General Hospital Healing Garden and the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg are some examples of her work and a testament to her belief in “inclusive design, developing landscapes that energize and welcome users of all ages and abilities.”  


Rachelle began working at HTFC after completing her Masters of Landscape Architecture in 2015. She is passionate about community collaborative design- design with the public, for the public.  Her work can be seen in Winnipeg and Churchill, the latter being where she worked on a trail system “designed to both accentuate the natural landscape and emphasize conflict avoidance between dangerous wildlife and people.”


It was HTFC’s history with Spark combined with Monica and Rachelle’s skills in inclusive design and community collaboration that made them the perfect people to approach for the North End Women’s Centre’s (NEWC) landscape design request.


NEWC a multi-building facility located in Winnipeg’s North End with the “purpose to provide a friendly atmosphere, where women can receive the understanding, support, and resources they need to make informed choices about their lives.”


They approached Spark because they felt the time was right to rebuild their community space and garden that was lost when a new building was constructed for the organization.  Not only would a new garden provide a therapeutic place for community members, but it would also be a way to honour long-time staff member and original garden advocate, Jaki.


The match kicked off with Monica and Rachelle facilitating a half-day brainstorming and visioning exercise that encouraged participation, understanding, and collaboration between the two volunteers and a committee composed of NEWC staff and community members.  According to Cynthia Drebot, Executive Director at NEWC, the session was a huge success, Monica and Rachelle “ensured that everyone got to speak, be heard and that they fully understood the pros and cons of many landscape design perspectives, including it being a safe and welcoming place.”


After the exercise, Monica and Rachelle got to work designing the space.  When they returned to present their draft plans, the committee was “blown away.”


But the work didn’t end there.


Over the course of the project, two additional caveats, the acquisition of a new lot and a drainage issue, presented themselves. Monica and Rachelle problem solved to overcome those issues and in the end delivered a final design that was “beautifully detailed, thoughtful, and takes into consideration everything [NEWC] brought forward.”


A few weeks ago when Monica accepted HTFC’s Spirit of Manitoba Award she said that the operative word at the firm is ‘with’, not ‘for’, and that the company “aims to listen, share, and collaborate” with their partners. The team at NEWC echoed this throughout their match. Monica and Rachelle prioritized NEWC’s needs and developed a design that truly reflected the community. According to Cynthia, they “didn’t try to push their wants on to us, they spoke in laywomen’s terms, and they took the time to truly understand our centre and the “why” behind the project.” 


While the garden may not yet be constructed, the match, the process, and the final design had two significant impacts on NEWC.  First, the fact that the match was female-led had a significant impact on the project’s participants and turned Monica and Rachelle into two “incredible role models for the community women [NEWC] serves.” Second, the match “allowed [NEWC] to dream realistically about what [their] short and long terms plans are for [their] properties as they are linked to [their] mission and vision.”


The North End Women’s Centre has a lot to celebrate.  Not only are they celebrating their match with Monica Giesbrecht and Rachelle Kirouac of HTFC and their new community space and garden design, but they recently won People’s Choice at The Winnipeg Foundation Fast Pitch event! 


Check out the profiles of Foster Lyle, Stephen Pitre, Jill Knaggs and Elise Epp, Dinis Prazeres, George Harris, and Jackie Hogue and follow along with other nominee profiles this month!