Leaside’s Big Bird takes first place despite show being shut down

Members of the Leaside Garden Society had already brought together all the material for their entry in the Canada Blooms open design category and had just started setting it up, when a representative of the garden show came around to give them the bad news.

The show, scheduled to open on March 13, was being cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. Their display would not be seen by thousands of showgoers.

But they continued putting it together and they eventually got some good news.

Their “Big Bird” entry won first prize in the judging that took place before the show was to open.

They were surprised, said Rick Hutchings, a member of the team who created Big Bird.

“We thought the other entries were more artistic,” he said. The show theme was “Birds of a Feather” and most entries interpreted this abstractly, while the Leaside display was quite literally a depiction of a famous bird, taking inspiration for the Sesame Street creature.

Big Bird display
PRIZE-WINNING BIRD: The Leaside Garden Society’s Big Bird won a first-place ribbon at Canada Blooms.

And despite the show being cancelled, it turned out the garden society’s design was seen and appreciated by quite a few. Hutchings said he had many would-be show exhibitors and members of other garden clubs tell him how much they enjoyed the Big Bird exhibit.

He and his fellow committee members who created Big Bird were hoping to move it from the Canada Blooms site and display it at the library to show more local people their achievement, but the library was unable to accommodate it.

And then a couple of days later all the city’s libraries were closed anyway.

If the library had been able to accept the exhibit, it would have been the second time Big Bird had been shut down, Hutchings noted wryly.

The other members of the LGS team were Margaret Rousseau, Eileen Fitzpatrick and Karen Kaey who came up with the original design.

The group has been entering the garden show judging event for about 20 years, Hutchings said, and has often taken one of the top three prizes in the open category, Hutchings says. He attributed this success to the members’ ability to work together.

“We have very artistic people. You get a team with all different ideas but eventually they come up with an idea that works for all four of them.”

LGS board member Deborah Browne expressed the group’s disappointment when the show was cancelled and pride in the team’s accomplishment.

“It was a disappointment at first, but everyone understood that in order to combat this world wide pandemic outbreak we must all do our part and follow the guidelines” set by the World Health Organization and the City of Toronto, she said.

“Although only a few persons actually saw the design talents this year, the team can be proud that they continued the tradition, had fun in the process and did a great job for the Society and its members.”

The Big Bird design is also featured in a video by Sayeh Sun Studio about the 2020 Toronto Flower Show part of Canada Blooms, shot before the show was shut down.