For the last 20 years, Kingston’s Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul have been the caretakers of almost 300 heirloom seeds.
The religious organization has preserved and used the seeds to grow fruits and vegetables on its large property on Princess Street. Some of the seeds in the Sisters of Providence collection date back to the 1500s.
However, a legacy plan to develop the property into Providence Village means the land will no longer be available to preserve the seeds.
The village is intended to become a community hub for a range of health services.
In order to preserve the heirloom seeds, Ratinenhayen:thos, a group of volunteers from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, was formed in hopes of making a new home for them.
“Beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and some melons, and then there are other things like kale, onions and garlic,” said Janice Brant, co-chair of Ratinenhayen:thos, listing some of the heirloom seeds kept by the Sisters of Providence.
Another group that’s also set to receive some of the Sisters of Providence’s heirloom seeds is the Kingston Area Seed System Initiative.
Both groups are focused on continuing the work started by the Sisters of Providence.
A rematriation ceremony was held to mark the occasion of the transfer of the seeds.
Brant says her group’s mission is to not only preserve and use the seeds but to spread and share the knowledge involved in keeping them alive.
“It’s really important for us that our young people understand how to save seeds, how to grow seeds, how important it is to have a clean and safe environment,” she said.
“It’s important for health and also environmental health but it’s also important because it’s part of our culture. It’s part of the legacy of our ancestors.”
Brant says some there used to be more potatoes in the collection of heirloom seeds but not anymore. However, she hopes that Ratienhayen:thos and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte community might be able to return potatoes to the heirloom seed collection.
“We actually, through our community, have some of those potatoes still growing so we do hope at some point to reintroduce some of those things lost,” she explained.
Brant says the first goal is to become good caretakers of the current seed collection and then to build from there.
“Possibly create a collection of seeds that stems right out of our own community and incorporate that later on as part of the seed sanctuary,” she said.