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Explaining the Peace Garden in new book, signing at GO Art! Thursday

By Joanne Beck
Barb Toal with her book
Batavia native Barb Toal with her book, "Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden," at GO Art!, where she will have a book signing from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Photo by Joanne Beck

People kept asking Barb Toal what Batavia Peace Garden was all about, and it was too great a concept for her to explain, so there was only one thing for her to do.

Write a book about it.

“The story is too big to tell, you know, it’s too hard to explain to people what it’s all about in five minutes,” said Toal, co-founder of the garden nestled around Holland Land Office Museum on West Main Street in Batavia. “And lots of people were asking me to tell them a little bit here, a little bit there. And I finally said, you know, if we don’t start documenting this, nobody’s gonna know what this is all about.”

And the "Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden" was born. There will be a book signing event, with light refreshments served, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at GO Art!, 201 E. Main St., Batavia.

The garden’s evolution began with Toal’s idea and the vision being outlined in paperwork in 2010. “We had to build the integrity of our organization,” Toal said, and earn the respect of the community, as those early members forged ahead with their plans to be on and in the grounds of the museum.

“And without this community, we could have never been in there,” she said. “This community is incredible. The people, the donations, and how they care about the families who care about the community are just amazing. Because every cent that has ever gone into that garden is from this community.

“All these years later, 13 years later, we got our first grant tool to enroll … to do the mural on the water tank, and the path to the second phase of the garden, because the first phase is completed and full. And the second one has partially started, and the third has been designed.”

Whoa, hold on there Barb Toal. Folks need to know much more about the beginning phase. After all, that’s why the book was written. They wanted to know what this Peace Garden stuff was all about, right?

It originated after Toal visited International Peace Garden founder Paula Savage at her home. Toal was watching footage of peace gardens on a laptop and saw one in Italy and then one in Ireland. As it happened, she had seen both of them in person during prior trips. 

“I thought it was meant to be,” Toal said. “I bought into it. I wanted to get this garden put where it is, I fought like the devil. I wanted to get people to the museum. I was born and raised in Batavia and I wanted to show it off.”

Savage is also from Batavia, and “we both love our community” Toal said. She felt that Savage, with her International Peace Garden clout, could literally bring the idea home. 

Savage came up with the idea for a garden in 1990 as a way to honor the United States and Canada as the only two countries in the world that shared the longest undefended border for more than 200 years, and her vision was accepted and installed in Washington, D.C. in 1991.

Gardens were then presented worldwide, first to Poland, and then Germany, and Hungary, and one by one, 20 countries honored one another by choosing the next one in line for an international peace garden as a token of goodwill and, of course, world peace.

There was the eventual development of a trail of peace gardens for the bicentennial commemoration activities for the War of 1812 along Lake Ontario and the U.S. and Canadian border, aptly named the Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail.  

Toal had just retired, and Savage asked her to carry out a dream to create a memorial garden to honor their community. They both knew it would take “a large amount of creativity to connect world peace to our very own small hometown community,” Toal said.

An initial planning design phase began with a committee and volunteers, as they began to work toward their goals. Batavia became a site for an honorary International Peace Garden as part of the 400-mile War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden trail from Buffalo to Plattsburgh. 

There was a garden groundbreaking in 2011. The book captures much of the progress before and since then with lots of photographs of volunteers and people who were integral to it all coming to fruition. There were those first three paying members. A cool metal globe crafted and installed by local businesses. Dignitaries, a drum and bugle corps. Scenes of digging up the earth and planting future growth. Painting benches and placing bricks. Flying flags, hands in cement, and solemn ceremonies. The Statue of Liberty. Smiles and celebrations. Re-enactment demonstrations, tours, and lessons. Fundraisers, and hotdog sales. A new shed, and longtime old friends.

Now that the first phase has been completed, which includes a painted mural on the water tank, Phase II of a soon-to-be installed arbor at the entrance, along with flags for more countries joining in spreading world peace are in the works. The second phase will also include interpretive panels that members are planning to dedicate some time next June, she said.

A third phase not quite so mapped out as of yet, is to potentially connect the ongoing garden trail to the city’s plans to develop Creek Park property behind the ice arena, she said. 

But for now, the book is on a shelf to tell the story that Toal wished to tell. 

“Because everybody goes, ‘I know the flags are there, what are they there for?’ They don’t know. But each one of those countries has an actual Peace Garden in it. And then, you know, so every year or two, or however the board chooses, another garden is added,” Toal said. “So that’s why when we designed this, to begin with, we knew that the first garden would be full of the flags we had to start with. So for the next stage of the second phase … there are flags on hold to go in there. But we can’t do anything until we get all the permissions from everybody. And then we’d add a flag each year to add more countries of the world trying to make peace, the countries that are trying to work peacefully together.” 

And rest assured, that garden members will continue to raise money to keep the effort going, from bricks and T-shirts to a seasonal hotdog stand, pins, and local flags. Even when they have a holiday get-together, board members pay their own way, she said, so as not to take money away from what’s to be spent on essentials for the garden. 

“When you love what you do it makes life so much easier; it’s a labor of love, more than a chore,” Toal said. “And we take pride in the garden.”

Proceeds from the book will go to Batavia Peace Garden. They may be purchased at GO Art!, Oliver’s Candies, and Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia. 

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