Sky Gardens and serving the community: Off the clock with Colin Anderson

Colin Anderson, Sky Gardens

Colin Anderson,
Communications & Student Programs, Civil Engineering


Colin has worked at the University of Toronto (U of T)  for seven years.


What do you do off the clock?

I am an auxiliary sergeant with the Toronto Police Service (TPS). I am also the University’s staff-side manager of the U of T Sky Garden Project.

What do you do as the staff-side manager of the U of T Sky Garden Project?

The project started as a student initiative; I decided to become their ally and guide them through the administrative details. There is naturally turnover as students graduate, so I maintain the project itself, recruit students and volunteers, and liaise with our sponsors.

What is the Sky Garden?

In Toronto, there is a massive amount of unused, flat roof space. Sky Garden is an attempt to use that space for something productive.

We did a lightweight retrofit of the Galbraith building roof, which hosts the garden, and we’ve developed a semi-hydroponic system that uses a very shallow soil layer in containers with distributed water chambers. It is a productive vegetable garden in the heart of downtown Toronto. Every year we grow over 500 pounds of fresh local organic vegetables that go straight to the U of T food bank and the Scott Mission. We also run educational workshops.

Sky Garden is partnered with the U of T affinity partners Manulife Financial, TD Insurance, and MBNA. They sponsor our ongoing maintenance and programming.

What sort of work do you do as an auxiliary sergeant?

Auxiliaries exist to complement but not to replace the work of full-time police officers. That means that we do a lot of crime prevention, educational outreach with kids and communities, and help with emergencies as we’re needed. Sometimes we will help search for missing people or we will help in situations that overwhelm the capacity of the full-time service (like the 2013 flood that trapped a GO train).

We also do first aid and act as first responders at large community events and work in the community-building side of policing. For example, we work with community centres to support people who are in vulnerable situations, as with newcomers to Canada, to help them understand the Canadian system, their rights, and where they can go for help.

We do proactive, Neighbourhood Watch-style work to promote community safety, help canvas neighbourhoods for witnesses when there have been crimes, collect evidence, etc. As a sergeant, I manage a unit of 17 auxiliary officers.

How did you first become interested in working as an auxiliary with the TPS?

I’ve always felt that it is important to do volunteer work, and when I moved to Toronto in 2007, I was looking for a new opportunity. At a Remembrance Day ceremony at Queen’s Park, I was surrounded by veterans who, in their generation and lifetime, answered the call of community and democracy by offering military service. It struck me how important and incredible their service was and reflected on what defending our community should look like in the 21st century. I decided that I wanted to both honour their service and sacrifice and to reimagine it in a civil context. I think that good policing is a form of human rights activism. As an auxiliary with TPS, I get to work for human rights, right here in Toronto.

Submitted by Colleen Kelly, student services assistant in the Department of Molecular Genetics