The Forest of Curiosities

A striking graphic feature at the Eastside Branch.

About The Forest of Curiosities

The Forest of Curiosities is a stunning, large-scale graphic installation at the Eastside Branch, created by local artist Lucy Bilson. Featuring beautiful illustrations, it tells the story of the wildlife and species native to the surrounding area. Trees, plants, insects and animals of the Grand River all come together, reminding us of the beauty of this land.

We invite you to explore and discover the stories about the history and lands around the Eastside Branch.

Discover the History of the Land

Under the White Pine

Long before shovels broke ground for the Eastside Branch, the land was alive with purpose. The Grand River flowing nearby was a source of life for early Indigenous people. The river provided fresh water and fertile hunting grounds for the Attawandaron, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people.

Many early villages were surrounded by crops of corn, beans and squash. White pines shaded their paths and reminded the Haudenosaunee people of the peace they shared within their confederacy.

Indigenous people were the first to build their lives on the land we know as Waterloo Region. Their way of life followed the rhythms of the seasons and changing landscapes which allowed these nations to thrive for many years.

Following The Grand River

In 1820, the land surrounding the Eastside Branch was purchased sight unseen by David Martin, a Mennonite living in Pennsylvania. With only the hope of a better future, David and Maria Martin made the difficult journey to Canada with their twelve children.  

When the Martin family arrived, they were greeted by the sound of the Grand River flowing along the border of their land and the sight of many, many trees. The black maples, bur oaks and basswood trees would be a source of heavy labour, but also an invaluable resource. The Martin family began the long process of clearing the land and used the fallen trees to build their first home—a log cabin. The log cabin was strategically built near freshwater springs that were fed by the Grand River.  

As the Martin children grew up, the Mennonite way of life continued as the farm passed from one generation to the next. Orchard trees were planted and animals grazed the land. In 1856, the log cabin was replaced with a yellow brick home that still stands today. Other outbuildings such as a doddy house, schnitz house (used for apple drying), corn crib, butchering shed and sugar shack were built over the six generations of Martin ownership.  

The Land Reimagined

Elam Martin, David Martin’s great-great-great-grandson, was the last Martin to own the farm before it was sold to the City of Waterloo.

In 1999, the city announced its plan to build a recreation park to celebrate the new millennium. The land around the Martin farm was selected for the project, and the farm became a special feature in the park plans. In 2001, the Elam Martin Farmstead was given a protective historical designation, and RIM Park opened to the public.

Just over 20 years later, the Eastside Branch of the Waterloo Public Library opened its doors and another new chapter began. 

Learn More About The Forest of Curiosities

Want to learn more about the plants and animals found on The Forest of Curiosities graphic wall installation? In this Play Anytime Program you'll become an expert on local wildlife.

Start exploring now

Discover the Stories

The Forest of Curiosities graphic installation features quotations that speak to the various roles and purposes of a library to a community. If you are interested in reading the books which feature these quotes, you can find these titles in our catalogue.

"When…having nothing to read but the weather and the landscape, I came to understand that the earth is a library: stones, trees, animals, scents, water and winds are some of its books."
- Marc Hamer, Seed to Dust: Life, Nature, and a Country Garden

"If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities."
- Maya Angelou, The Heart of a Woman

A Note from the Artist - Lucy Bilson

The Forest of Curiosities was designed by Lucy Bilson as an exploration and celebration of the natural spaces which surround the Eastside Branch Library. Inspired by the work that is being done to revitalise the watershed along the Grand River, the work features plant, animal, fish, and insect species which are native to our region.

Some of these species — like the bumblebee and rainbow trout — are commonly seen and easily recognised, others of which — like the osprey — are slowly but surely making a return to the region. Each of the species was carefully selected: the bees and hummingbird were chosen to highlight the importance of pollinators in our food supply; the white pine tree, known to the Haudenosaunee people as the tree of peace, was included as a symbol of the enduring presence of Indigenous people on this land.

The idea of looking outward to what surrounds the library and reflecting on our present and future on this land is inspired by the building’s architecture and the large windows which look out onto the landscape.

The collage-style layering of visual forms uses textures from nature and creates moments of intrigue, revealing the complexity of networks and intersections we can find in the natural world.

The hope for this work is that it is not only enjoyed visually, but that it helps visitors to draw a personal connection to the environment: encouraging curiosity, teaching stewardship, and fostering relationship with the natural environment.