Judges for Communities in Bloom paid a visit to Portage la Prairie yesterday to assess our community for a Bloom rating. Every year, hundreds of Canadian communities take part, and the initiative also extends across the world to other nations, including Belgium, Ireland, Slovenia and the USA in an international challenge.  The idea is to learn how to make or city as beautiful as it can be.

During the summer months, judges visit communities across the nation. Colleen Stockford and Lucy Chang are the judges who arrived in Portage. They explain that Bloom ratings come in either bronze, silver or gold, and each of those categories has between one to five Blooms. The more Blooms a community receives, the greater that community's beauty.

Stockford is a national judge with the organization, treasurer for her local Communities in Bloom, serves on the national board and is chair of the symposium committee. 

Chang is also a national judge, and has been judging for about 20 years. She shares her remarks about our city and what lends itself to its beauty.

"Well, you certainly have a lot of green spaces. You are very fortunate," notes Chang. "There are lots of trees which, as you know very well, are very much valued in a prairie setting."


Stockford outlines what stood out to her.

"I've been enjoying the historical and the cultural aspects of your community that we've been shown," adds Stockford. "We had lunch with Daryl Taylor and Cornell Pashe. We did a smudging at a teepee. We learned a lot in the teepee about what they used for smudging. It was very informative. I really enjoyed it."

The judges share what they're looking for to determine the Bloom rating that Portage will receive.  

"There are different categories we start off with," continues Stockfrord. " We look for community appearance, environmental action, heritage conservation, tree management, landscape, and plant and floral displays. We have a grid in the evaluation form where we will give numbers to all of that. There are different sections in there as well: municipality businesses and institutions, and then residential. So, you take those big categories and then you pick something from all three of those areas. Then we'll mark them on that."

She notes their marking provides scores. Stockford explains many notes are taken, and then they go home.

"We do a really nice evaluation for it," adds Stockford. 

"The main aspect of this Canadian program is to tap into the volunteers that are in the community," adds Chang. "It is a volunteer-based program and we want to see every sector of the community come out and see what they can do within themselves, create within themselves, and use the energy that they have within themselves. In the process, that forms a community that is really proud of what they have and is taking pride in their own neighbourhood and their community."

Stockford notes it's basically all about taking pride in creating green spaces.

She adds they cannot share any findings they've tallied yet, and that is saved for the fall when the assessments and Bloom ratings are made known.

"They'll get their evaluation in their scoring in October when we go to symposium in Victoria," continues Stockford. "Five Blooms gold would be your highest marking that you can get. But you go up levels in Communities in Bloom, too. You start off in your population, and you go all the way up to Grand Champions. Then you'll get invited to the International at some point when you accumulate all your points."

Stockford says a community usually starts off in the Provincial category.  

"New Brunswick doesn't have the Provincial organization either, so my local Communities in Bloom automatically went to National," continues Stockford. "Some provinces now don't host the provincial judging. So, now they're being invited to go to National because there is no Provincial, but there was a big Provincial organization here. Dauphin is in International, and there are a few more. With the pandemic and everything, we didn't have as many sign up this year like everything else, right? If it's not Provincial here, we do hope that it comes back here very soon."

Chang adds they think of the effort as a guideline for communities who want to know what they can do to improve their neighbourhood. She stresses it's just a guideline to show them that this is what you do accordingly to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Stockford says they worked on the evaluation last night after their visit, and once that was put on paper, they leave today for their next community in Saskatchewan.

"We did seven communities total in two different categories," says Stockford. "So, when we go home, it's going to take us two to three weeks to give a proper evaluation. So, it's three weeks on the road and probably three weeks' work when we get home.  And we're volunteers.  It's lots of work."