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ON THE COVER: PANDALAND lightens the atmosphere in Seaton Village (Aug. 2021)

September 8th, 2021 · No Comments

Seaton Village neighbours enjoy PANDALAND created by Martha Davis to amuse and educate children. The installation includes over 70 toy pandas, along with a cinema, tea room, amusement park, and even a homeless encampment.

It started with seven wicker baskets, seven plastic pandas, and a piece of string. In early June, Seaton Village resident Martha Davis created a panda zipline between a hydro pole and a tree on a stretch of public green space in front of St. Peter Catholic School.

Over the summer, the installation began to grow: community members donated toy pandas to the site, while Davis built a burgeoning mini-city around the zipline. 

Today, PANDALAND—as it is now affectionately called—includes over 70 toy pandas, along with a cinema, tea room, amusement park, and infirmary. There’s even an encampment for pandas experiencing homelessness. 

Davis, who lives across the road from the installation, originally built the zipline as a creative project for her enrichment program for young children. But now, the site has attracted children and families from across the Annex and beyond. 

“Some children now visit two or three times a day, and parents sit behind them on the lawn,” she noted. “I do feel it has drawn the neighbourhood together.” 

Davis usually observes the action from her front porch, and occasionally comes down to explain the installation to onlookers. As a retired second grade teacher, interacting with young children is second nature to Davis. She asks them probing questions about the site, and encourages them to think critically about the issues affecting PANDALAND and how they relate to the real world. 

Her most recent addition to the installation is a white board with a referendum asking children how they would improve PANDALAND if they were a panda living there. They can vote to expand the amusement park, clean up the toxic lake and grow more bamboo, or build more housing for pandas experiencing homelessness. According to Davis, more than 30 kids cast votes on the first day of the “panda-lection.” 

Meagan Saunders-Zappia, who stops by the site every other day with her three-year-old son Luca during their evening walks, is always surprised by the exhibit’s new additions. 

“It seems every time we visit there is something new to see,” she said. “It’s quite amazing the effort and care [Martha] has taken in curating the experience.”

Lisa Taharally lives down the street from PANDALAND and also visits the installation almost every day with her two children Jasper and Violet. 

“For people to have something fun to look forward to during such a hard time, with kids being at home for so long, this is fantastic,” she said.

For Davis, PANDALAND is meant to take people’s minds away from the pandemic, but is also a reflection of our shared lockdown experiences. The exhibit’s name alludes to its panda residents, but also has a double meaning as a portmanteau of “pandemic” and “land.” 

“Everything [in the installation] is in flux, precarious, waving in the breeze,” she explained. “Like the little pandas, children have to keep going and make the best of it. And so do adults.”

Davis plans to take down the installation after Labour Day, when children are set to return to school. 

—Joshua Chong/Gleaner News

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