Dalhousie Ecolab

By Jocelyn Adams

For several years, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Science has been actively working towards the development of a brand-new outdoor learning space that will enhance experiential learning for students and the community. The Dalhousie Outdoor Ecolab will be home to a collection of native plants, geological rock specimens, trees and Indigenous learning. It will incorporate curriculum in biology, earth sciences, environmental science.

On campus, the space is known just as the ‘Ecolab,’ and is proudly supported by the Faculty of Science, Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability. It’s led by a team of faculty and staff who have helped move the initiative forward during the midst of the pandemic.

“The Ecolab is an exciting new development for the Faculty of Science and the Dalhousie community. We’re creating an outdoor space where students can explore first-hand the ecology and geology of Mi’kma’ki through the lens of Etuaptumumk or two-eyed seeing,” says Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, Acting Co-Chair of the Dal Ecolab Steering Committee.

Dalhousie community backs land-based learning

Dalhousie alumni and friends are supporting the Ecolab initiative through the Dalhousie Fund this year, contributions working to realize a living classroom.

Ferrier and his colleagues are proud of their achievement and recognize how the community has come together in service of this project. Both Dr. Ferrier and his students have also utilized this space for research over the past two years.

William Johnson (BSc’19), a recent graduate of Dalhousie, reflects on his research experience with Dr. Ferrier and the Ecolab space.

“I have been helping Dr. Ferrier build a database for his community’s plant medicines and performing an on-going analysis of the data,” says Johnson. “The database allows students to quickly find information on plant medicines to generate a background for literature reviews. Likewise, the database can be analysed, and the analysis can help inform researchers on which plant medicines are more likely to give significant results from a scientific perspective. Both the background and analysis help researchers to find opportunities to collaborate and generate research with Anishinaabe communities.”

For Johnson, it’s the close proximity of the Ecolab to campus that will enhance his research and teaching. “Having access to Indigenous plants is important for the education and wellbeing of students. I try to feature it in nature walks that I conduct around campus and HRM. Additionally, on an academic level, once a scientist conducts a background and analysis, they need to seek out plants and test. Having an outdoor educational space allows for students to access these plants,” says Johnson.

Zonghua Ai, a graduate student originally from China, views the Ecolab as an exciting teaching opportunity. With the support and direction of her supervisor, Dr. Ferrier, they’re now identifying and mapping native species of plants.

“I will be able to show more native plants and their uses to students and-or community members through educational walks. People will know more about the land and about the food we can get the forest,” explains Ai.

The space will include typical examples of native plant relatives and geological installations from the region, as well as large wall maps which depict the Mi’kmaq districts and place names, and the Western view of the ecological and geological regions of Mi’kma’ki. “It’s land-based learning space that will provide students the opportunity to challenge their way of thinking about nature and to continue to explore alternate ways of knowing, relating and interacting with the land around them,” concludes Dr. Ferrier.


The Dalhousie Fund helps create outstanding learning experiences and connects students with scholarships, bursaries and other important resources. Donations to the Faculty of Science will support the Dalhousie Outdoor Ecolab, building a foundation for more land-based learning opportunities. You can empower students to make the most of this formative time by making a gift today.