Looking Forward: Kwanlin Dün First Nation Community and Education HUB in Whitehorse, Yukon

KDFN-Education-HUBLEES+Associates has been working with Reimagine Architects and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) since 2018 on redeveloping and expanding the landscapes and spaces around their civic buildings in Whitehorse, Yukon. The KDFN consists of peoples of Southern Tutchone, Tagish, Tlingit, and other diverse backgrounds who live in the lands that define their traditional territories along the headwaters of the Chu Níikwän (known today as the Yukon River). Their name comes from what their ancestors called the area, “Kwanlin,” which means “running water through canyon” in the Southern Tutchone. The Kwanlin Dün have lived, hunted, fished, and traded in the region for millennia; they have discovered stone tools in the region dating back approximately 5000 years.

The design of their new civic buildings aims to reflect the KDFN vision of their traditional lands by preserving as much of the surrounding forest as possible as well as by incorporating water elements and natural materials.

The recently completed KDFN Kashgêk’ Building includes the nation’s chief and council offices, supportive services, and office administration for the nation. The Education HUB, currently in the detailed design phase, sits across the street and will feature an immersion play area and cultural learning outdoor classroom along with a natural play area for the KDFN’s Dusk’a Play children’s program.

The Education HUB Building blends a traditional plaza with a more park-like design approach that serves as a multi-functional gathering and events space. Blending the Yukon River into the site of the building, the dry riverbed runs from the Kashgêk’ Building and along the front of the Education HUB building. This riverbed will be fed with snowmelt and rainwater, culminating into a basin within the central courtyard and visible from the windows of the HUB’s healing room.

The Education HUB will sit across the street from the Community HUB. A circular building that starts with a single story and slowly builds to a second floor symbolizes the growing enlightenment and education that the building will enable.


The site reflects how Indigenous communities have traditionally used the land. Buffered by forest, the Education HUB highlights the larger river theme continuing from the Kashgêk’ Building across the street. Featuring a central courtyard, this Education HUB’s outdoor space will use natural materials, such as boulders, logs, and embankments, to create seating and a stage for ceremonial gatherings. 

Around the outside of the building, organized by a perimeter path, there will be two play areas featuring natural elements. A cultural teaching area will provide space for traditional activities such as hide tanning, drying fish, and canoe carving.

The landscape design for these two interconnected sites aims to create a place that reflects and celebrates KDFN culture and values, responds to the needs of families, children, visitors, and staff, and is rooted in the values of language, culture, and lifelong learning.

Kwanlin Dün Community Hub Landscape Design – Project page

Introducing our Ontario Practice Lead

Amanda Gebhardt We are thrilled to introduce Amanda Gebhardt as our new practice lead for Ontario and Eastern Canada. Amanda joined us in April 2023 and has swiftly shown her passion for collaboration and realizing diverse and impactful projects. Her project portfolio includes cemetery expansion development, commemorative spaces, active transportation, complete streets, trails, urban parks, and environmental habitat restoration.

Amanda will be focused on the organic growth of the Ontario office in Guelph, continuing with LEES+Associates’ strong commitment to cemetery planning and design while building on the firm’s western park and recreation practice in Ontario.

With 18 years of experience in parks, trails, and cemetery design and management, Amanda brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to our team, allowing us to provide excellent service to clients and projects across Canada. We encourage you to connect with Amanda and look forward to the fantastic work she will accomplish with our team.

Kelsey WalkerJoining Amanda as part of the expanding Ontario team is Kelsey Walker, a senior landscape designer with 12 years of experience across Canada. Kelsey’s experience includes planning and design assignments for parks, trails, open space, streetscapes, industrial and recreation projects in a variety of contexts, as well as a decade of experience in event and festival design and execution.

Kelsey is keen to explore the world of cemetery and memorial design and looks forward to assisting Amanda in growing the LEES+Associates presence in Ontario.




LEES+Associates at 25 Years!

The LEES+Associates team

To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we wanted to tell you a little about where LEES+Associates started and reflect on how far we’ve come!

When Erik and Kathi Lees started LEES+Associates in 1998, he built on his long experience in horticulture, landscape design, and parks management. Erik started as part of the “Back to the Land” movement of the early 1970s. Motivated by a deep commitment to environmentalism and an interest in land systems, Erik started his “landscape” journey with a Dutch family in the Nelson area who maintained a greenhouse that grew seasonal plants. This experience led to a horticultural apprenticeship program, summer work in landscape installations, and eventually, to working for the City of Nelson, running the greenhouse for their parks during the Nelson Main Street Revitalization project of the 1980s. After experiencing park work, Erik pursued a degree in landscape architecture at UBC. While there, he also began a job as the parks manager for the District of West Vancouver, which he held for a decade. Erik in greenhouse

While working in West Vancouver, Erik oversaw the Capilano View Cemetery. He’d long had an interest in sacred spaces, as both a designer and a planner. Cemeteries are expected to bring together notions of sacredness, meaning, and ceremony, but Erik was also interested in seeing how he could bring that design perspective to parks and landscapes more broadly.

These experiences in horticulture, parks, cemeteries, and the public sector were key to Erik’s development as a landscape architect. In 1998, when Erik opened the doors of LEES+Associates, he knew that his ability to bring together a love of design with knowledge of the mechanics and operations of park systems would allow him to fill an important niche in the market. There were very few competitors working with cemeteries and memorials – and they weren’t seeing them through an experiential lens or a business lens the way that Erik was.

Erik and Kathi LeesLEES+Associates started with just Erik and Kathi. Erik had the background in landscape architecture while Kathi brought her interest in history, art, and museums. She played a critical role in the administration and strategy of the firm. The firm started growing almost immediately, hiring about one new employee per year. LEES+Associates’ office on Homer Street in Vancouver opened in 2001, followed by offices in Toronto in 2014 and Whitehorse in 2016.

With a strong design team, we were recognized for our work across multiple specialties, receiving awards for memorials, cemetery design, and parks and trails planning. Some of our award-winning projects include the Woodlands Memorial, Everett Crowley Park Management Plan, the Air India Memorial, Mountain View Cemetery redevelopment, the Komagata Maru Memorial, and Toronto’s Natural Environment Trail Strategy. Most recently, the Iqaluit Municipal Cemetery project received awards from both the CSLA and ASLA for reflecting the essence of a landscape with restrained embellishment and connecting the land to the people of the community.

New owners of LEES+associates

In 2020, Heidi Redman, Richard Cook, and Megan Turnock took the helm, although Erik continues to be involved. The firm has grown significantly in the past three years. Heidi spearheaded the opening of LEES’ office in Whitehorse, which has led to increasing work in the north. Dealing with permafrost and working in arctic and remote landscapes has its unique challenges and LEES is excited to continue building this specialization. Richard directs the cemeteries and memorials practice area; he is excited to help cemeteries deal with some of the real challenges that are coming as attitudes about death and burial change and the generation of Baby Boomers begins to pass. Megan leads the firm’s work in parks and trails planning, building on her background in ecosystem restoration. The firm has been expanding its practice to include civic, cultural, and institutional projects, as well as embarking on expansion in Ontario and into the U.S.

As LEES moves into its second quarter century, we want to celebrate and build on our successes. In our newsletters for the next year, we’ll be revisiting some of our foundational projects and sharing stories from our past. We’re excited for the next 25 years!


Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre design team announced

LEES+Associates will provide landscape design for the long-awaited Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre in Iqaluit. The winning design team of Dorte Mandrup (Lead Architect), Guy Architects (Architect of Record), LEES+Associates, EXP Services, Adjeleian Allen Rubeli, Pageau Morel, Altus Group, and Indigenous consultants Kirt Ejesiak and Alexander Flaherty was announced on July 9th 2023 following an international design competition.

Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre - Exterior Visualizations
Exterior Visualizations: MIR

LEES+Associates is excited to have been chosen for this important project that will promote greater awareness of Inuit culture and support cultural healing and reconciliation between Inuit and non-Inuit. The centre will offer a place where Inuit can reconnect with this important part of their cultural heritage and collective past through objects, stories, and activities.

Jury Statement

The winning proposal convinced the jury with their beautiful and poetic response to the requirements outlined in the Feasibility Study and during the March Design Week in Iqaluit. Jury members felt that Mandrup heard and understood community perspectives regarding Inuit Traditional Knowledge and the healing potential for the NIHC. The reference to kalutoqaniq resonated with the jury, the prevailing wind causing shapes and patterns in the snowdrifts. They appreciated the reference to Inuit wayfinding and integration into the landscape. They liked the idea of the building growing from the land, and the glowing lights in the landscape, for the eyes of the people of Nunavut. They liked the living green roof and the idea of having the more protected functional spaces set deeper into the hill. They thought the design and shape were interesting and that the building had an efficient footprint.

Dorte Mandrup explains the concept: The design of the Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre is inspired by the landscape and the movement of the snow and the wind. Following the topographic curves and distinct longitudinal features of the terrain, the building sits parallel to the prevailing north-western winds. It carves into the rocky hillside overlooking Iqaluit with the large roof continuing the lines of the landscape and forming a new public space and a viewing platform from which visitors can enjoy the uninterrupted views towards Frobisher Bay and Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. By taking advantage of the protective rock, the building naturally creates a shelter over the sensitive collections and exhibitions while the expansive window gesture offers a space filled with daylight and generous views towards the south-west for future gathering and activities.

Read more: Danish architecture firm wins contract to design Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre

Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre - Exterior Visualizations
Exterior Visualizations: MIR.

5 Links for Your Reading Pleasure

LSCR Trails StrategyPhoto: Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, North Vancouver, BC

Enjoy this collection of articles and resources we found particularly interesting this week.

Everybody has to die
Investing in a final resting place as Metro Vancouver’s real estate market heats up

A walk in the park
Parks are the key to good public health and to the environmental health of cities,”

Bowen Island Parks Plan
A community-supported vision for Bowen Island’s parks, trails and beaches

Design, technology and hardscapes
Designing pavers that could help prevent flooding

A video of Fin Garden in Kashan, Iran
Landscape architect Jean-Philippe Teyssie takes us on a tour through the historic Fin Garden (video below).

A Visit to Bedrock Granite

A visit to Bedrock Granite Stone

In the last few years, LEES + Associates has been working on the planning and design of a new cemetery in western Canada. The cemetery is expected to open in 2019 with the landscape contract slated to go to tender this fall.

The LEES + Associates design team hopes to incorporate basalt pillars and Alberta Sandstone into feature areas of the new cemetery; Madoc Hill and Leila Zeppelin from the team had a great visit to Bedrock Natural Stone last week to select stones for the project.
Here are a few photos from their visit.

Bedrock Granite Stone

Bedrock Granite Stone

Bedrock Granite Stone

Bedrock Granite Stone

Bedrock Granite Stone

5 Links for Your Reading Pleasure

Air India Memorial
Photo: Air India Memorial, Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Please enjoy this collection of interesting articles and resources we read this week.
Running out of cemetery space
The need for cemetery space in Strathcona County is set to increase dramatically over the coming 25 years, with projections pointing to an additional 14 acres required.

The Future of Urban Design
Residents of a building confined within a dense Copenhagen neighborhood finally get the outdoor space they desire—in an unlikely place.

Landscape Architecture Resource Online
20 landscape architecture websites representing a variety of interests within the field of landscape architecture and design.

The 2018 Winter Olympics
The Alpensia Olympic Park in PyeongChang, South Korea, which is hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics cross-country skiing, biathlon, and ski jump competitions, is the result of clever planning by landscape architects.

2018 RAIC Festival of Architecture
The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC) Festival of Architecture is coming to Saint John, New Brunswick, beginning May 30.

Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium

Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium

LEES+Associates was excited to attend the 2017 MTB Tourism Symposium in Revelstoke BC this fall.

Gathering multidisciplinary minds invested in furthering the future of mountain bike tourism in British Columbia, the core theme for this year’s event was stewardship.

The symposium lectures covered topics such as; Creating Successful Multi-Use Trails, Sustainable Trail Management, Building Relationships in our First Nations Communities, Planning and Building for All Riders, Mtn Biking in National Parks, and The future of E-Bikes.

The symposium was a great success with over 200 participants representing a broad spectrum of the industry; from community planners, landscape architects and trail builders to recreation professionals and policy makers.

Ali Canning from our team, took part in a pre-symposium IMBA Canada Trail Building Workshop which focused on sustainable trail building technique and design, and was followed by infield construction and a reforestation project.

Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium

Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium

Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium

In New Orleans with the ASLA

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) held its annual meeting and expo in New Orleans recently. Billed as the largest gathering of landscape architecture professionals and students in the world, this year’s events included several education sessions and tours, workshops, networking and a large exhibition.

In October, Catriona and Anezka from our team attended the conference, where Anezka, a 2016 University Olmsted Scholar alongside this year’s other scholars received recognition for demonstrating exceptional leadership potential.

Below are some photos from their trip to New Orleans…