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.
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.
LEES+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 2012, 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.
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!