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September 30, 2020

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Canadian upgrades city’s iconic botanic garden

GILLESVINCENT, 67, from Mon­treal in Canada, had many possibilities when he retired, including invitations to become a university researcher or an adviser at major botanical gar­dens around the world because of his expertise.

He chose to travel tens of thousands of kilometers to Shanghai to become special adviser to the director of the Chenshan Botanical Garden in Songjiang District.

Vincent, former director of the Montreal Botanical Garden, has worked at Chenshan for al­most six years.

He was among 50 expats from 19 countries and regions to be given this year’s Magnolia Silver Award in recognition of their contributions to Shanghai.

At Chenshan, he was involved in many different development projects, including improve­ments in the management of the living collections.

He also established the “Ecological Phytoremediation Research Group” which mainly researches how to use plants to solve environmental problems such as water and soil pollution. The work involved collabora­tions with researchers from the University of Montreal.

He was in charge of the edu­cation team at Chenshan and established various programs for both children and adults.

Vincent was also an expert for new botanical garden develop­ment in China such as Ningbo Botanical Garden in Zhejiang Province and Taiyuan Botanical Garden in Shanxi Province.

Chenshan, which opened to the public in 2010, may be regarded as a newcomer compared with many world-renowned botanical gardens. But Vincent has never regretted his decision as he saw infinite potentials of the garden from the very beginning.

“After my first trip to China with stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and Yunnan in 1992, I fell in love with this country and Chinese people,” he said, recall­ing his first scientific research exchange visit as a member of a delegation after Shanghai and Montreal signed a sister-city re­lationship in 1985.

“There are many reasons why I came to Chenshan, firstly be­cause of the very close, strong links and sincere friendship existing between Shanghai and Montreal,” he said. “Chenshan Botanical Garden was a new botanical garden, with a lot of possibilities, great future.”

When he arrived at Chenshan in 2014, the garden had a num­ber of challenges with regard to soil pollution. Vincent used his expertise in using plants to pu­rify soil and water to help with the launch of a soil improve­ment project.

“I was really impressed how big and well established this garden can be four years after its opening, and it has all the main mission of a real botanical garden — research, conserva­tion and education,” he said.

Vincent said most botani­cal gardens are going through very hard times due to a lack of funding, but not in China.

“China has large and impor­tant botanical gardens under construction. Especially at this time, citizens need to have a better connection with nature and this is the main mission of a botanical garden.”

He said he was impressed at how China takes environmental issues seriously.

“The continuous increase in the number of electric cars, the recycling program for house­hold waste, and the solar panel energy production in China are impressive,” he said.

Vincent is now a researcher at the University of Montreal and gives lectures on the environ­ment in schools for children aged from 12 to 16.

“Technology is here and there are plenty of good examples of important and positive initiatives regarding the en­vironment, and I share many examples from China,” he said. “Our children have many rea­sons to be optimistic.”

He added: ”I hope the pan­demic will not stop international exchanges which are crucial for an international and scientific institution like Chenshan.”

“There is no competition be­tween botanical gardens. They all do the same: conservation, research and education,” he said.

Vincent is eager to visit Chen­shan again. He said COVID-19 had led to many changes.

“I left in December 2019 and the plan was for me to come back in May for an international conference and in September to teach our training programs and to complete some research work with my team,” he said.

“Unfortunately COVID-19 changed all these plans but I strongly hope it will be differ­ent in 2021.”


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