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Despite a Brush With Insolvency, Toronto Botanical Garden is Fine For Another Year

Money from the City and private donors has helped the garden avert disaster.

The Toronto Botanical Garden's main building, the George and Kathy Dembroski Centre for Horticulture.

The Toronto Botanical Garden’s main building, the George and Kathy Dembroski Centre for Horticulture.

In October, things were looking pretty bleak for the Toronto Botanical Garden. Its executive director, Aldona Satterthwaite, was telling anyone who would listen (city councillors, us) that the facility, located at Lawrence Avenue and Leslie Street, was in danger of going out of business because of insufficient funding from the City. The garden’s senior staff were taking a 20 per cent pay cut to help keep the lights on.

Now that the City’s 2013 budget deliberations have come and gone, the story has an ending: everything’s fine at TBG, for now.

Back in October, Satterthwaite asked the City for $135,000 of new annual funding for the garden, on top of the $150,000 it already gets. (The garden also benefits from rent-free use of its City-owned building.) In the end, city council only approved $75,000 in additional funding, and it was only a one-time allotment—a far cry from the yearly payments Satterthwaite had said the garden needed in order to sustain itself.

Even so, she said in a recent interview, the garden now has more than enough money to stay open, for the time being. The $75,000 has been helpful. Plus, after the media started reporting on the garden’s distress, donors began to step up. A fundraising campaign collected more than $250,000 from supporters.

“Between that and our pretty draconian measures, we were able to pull ourselves back from the brink,” said Satterthwaite. Senior staff are back on normal pay.

The garden still isn’t on the best of financial footing, though, because it can’t rely on windfalls in future years. Satterthwaite said she plans to work with the City on finding savings and developing new revenue sources. Among other things, the gardens will be operating an on-site café year-round, and will be testing new “pay-and-display” donation machines that spit out tax receipts automatically.

“We’re doing okay,” said Satterthwaite. “We’re still finishing up our budget for this coming year. We’re being careful, because we don’t want to be caught in that position again.”