Friday, August 19, 2016

Calgary Parks; Central Memorial

Central Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest having been designed in 1889 in formal Victorian style. After decades of decline the park was refurbished in 2009 -2010. There is a very informative video on the Calgary Parks website about the history and redevelopment.
Location: Between 12th and 13th Ave. SW and 2nd and 4th St. SW
Amenities: Cafe (which is reopening under a new name), Public Library, Public Washrooms and many unique food trucks on 12th Ave everyday.
Parking: Pay parking only in the area

     It's been years since I've been to this park, when I lived in the area in a younger day this was a shortcut in or out of downtown, except for the historic library building, not much to see. This is a bronze inset that I thought was a nice design until I realized it was a map of the park!

The entrance to the Memorial Public Library built in 1912 in classical style for the Edwardian Era.

On the East side of the park is a commemorative statue to World War I soldiers added in 1924.

     According to the City's website this park came under the direction of William Reader around 1912, he planted many of the trees including the very large poplars on 12th Ave. During the renovation in 2009 some of the very oldest poplars were cut down as they are short lived and prone to falling and some other trees were moved with large calipers like the crab apples now on 13th Ave. The fountains were an original idea but were never installed by Reader as he thought them too expensive. The building you see in the background now stands where the Burns Manor used to, also  before the wars there was a pavilion for live bands at that end of the park to enjoy whilst strolling around the formal gardens.
I was enjoying the two large Burr Oaks which are on either side of the equestrian statue here, I don't think they are one hundred years old unfortunately.

     This equestrian statue commemorates the Boer War, it has been called one of the finest sculptures of it's kind in the world. Here you can see the carefully placed and trimmed spruce, some of these were replanted to conform to the formal elements of the garden. The paths are made from crushed stone to replicate what would have been used more than one hundred years ago.

     On the West side of the park is the World War II Cenotaph which is still used for Remembrance day services. The eternal flame, between the monument and the flag pole was kept alive in lanterns during the renovation and relit when the park reopened in 2010 by a veterans group.

There is a new element added with these water fountains which are apparently popular with children but my dog was not very impressed, surprisingly!

I found this use of Blue Lyme Grass on 13th Ave SW very interesting and eye catching.

Just across the street on 13th Ave SW is this public installation of a metal tree that I found quite wonderful!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Calgary Parks; Riley Park/Patrick Burns Memorial Garden

     Riley Park and Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden are an inner city gem with a little history.
Location: Between 10th and 12th St. NW, 5th Ave and 8th Ave NW
Parking: Off 8th Ave NW, City parking rates apply, there is one free 2 hr block on 12th St.
Amenities: Picnic tables, playground, benches, wading pool, cricket pitch

     It is hard to imagine that this park was once part of the 146,000 Acre Cochrane Ranch, a large swath of land that was used as one of Western Canada's first forays into cattle ranching. By 1888 a large piece of this property was sold to Thomas and Georgina Riley where they built a two story house, what would now be West of Crowchild Tr., and raised 10 children.

     The years from 1900 to 1910 saw Calgary grow by more than 40,000 people so in 1906 Thomas' second eldest son Ezra Hounsfield Riley who had a house close to what is now 12 St. NW sold a large parcel of land to the City which is now the neighbourhood of Hillhurst, West Hillhurst and Hounsfield Heights. In 1910 Ezra donated another large piece of property which was intended to be a large park for the fast growing city. In 1919 he obtained permission from City Parks Superintendent, William Reader, to build a cricket pitch, to this day the Calgary Cricket League plays here!

Ezra Riley and Family

Above, a photo of Riley Park from an unknown time I found online, and below what I'm guessing to be a similar view. I can't imagine what or where this swimming area consisted of but if this park was known for it's wading pools then the modern equivalent is a nice homage.

     On the East side of Riley Park is a formal Victorian Style flower display, some of the borders are perennial and some are annual. Since this is one of the few formal gardens in the City and probably the largest it's worth having a look if you're in the area.

     Above a formal centerpiece with New Zealand Flax and Cannas, below some of the perennial beds of Yarrow, Daylily and Monkshood lend an English Garden effect.

The Calgary Cricket League still plays here after over 100 years!

     Just off the 10th St hill adjacent to Riley Park is The Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden. Patrick Burns is an important figure in Calgary history, a pioneer of meat processing, what we might call a cattle Barron, he owned so much land one could travel from Calgary to the Montana border without leaving his property. He was one of the richest Canadians at the time and was posthumously called Alberta's most important citizen. There are a number of buildings, streets, areas, philanthropic foundations and this park named after him.

     The Burns Manor which was located on 13th Ave and 4th St. SW, was one of Calgary's finest mansions. Built from 1900 to 1903 in Neo-Gothic Style and decked out in fine hardwood and oak with imported furnishings it was host to Wilfred Laurier when Alberta became a province in 1905 and many visiting dignitaries and royalty. Following Burns' death in 1937 the house was a home to "bachelor borders" and during the war years The Department of Veterans Affairs used it as a convalescent home. In a tragic turn of government affairs the property was torn down in 1956 to make room for an expansion of the Colonel Belcher Hospital which has now been replaced by the Sheldon Chumir Medical Centre. I remember the sandstone wall from my days as a young man living in the area and wondering what it was ever for? So, I guess we honoured Alberta's most important citizen and entrepreneur by tearing down his house!?!?! History is quite cruel sometimes, how can we forgive the modernist attitudes of the 1950's? Anyway, the point of all this is that the stone from this house was used to build the rock garden that adorns the 10th St. hill.

     This annual bed is in the shape of the Burns brand, that is used for branding cattle if you're not familiar with ranching.

     The loss of a historic home is our gain in a commemorative park I guess! The City has always made this public space a showplace of annuals, please don't tell my mom or other such fiscal conservative types how much we could be spending on this! I am no fan of begonias but put thousands of them together and I'm thinking this is pretty nice. Here you can see the salvaged sandstone from Burns Manor, I have also read that in 1953 when the house was torn down a salvage sign was put out and people picked up oak mantles and hardwood paneling for free!

     It is rare to see so much care taken with annuals and design in a public garden in this climate. Most public spaces are devoted to blooming shrubs and trees and a few perennials with an emphasis on ease of lawn mowing by large machinery.

     Here is a plaque explaining the legacy of Patrick Burns, I thought the Creeping Jenny behind was some of the best I have seen in Calgary.

     There are some very large pines right along the path next to busy 10th St. This one gives the impression of a Japanese Garden.

     This looks like a Petasites, with some hail damage. There is a sign to denote the species but most of the engraved plastic sign is broken and missing. I was pleased however that the water feature was working, is it the first one in North America for me!?!?

     Here a Sea Buckthorn appears bonsai like in one of the many curving perennial beds. This park is fairly small but fairly steep! Above this park is The Alberta College of Art and Design my alma mater, once in a while you will see art students on a class outing working on a landscape-drawing assignment.

Some colourful impatiens and coleus. One of the large Mugho Pines.

     Finally, in a work area for the gardens I spotted all these deadheaded marigolds. It's quite something, like an Indian wedding exploded, I wonder if they are trying to get the seeds out of them?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Calgary Parks; Reader Rock Garden

     During August I will hopefully be able to feature some of Calgary's best public gardens on this site. Reader Rock Garden is definitely one of my favourites! I have been coming to this garden since I was a young boy, we used to come here to watch the Stampede fireworks which is about as close as you can get without actually being in the Grandstand and nobody seemed to know about this spot either! I think this place instilled my love of horticulture which would probably make William Reader, the architect of this place, very happy. I spent many afternoons here with my Dad, running all over the rock paths, photographing plants and marveling at this place and it's uniqueness.

The Garden is located basically at the intersection of Macleod Trail and 25th Ave. SW adjacent to the Union Cemetery.
Price: Free!
Size: about 3 acres, you could probably see it in about an hour, keep in mind it's mostly on a hill though.
Parking: has good signage and is at the bottom of the hill to the left, it could be a steep climb for the elderly if you are going for the cafe.
Amenities: there is a restaurant/cafe located at the top of the hill in a replica of the original house.

     This garden is as much a walk through history as it is a plant collection! I never knew about the history or the man as this garden was mostly a forgotten corner of Calgary for many decades, now after a restoration project in 2005 there are information plaques that tell the story. Above the original "Arts and Crafts" style house that was built by the City  for the Superintendent of Parks in 1912, a year later William Reader moved in and began installing rocks to stabilize the hill thus the rock garden was born. Reader was an avid collector of plants, his goal was to demonstrate to newcomers to the city what could be grown in our demanding climate. Reader kept detailed lists and maps of his garden and by the 1930's had collected over 4,000 species in this garden! He collected plants from all over the world as far away as China and also locally from our own area for his alpine area. In it's day this garden rivaled Buchart Gardens in Victoria and was recognized by Kew Gardens, London, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, the Botanical Gardens of Harvard and the Canadian Agricultural Research Station making it one of the most important gardens of Western Canada! I also learned from one of the information sites that Queen Mary's sister, Lady Elphinstone, asked Reader to send her seeds from the Alberta Western Wood Lily. And speaking of Royalty...

     Here is William Reader on the Right with Edward VIII planting trees at the Royal Ranch, the E.P. Ranch just southwest of Calgary. Readers handwritten note, on display in the park, says "His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales planting trees under my direction at the E.P. Ranch. He does not look very pleased with his boss, but thats the fault of the camera." So this is one of the wackiest things I absolutely did not know about the City I was born and raised in! Somehow it has escaped local mythology that Edward and Mrs. Simpson used to frequent the area and I'm not sure why? I had to look this up separately but Edward loved the area and bought the ranch to raise experimental animal breeds and visited many times after abdication until selling the place in 1962. Well, I'm floored! Now I have to find out if this ranch is open to the public, it's listed as a historic site.

     Here is one of the typical walkways mostly sandstone from local sources and demolished sandstone buildings, afterall Calgary was known as the "Sandstone City" at the turn of the century!

Here you can see what was maybe once the cornice of an old building.

     Here a mugho pine was planted by Reader to instill a sense of mystery to this area, it's one the largest I've seen in Calgary.

     It's hard to believe that this Colorado Blue Spruce was the first ever planted in Calgary by Reader in 1918. These trees are so common all over the City now but now whenever I see one, which I can from almost any vista, I will think of William Reader. This garden has won many Provincial and National Awards and is a Provincial Historic Resource and there are plans to apply for National designation.

     Here is a plaque erected by the Horticultural Society in 1944, just a couple of years after Reader's death, he was a founding member of the Society, the first one in Canada! Reader was the Superintendent of Parks from 1913 to 1942. A year after retirement, and forced to leave his City owned house and property, he died of a heart attack some say of a broken heart over leaving his garden. After his death the garden was opened to the public and was quite popular for a few decades but without the daily care of the original gardener the place fell into disrepair and neglect by the later decades of the 20th century. Many of the original plants were  collected for preservation by concerned local gardeners and others simply stolen.

     These cobblestones were placed by Reader to funnel water off the steep hill, I believe this to be the only thing like cobblestone in Calgary! The river rock gutter of smooth stones is quite a feat and was apparently covered up for many decades, I do not remember seeing these before!

Some of the alpine slope that is just West of the house.

     The tree in the mid ground is an Ohio Buckeye and probably the oldest in Calgary. I remember this tree from when I was a boy and thinking it was absolutely amazing, I had never seen one anywhere else in the City.

     Plants like the Little Leaf Linden on the left and the Disporum are really what make this garden a  showplace of unusual species that even I am not that familiar with!

     There are many shade plants as the garden is mostly surrounded by large conifers, the 2x2 stakes are replicas of what Reader used as markers.

     For some reason the waterfall on the left was not working today but I remember it as a very stunning feature. It is hard to believe we are still in Calgary when the sun shines through these Ostrich Ferns!

     This is not the most flowery time of year but still a pleasant stroll on a summers day. The restoration project was quite an undertaking according to the information plaques. There are many varieties and species of perennials which are hard to find or even extinct. One area explains how Iris growers in Washington State donated many old and hard to find varieties and went through the lengthy process of shipping plants across the border from the U.S. Many other varieties were collected from local gardeners through seeds and cuttings.
An information plaque about the restoration project below;

     The garden is adjacent to the Union Cemetery making it a quiet and reflective space as well as an interesting side trip if you're into that kind of thing. I noticed that there are cemetery tours on a regular basis which one can look up on the City website.

     The hill overlooks the Stampede Grounds where the giant flag is located as well as the skyline. The replica house would have a stunning view of this! I can't find too much about the menu here, the website does not say a lot, it can be booked for weddings and is open for lunch and brunch.

The entrance to Union Cemetery adds to the historic flavour of the place, this is the only freestanding colonnade I can think of in the entire city! The adjacent cemetery is quite fitting for the mood of Reader Rock Garden a place for reflecting on the past but also for the future and legacy. I now think that William Reader was one of the most important Calgarians in history! Sure there are the Big 4 characters who started the Stampede and the Lougheeds and even Colonel Macleod but what would this city be like if we only had 3 kinds of trees and shrubs? Pretty boring! The legacy of this garden is people like myself who are always on the lookout for something new to grow with an aim to share new ideas with other Calgarians, this place was my early inspiration and after the wonderful restoration can be an inspiration for future generations.