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?

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