Canadian Landscape History

How did past generations garden in Canada? The question is an increasingly important one in light of the shift in heritage conservation from a preoccupation with individual historic buildings to an expanded view of buildings in context -- as part of a streetscape, or a larger landscape such as a park. And recently the definition of landscapes and gardens has been enlarged even further to include any geographical area that has been modified or influenced by human activity. Thus, Native hunting grounds, industrial parks, urban subdivisions are now being studied as cultural landscapes.

However, whether one is studying a small backyard garden of the 1890s or a city's park system in the 1930s, the researcher realizes that all gardens and landscapes are dynamic, constantly evolving. The historic garden researcher, landscape historian or conservationist will thus require detailed information on what may still exist or what no longer remains on the site. As well, the context within which the landscape is to be interpreted needs to be documented. These concerns have stimulated a need for a comprehensive history of gardening in Canada -- a study that does not yet exist.

However, as we discover more and more about our landscape heritage, it becomes obvious that the Canadian literature reflects our vernacular style -- adaptations of gardening styles brought here as part of the cultural heritage of immigrants. In fact, the absence of literature on a Canadian garden style per se indicates the extensive influence of foreign garden traditions -- namely from the United States and Britain.

Yet, we do have a rich and varied tradition. The beginnings of Canadian garden history are characterized on one hand by the scientific study of nature (a response to European horticultural enthusiasm), and on the other by the settlers' pragmatic concerns over what plant material would survive in the North American climate.

As Canada grew and prospered, subsistence was no longer a major concern. Leisure activities increased and gardening interests expanded. More and more, individuals realized the need for a greater variety of plants that would thrive in our severe climate and short growing season. By the 1860s, horticultural literature was increasing. Plant breeding and hardiness experiments were undertaken, with resulting publications, by the federal system of experimental farms established in the mid-1880s. This access to new plant materials and tested plant material stimulated the publishing of literature on practical (home) landscaping. Alongside the landscaping literature blossomed a small number of publications on garden ornaments.

Canadian landscape history includes

Selection of Edwinna von Baeyer's writings on landscape history


Down the Garden Path: A Guide for Researching the History of a Garden or Landscape , Ottawa: EvB Communications, 2007.

Garden Voices: Two Centuries of Canadian Garden Writing, Toronto: Random House, 1995.

Garden of Dreams: Kingsmere and Mackenzie King, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1990.

Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening, 1900-1930, Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1984.

Selected Articles

"The First Hundred -- Heritage Railway Stations," Impact, January 1994.

"John S. Pearce," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XIII, U. of T. Press, Toronto, 1994.

"Isabella Preston, 1881-1964: An Explorer of the Horticultural Frontier," in, Despite the Odds, Essays on Canadian Women and Science, ed. Marianne G. Ainley, Vehicle Press, Montreal, 1990.

"The Home Gardener of the 1880s" in, Consuming Passions: Eating and Drinking Traditions in Ontario, Papers presented at the 101st Annual Conference of the Ontario Historical Society, Toronto, 1990.

"Flowers Along the Right-of Way: Canadian National Railway Gardens During the Age of Steam," in, Canadian National: Explorations in Railway Culture, Allen Seager, ed., McGill-Queen's Press, forthcoming.

Landscape History-related Reports

History of Wellington Street South and Sparks Street North - including building and lot histories for the stretch between Elgin and Bank streets, Parks Canada, May 2005-Jan. 2006.

History of the Rockcliffe Rockeries Park, Ottawa, National Capital Commission, 2003.

History of Place du Portage III, ARCOP, 2003.

History of the National Archives/National Library Heating Plant Area, National Capital Commission, 2003.

History of the Sussex Avenue Courtyards, Ottawa, National Capital Commission, 2003.

History of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Ottawa, National Capital Commission, 2002.

Two Mackenzie King Estate reports on cultural landscape and components of estate, 2002.

McTaggart Wall, New Edinburgh, History, National Capital Commission, December 2001.

Report of Accomplishments, National Forest Strategy 1998-2003 , Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, 2000.

History of Sparks Street, Ottawa, in photographs, Public Works and Government Services, 2001.

Evolution of Vegetative Change along the Ottawa River Embankment, 1820-1999, Parliamentary Precinct Directorate, 1999.

Asia Branch, Record of Achievements, 1998-99, Canadian International Development Agency, 1999.

International Forest Partnerships Program, proposal, Canadian Forest Service, 1999.

International Model Forest Network annual report, 1997.

Landscape history of Rockcliffe Park, Ontario, National Capital Commission, 1996.

Landscape History of Maplelawn, Ottawa, National Capital Commission, 1995.

History of Hog's Back and Vincent Massey parks, Ottawa, for the National Capital Commission, Jan.-March 1993.

Landscape history of Fulford Place, Brockville, Ont. for the Ontario Historical Foundation, Jan.-March 1992.

"The History of the Rideau Hall Landscape," Rideau Hall Landscape Conservation Study, National Capital Commission and Heritage Conservation Program, Public Works Canada, 1991.

Landscape History-related Bibliographies/Indexes

Ontario Rural Society: 1867-1930: A Thematic Index of Ontario Agricultural Periodicals, 1986. (Microfiche index of 63,000 items)

A Preliminary Bibliography for Garden History in Canada, National Parks Service, Ottawa, 1983. Revised and enlarged edition, 1987. Revised and enlarged edition, 1993.

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Updated: 15 October 2007