Box 14-131 Address by T.J. Newlands on the Parks of Hamilton (1964).
Feb 14 1964
Wentworth Bygones, No. 9, 1971
From the Papers and Records of
The Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society
The History and Operation of Hamilton's Parks
By T.J. Newlands
(An Address to the Society on February 14, 1964)
What is a park? To the child it is a place to romp and run without any fear of traffic; where mother can rest while she keeps an eye on the children. To the teenager it is a place for games of baseball and football; for skating in winter; and for wandering. To the older person it means a place to enjoy the green grass and the flowers and trees.
What is your interest? Is it sports, birds, flowers, trees, or history? Hamilton's forty-three parks offer many recreational opportunities. Bird lovers may enjoy King's Forest and the aviaries at Dundurn. Flowers are cultivated at almost all parks, but the big shows are at Gage where the rose garden and the annual chrysanthemum show continue to win admiration. For trees, visit King's Forest or the Royal Botanical Gardens; and for history, explore them all.
Any account of the parks of the City of Hamilton must include something of their historical significance, origin, present organization, and future plans. Since Dundurn Park will receive sufficient attention as a Centennial Project it will not be discussed here.
[Image: Crystal Palace Interior, 1851--Courtesy The Hamilton Spectator]
One of Hamilton's earliest parks, somewhat larger in 1859 than it is today, Victoria Park is on the former site of the famous Crystal Palace. Built at a cost of $20,964.00 in 1859-60, the Palace was planned as a joint county and city enterprise. The building was situated on twelve acres of land to which ten acres were added later, and was about one hundred yards west of Locke Street and immediately opposite Peter Street, with the main entrance facing east. It was erected mainly to house the Provincial Exhibition then held yearly in rotation in four cities in Canada West.
The Hamilton exposition was opened in September 1860 by Edward, Prince of Wales, with Hamilton's first experiment in musical endeavour--a philharmonic orchestra--providing a worthy attraction. The grounds were often referred to as The Great Central Fair, and it has been claimed that Toronto took from it many ideas for the Canadian National Exhibition.
In 1862 when British troops were quartered in Hamilton, the Crystal Palace was used as a barracks. It has also been the scene of many musical events, and trotting races are said to have taken place in the area west of Strathcona Avenue. The last fair was held in 1890. In 1891 the buildings and fences were condemned and sold, the Palace itself bringing only $450.00.
In 1877 the city purchased 14.4 acres of the property and conveyed it to the Parks Board in 1900. Victoria Park now serves as a community park with a playground and facilities for baseball and skating.
What has been described by the historian Mabel Burkholder as an indispensable breathing-place in the centre of a large city, the site of Gore Park before 1860 was a disreputable dump and mudhole. Sometimes it was a sea of white-covered emigrant wagons on their way from the eastern United States to Illinois, western Ohio, and Indiana. One hundred and fourteen years ago it was a stopping place for stage coaches, at that time the most rapid mode of travel. The buildings facing the park were all one- and two-storey wooden structures, one of which, on the north-east corner of King and James Street, was owned by Sir Allan MacNab.
Gore Park took its shape in this way: George Hamilton owned the land on the south side of King Street and Nathaniel Hughson owned on the north side. Hamilton and Hughson both agreed to present land to the town for a square. Hamilton gave his half, which was cut on the bias, but Hughson failed to present his part--and so we have the Gore. George Hamilton deeded it to the City of Hamilton in perpetuity as a public square.
[Image: Gore Park in 1866--Courtesy The Hamilton Spectator]
In 1860 Gore Park had a partly-familiar look with two fountains spouting their crystal floods, and at the west end a drinking fountain presented by Archibald Kerr. This drinking fountain had a brass cup attached to it by a chain to prevent it from being taken away. The fountain at the east end of the park was built by Meakins and Sons in 1859.
Periodic attempts have been made to cut into the Gore. In July 1910 a merchant offered a quarter of a million dollars for the Hughson-to-James area, for the purpose of erecting a fifteen-storey business block. In 1931 the mayor is reported to have expressed the hope that in fifty years the park would have disappeared. Some citizens have advocated widening King Street by taking twenty feet off the north side of it. The Gore Park extension beyond Hughson Street was once an untidy cabstand, and it was mainly due to the efforts of Newton D. Galbreaith that this eyesore was removed from the centre of the city. The extension was called "Galbreaith's Folly" but it is now a beauty-spot surrounded by an ornamental iron fence, its central feature being the Cenotaph commemorating those who died in two World Wars. At the John Street end of Gore Park stands the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Records indicate that in 1891 John W. Gage offered to sell his farm of one hundred and twenty acres near the Delta to an exhibition park syndicate, at two hundred and ten dollars per acre. Whether this was in any way associated with the demolition of the Crystal Palace is not known, but there is the possibility that a large exhibition might have been established on the site of one of Canada's largest municipal parks covering an area of seventy-two acres. The purchase by the City of Hamilton in 1917 included approximately thirteen acres, the Gage family retaining use of the homestead and land during the lifetime of Miss Eugenia Gage. Other purchases added to the park were made from the Schwenger Estate; from the owners of a Barnado Home;1 and from Swann and Mason. An act of the Legislature provides that the park shall forever be known as "Gage Park". The house, referred to as "The Retreat" by the Gage family, is now the Administration Building of the Hamilton Board of Park Management.
Gage Park is considered to be Hamilton's most highly developed horticultural park. Each year thousands of citizens and tourists visit it to enjoy the tulip displays, perennial and annual borders, rose gardens, and ornamental arrangements. Tennis, lawn bowling, and other recreational facilities are also available. Each Sunday evening during the summer concerts are given at the bandshell. The bandshell was erected in 1947 in memory of Lieutenant George R. Robinson, a former bandmaster of the XIIIth Royal Regiment. At the southern end of the Jessie Patterson Memorial Pool is the fountain erected by Miss Eugenia Gage in memory of her parents, R.R. and Hannah Gage. The Birge fountain which was formerly in front of the Hamilton General Hospital, is now the centre of the formal gardens.
Gage Park was not always the attractive place it is today. Before it was laid out and landscaped as a park some varied activities went on there-such as circuses, horse-racing, side shows, and political rallies. At the back was a city dump.
CHEDOKE CIVIC GOLF COURSE
Through the efforts of Mr. George C. Martin and other public-spirited citizens of Hamilton, this property was purchased from the Hamilton Golf and Country Club when the Club moved to Ancaster. The clubhouse of the Civic course was built at cost, furnishings were donated, and in May 1922 the club was officially opened with more than one thousand members. Today the two courses, Martin and Beddoe, serve members as well as eighteen thousand green fee guests each year, enabling the Board to meet all expenses of the course including debenture payments.
This pretty little park situated on the north side of King Street east between Wellington Street and West Avenue, with its beautiful shade trees and flower beds, is a most attractive spot. It originally formed part of three hundred acres of a Crown Grant to Robert Land, one of Hamilton's earliest settlers. The city purchased the one-acre property in February 1857 from W. Myles, who for many years had used it as a lumber yard.
This park area of three acres at Upper James Street and Claremont Drive on the Mountain was once the site of the Mountain View Hotel, patronized in the early part of this century by many citizens of Hamilton and Toronto. Picnics, baseball games, pony rides, and a merry-go-round flourished in the area behind the hotel, while the roller-skating rink, complete with bar and mechanical music, was a popular attraction. The roller-rink, converted to a horse show ring, was destroyed in a spectacular fire, and the stone hotel was pulled down in the early 1940s. The property was given to the Parks Board by the Southam family to be used in perpetuity as a recreational park. It affords a fine view of the expanding city below.
The drinking fountain, originally placed near the top of Beckett's Drive, was a memorial to Colonel Gordon Southam, killed in World War I.
HAMILTON AMATEUR ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
This property on the north side of Charlton Avenue, west of Queen Street, was purchased in 1945 for $7,000.00 in arrears of taxes, and is solely a recreational park. An Act of Legislature which determines the corporate existence of the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association gives priority here to football and tennis. Perhaps there is no single park in Hamilton which is so bound up with the childhood, youth, and adult life of so many of its citizens as the H.A.A.A. grounds.
No account of Hamilton's parks would be complete without some reference to what was, at the turn of the century, one of the main picnic areas in Hamilton- even before Dundurn Park- Ainslie's Woods. Reached by the old Hamilton and Dundas Radial Electric Railway, it was a favourite hiking place for children, bird-watchers, and artists, with its ravine and creek and wooded hills. With the advent of the Canadian Westinghouse railroad yards in 1895 Ainslie's Woods fell into disuse, and it now forms part of the new Chedoke Expressway [Highway #403].
SACKVILLE HILL PARK
An area of twenty acres was presented to the City of Hamilton in 1950 as a memorial to the late Sackville Hill, a well-known building contractor. A sum of money included in the gift of land is to be used for improvements to the property.
Mr. Hill came to Canada about 1883 and worked as a labourer on the Grand Trunk Railway for eleven hours a day at one dollar a day--payable monthly. Sackville Hill Park is situated at the north-west corner of Mohawk Road and Upper Wentworth Street on the Mountain, with Hill Park Secondary School adjacent to it.
LA SALLE PARK
Fifty-five acres of land, now in the Town of Burlington, were purchased in 1912 by the City of Hamilton as a public park. Originally called Wabasso Park, the name was changed in 1926 to La Salle Park to commemorate the landing of the French explorer, Rene Cavalier, Sieur de la Sall, on the north shore of Burlington Bay on September 24, 1669. A glacial boulder was placed there in 1925 by the Wentworth Historical Society to mark the landing-place of the first white man in the district.
Since the Bay is no longer suitable for swimming or bathing and the ferry service has been discontinued, the bathing-house has become a ruin and La Salle Park is almost neglected by the citizens of Hamilton.
Few citizens know the small neighbourhood park situated to the east of the Ontario Hospital property on the Mountain, near the brow. Surrounded by houses on three sides, its main use is as a safe playground for small children. Buchanan Park was once part of Auchmar, the estate of Hon. Isaac Buchanan, from whom it takes its name.
SCENIC DRIVE MOUNTAIN PARK
From time to time, a scenic drive has been proposed to run through Wentworth County along the whole face of the Mountain. Not on the very edge at all times, the drive would frequently swing towards the brow to afford one of the most picturesque and continuous views in the province. Nowhere in the Niagara Peninsula is there such a magnificent panorama as is found from Observation Point at Mountain Park, stretching all around and below the escarpment, to delight the eye.
Due to the foresight of the Hamilton Parks Board, the city has made good use of the advantages of the Mountain, the whole flank of which it owns, having secured public control before the natural advantages had passed into private hands.
KING'S FOREST PARK
Mount Albion began its life as a community about 1793 with the coming of the Davis family. Originally known as Sherwood Forest, the park was given its present name, King's Forest, to mark the silver jubilee of the reign of His Majesty King George V. in 1935. Not only does King's Forest provide one of the best wooded areas in the district but it is also one of the last to contain wild life.
William Davis, a loyalist, built the first sawmill and grist mill in Barton Township, and on the Davis property it is believed natural gas was first found in this part of Ontario. Along the banks of Albion Creek, archaeologists from the Royal Ontario Museum have found Indian camp sites, and in 1963 the Ontario Archaeological Society carried out a 'dig' in the King's Forest unearthing enough material to identify the culture of the former Neutral Indian inhabitants. Some of the large oaks here are reckoned to be nearly two hundred years old.
Today, King's Forest is a mecca for small boys on hiking expeditions, especially on Good Fridays when the park absorbs nearly five thousand children.
As in the case of Ainslie's Woods, no talk about Hamilton's parks would be complete without reference to one of the Board of Park Management's most cherished possessions--Whitehern--the McQuesten house at 41 Jackson Street west.
An editorial in the Hamilton Spectator of November 14, 1958, reads: "A city without a past is a city without a soul." Hamilton has a strong and interesting past, but the trouble has been, and is still, to protect it from being engulfed by the present and the future. Through the generosity of the Rev. Calvin McQuesten and his sisters, the Misses Mary and Hilda McQuesten, the city has been enabled to save a large part of its "soul" by their gift of the house and grounds of Whitehern, the family residence for nearly one hundred years, to be preserved as a "period piece."2
[Image #1: Dr. Calvin McQuesten]
[Image #2: Hon. T.B. McQuesten--courtesy The Hamilton Spectator]
Other Hamilton parks, which cannot be discussed in detail, are:
Alexander Park in West Hamilton, which was once a rifle range.
Bruce Park on the Mountain, presented to the city by Mrs. John Walkden, the daughter of William Bruce, artist and astronomer.
Churchill Fields in Westdale, the property of the Royal Botanical Gardens, is maintained by the Parks Board.
Scott Park, the site of the civic stadium. The first British Empire Games were held here in 1930.
Colquhoun Park on the south side of Scenic Drive, west of Garth Street, was purchased in 1957 and was once part of Barton Lodge the estate of J.M. Whyte, Esq., and later E.A. Colquhoun, Esq., a former mayor of Hamilton.
Crerar Park on Barton Street east, the farm of T. J. Mahoney of "Good Roads" fame. This park was named after General H.G.D. Crerar, a native of Hamilton.
Eastmount Park at East 26th Street and Queensdale Avenue.
Eastwood Park, Burlington Street, the scene of many athletic contests and formerly called North End Park.
Macassa Park, near the original Macassa Lodge at the foot of John Street north, given one of the early names of Burlington Bay.
Woodland Park, one of our oldest parks, on the north-east corner of King and Wentworth Streets, is now used mainly for athletics.
Although a great deal of time and money has been invested in park property in Hamilton, the Board of Park Management has difficulty in retaining its lands for park purposes. It seems that no matter what new building or venture is undertaken by the community, the cry is always "Let's use a park!" In this connection, consider the property appropriated for the construction of McMaster University and the property relinquished to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Mountain Park, on Concession Street east of Sherman Avenue, was once proposed as the site for a jail and a home for the aged; in 1943 seven acres of Eastwood Park were taken for naval training schools; suggestions were made in 1949 that Gage Park should be taken over for a convalescent hospital; and in 1954 someone thought that Dundurn Park would make a suitable site for a new City Hall.
In 1963 an area in Scott Park was proposed as the site of a new high school [accomplished in September 1966] and two hundred acres from the King's Forest were recommended to provide a zoo. The Chedoke Expressway took fifty acres from the Parks Board in the same year.
On the other hand, the Parks Board has many accomplishments to its credit. Besides the maintenance and supervision of its own properties, it supervised the building of the famous Rock Garden, now part of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Artificially carved out of a gravel pit, supplemented by great blocks of porous stone brought from the Albion Falls area, the completed work looks like a natural cliff, tastefully planted with great masses of blooming and creeping plants, and brightened by pools of lovely lilies. The Rock Garden has been credited with bringing more tourists to Hamilton than any other single feature.
THE WESTERN ENTRANCE
From a landscaping point of view, the Western Entrance to Hamilton has often been mentioned as one of the finest approaches to any city in Canada. Hills were moved, gullies filled in, trees and shrubs planted, and bridges were built. Out of it all there emerged today's beautiful entrance.
ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
The development of the Western Entrance and the Royal Botanical Gardens was spearheaded by the late Hon. Thomas Baker McQuesten, when Minister of Highways for Ontario. Although not now under the jurisdiction of the Parks Board, the Board maintains its interest in the Gardens as Mr. McQuesten served on the Parks Board for a number of years.3
The lands upon which our university stands were at one time owned by the Parks Board who made them available to the university at a figure which enabled them to settle in Hamilton.
The Board of Park Management is a corporate body, created by the City of Hamilton under the Public Parks Act in January 1900. It controls and manages all park property which the City Council has turned over to it, as well as property purchased by the Board itself. It is composed of seven members, three from City Council and four citizen members, all appointed by City Council for a one-year term. The Board is entitled to one mill on the total assessment, with City Council (under recent amendments to the Parks Act) empowered to increase this amount by further amounts up to, but not exceeding, a total of two mills, providing that that additional sum is used on recreational areas. The recent amendments also remove the provision that park lands within a municipality should not exceed two thousand acres. Incidentally, our present acreage is one thousand, nine-hundred and seventy-five, representing forty-three parks varying in size from two-fifths of an acre to the King's Forest with an acreage of slightly over eight hundred and fifteen including the adjacent mountain-side.
In addition to the upkeep of our forty-three parks, the Hamilton Parks Board maintains the grounds at the City Hall, Macassa Lodge, and the waterworks and pumping stations. Twelve of the parks are entirely recreational--Crerar, Alexander, H.A.A.A. grounds, Coronation, Hillcrest, Woodlands, Eastmount, Macassa, Buchanan, Hampton, Chedoke Golf Course, and the Civic Stadium grounds in Scott Park which are used for professional sport. Eight parks are mainly recreational- Scott, Colquhoun, Churchill, Eastwood, Inch, Montgomery, Sackville Hill and Victoria, while twenty are classed as either horticultural or natural--Bruce, Dundurn, Gage, Gore, Highland Gardens, King's Forest, La Salle, Mountain, Parkdale, Harvey, Southam, Wellington, Norwood, Delta, Binkley, Brown property, Langs, Mountain Face, Red Hill Valley, and the Hamilton and Brantford Radial Electric Railway right-of-way which will become part of the Bruce Trail. This list does not include the playlots at Beulah Avenue and Buchanan Street.
Replying to a public statement that lawns and flowers have been put ahead of proper recreational facilities in our parks, and that juvenile delinquency can be combatted better by adequate recreational opportunities rather than by planting flowers, it can be pointed out that seventy per cent of Hamilton's parks promote active recreation; fifty per cent are half or more recreational; and twelve per cent are entirely recreational, the Parks Board working closely with the city's Recreation Department in matters of equipment and maintenance.
It is imperative that plans be established for the future of Hamilton's parks. With this in mind, a joint planning committee has been set up, composed of two members from the Parks Board; two from the Recreation Department; two from the Board of Education, and one from the Separate School Board, as well as a technical group of representatives from each of these bodies and including the City Planning Department. This committee considers the future use of city properties on the perimeter to ensure that sites for parks and schools will be available for the estimated population of 477,000 by 1990.
The ideal park system must provide not only an adequate breathing space for each citizen but also has to do so within an established budget. Because of increasing costs in labour and materials and the proportion of the Hamilton Parks Board's income allotted to maintenance has become higher, leaving less for the development of present and future parklands. Demand for public parks increases with the size of the municipality and the density of the population. People living in towns and villages have not the same need for parks as have those living in crowded cities, and the larger the municipality the more pressing is this need. A good parks system is one of the best investments a city can make.
Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States, in addressing a convention of park and recreational executives in Washington in 1963, said:
If every single American could spend a few days a year contemplating the natural beauty which surrounds us and begs for our attention--half of the frustrations and anxieties of our population would disappear overnight.
1 A letter dated April 16, 2013, came to the Hamilton Public Library with the title and question:
Gage Park Lawn Bowling building a Bernardo's [sic] Home?
It has been recorded that the 'National Children's Home' run by Dr. Stephenson in the late 1800's was at 1080 Main St. E. Hamilton Ontario, which is now the No Frills store beside Gage Park. Some 'British Home Children' descendants including myself have been looking into the history of the building, which on the surface, looks like it was demolished and stood where the No Frills grocery store is but... some old stories say it was in Gage Park. Most of these BHC group homes have been lumped under the name 'Bernardo' [sic]homes or 'Bernardo' [sic] children. I received my package from Bernardos [sic] recently which mentioned a sister sent to Stephenson's National Children's Home in Hamilton Ont only, the records are held in England and are currently not available to anyone except an actual home child. I may be way off base here but there is a building in Gage Park currently in use as the "Roselawn Lawn Bowling Club" that looks strikingly similar to the old photos of the NHC building.
The following response to the writer's question was made by Margaret Houghton, the archivist at the Hamilton Public Library:
In 1872 Dr. Stephenson came to visit Canada and with the assistance of local Methodists he raised $1500 which was used to purchase land and a home near Hamilton, Ontario (later 1080 Main Street East). Mr. W. Sanford Evans became the manager of the home. Later Mr. Frank Mills would take over and be the longest serving superintendent of the home. Children were placed in the Hamilton-Niagara area. At first the home sent both boys and girls to Canada but in the 1890s they stopped bringing girls. The home operated until 1934 when it was shut. The house was subsequently torn down.
The actual location of the building is shown on a 1933 Hamilton Fire Insurance plan. [The 1933 Fire Insurance map also shows the Roselawn Lawn Bowling club building already in place]
The National Boy's Home was located quite far south of Main Street even though the street address was Main Street. The front of the building faced north and the west side of the building was right along the boundary with Gage Park. The National Home was an enormous building in an open area behind what is now 64 and 68 Kensington Avenue South between the cross streets of Maple and Rothsay Avenues to the east. According to the scale of the map the building was 50 feet across the front and 100 feet deep. There is an aerial photograph of Gage Park taken in the 1940s showing this area and the building is gone.
I hope that this information is useful in specifying the exact location of the building.
Margaret Houghton, Archivist, explains further:
Most people called all such homes Barnardo homes. They didn't differentiate. The only home of its kind in Hamilton was the Stephenson, later the National Children's Home and it was the one in Gage Park. They probably did mean the National Children's Home and just lumped it in with the Barnardo homes as they did the same thing.
Margaret Houghton, Archivist.
2 In 1958, Rev. Calvin McQuesten wrote to Professor Eric Arthur at the University of Toronto about the possibility of transfering Whitehern to the City of Hamilton's Board of Parks Management. An agreement was reached in 1959, but the property remained in the possession of the McQuesten family until Rev. Calvin, the last surviving member, passed away in 1968. It is interesting that this speech, which was first revealed in 1964, considers Whitehern within the holdings of the Board of Parks Management, despite the fact that Rev. Calvin and his sisted Hilda McQuesten will still alive at the time.
In order to arrange the transfer of Whitehern to the City of Hamilton, Rev. Calvin had to convince his sisters Hilda and Mary. For the documents related to Calvin's scheme and the Hamilton Parks Board's acquisition of Whitehern, in chronological order, see:
Box 04-111, 1958/09/29;
Box 04-012, 1958/11/06;
Box 04-113, 1958/11/07;
Box 05-002, 1959/02/01;
Box 08-140, 1959/11/03;
Box 09-233, 1959/11/04;
Box 14-090, 1960/06/18;
Box 04-113a, 1971/05/04.
3 The Hon. Thomas Baker McQuesten served on the Hamilton Board of Parks Management from 1922-1947. This article neglects to associate Thomas with all of the parks projects in Hamilton for which he was responsible. The following is a list of some of the Hamilton Parks developed by Thomas Baker McQuesten as Chairman of the Hamilton Parks Board Works Committee:
Hamilton Northwest Entrance Project and park lands;
Rock Garden and the Royal Botanical Gardens;
Cootes Paradise and lands;
McMaster University grounds and sunken garden;
La Salle Park;
Stewart Park on the eastern waterfront;
Mahony Park (originally Crerar Park);
King's Forest Park;
Rosedale-Albion Falls lands & park;
Red Hill Valley;
Mountain Facelands Park;
Hamilton Civic Golf Course;
Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Sports Park;
Various playgrounds and athletic centres throughout the city (new and refurbished).