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This is a talk I gave this week related to the Discussion on the Experimental Farm. ...

General History of Greenspaces: By the end of the 18th century - beginning of the 19th century many writers were beginning to inspire beautification - beautification of homes, cottages and cities and parks. We had people like John Claudius Loudon, Andrew Jackson Downing and even John Plaw, who later moved to this Island and is buried in the Old Protestant Burying Ground, writing about the Picturesque, The Rustic etc. and encouraging beauty and places to promenade. They were interested in places to connect with nature and places for passive recreation. Loudon entitled his plan for London "Hints For Breathing Places". Sometimes these parks were very formal landscaped parks but they did lean strongly to just plain green space and they loved trees. Big trees like lindens and oaks.

So we were on top of things when we began pushing in the mid 1860's to restore a part of the 70-80 acres of Government House Farm for Public Park space. Here's a quote from the Islander of 1869:

"There is not in British North America a more attractive Park than might, at a trifling expense. be made of the thirty or forty acres which form the western end of Government Farm. In the name of all classes of our community we ask the Mayor, without delay, call a public meeting to take this subject into consideration. Let the representatives of the City be called upon to interest themselves in the matter. Let them be requested by the meeting to wait upon the President of the Executive Council and ask for the assistance of the Government in the matter."

The debate and the pushing continued , but it wasn't until June of 1873 when we were about to enter Confederation that the acted was shaped to give a part of the Government House Farm over to the City of Charlottetown :

"The said land shall be used, appropriated and set apart by the city, at the expense of the city, for the sole purpose of a Park, Promenade and Pleasure Ground, for the use of the citizens, the inhabitants of this Island and all Her Majesty's subjects ...The said City shall not, on any account whatsoever, use, or permit to be used, the said lands, for the purpose of Circuses, Shows, or Exhibitions of any kind, whatsoever, and should the same be so permitted to be used by the said City, the lands herein before mentioned shall revert to and be vested in Her Majesty her heirs and successors"

So they had their park, at least they had the land, but once they had it, it seems no one did very much about it. The press went after the issue. The Daily Examiner in the Summer of 1877 pushed the city for the first "energetic steps towards securing for itself a suitable Pleasure Park". They continued:

"Human existence, robbed of every convenience and comfort, is only a cruse. Better not be born than to have to endure ceaseless suffering. Life is a blessing only when it is enjoyable.... A spacious and well ventilated and decorated PUBLIC PARK, where nature and art may be made to combine their happiest effects for the gratification of the eye, the ear, the taste and the imagination, is the best possible retreat for a jaded body and a careworn mind."

The Examiner went on to describe their dreams. They were big ones. Here were some of the things they wanted:

"A keeper's lodge, carriage drives and pedestrian walks, statues of some notable men, fancy pond, museum of arts and curiosities, children's summer house, boys' playground, an esplanade, music stand, trees planted by notable visitors, a vinery boat house, fountain, labyrinth, public flower garden and shrubberies, green house etc. etc.etc."

They didn't want much. Our citizens were becoming very aware of what other cities in North American were doing: Boston, Montreal, Halifax and certainly New York. They pointed out in the newspapers that our Park, now being referred to as Victoria Park, was proportionately larger for Charlottetown as compared to Central Park to New York. So there!

Things did not go smoothly even tho' the park was very popular among a great cross section of the citizens. By the 1880 the press went after them again. And they complained about loose horses and cows in the park , they complained about no access road, the dust, the mud, nude swimmers [always in the male tense] and the criminals - one poor Methodist minister from Mt. Stewart was mugged and robbed in the park and could not give his sermon on Sunday at the Grace Chapel.

Over the years "Recreation, Promenade and Pleasure Grounds" went through many translations. During the years they have had horse races in the park, then we started to enlarge the sports facilities, then we turned Government House into a Military Hospital, then a Technical School and we came very close in the 20's to passing it over as the site for the new CN Hotel. A portion of the farm was sold off for the PEI Hospital and by 1939 we had a baseball diamond, a softball park and a football field out there.

In 1944 they were going to put the Naval Barrack to the field west of Government House. The headlines in the newspaper read " Charlottetown Naval Barracks has First Priority But Victoria Park Site needed"

"Citizens of Charlottetown must decide whether or not they want a new Naval Barracks in Charlottetown", said Captain J.J.Connolly. " Opposition in the form of quibbling over alternative sites may well prove disastrous to our prospects...the site at Victoria Park is the only practical site. Captain Connolly promised if it was built there it would be set sufficiently far back, and they would erect a building in keeping with Government House and the historic associations of the park."

They overlooked mentioning the 8 foot page wire fence that they would likely have put up ... anyway it didn't happen. The battles go on. Remember the Softball Battle of the 1990's when Eddie Power and group where going to building something of the scale of a small Fenway Park there and then this winter we have had the skateboarders needs debated .. . .

We are not alone in the debate between what exactly is meant by "contact with nature and pleasure grounds" and the multipurpose public playgrounds, but more and more the public are asking for clarification. In this city we have a fine recreation policy but we do not have a parks policy. That is something we must insist on. Particularly when we have added a number of 'parks ' to our agenda that were not planned, but imposed: the Confederation Landing, Joe Ghiz Park, Routes for Nature and Health, Rails to Trails. Then we have in the city Government House Gardens , Ardgowan and many other green spaces acquired through that city rule of 10% of development lands goes over to parks.

Now we have the issue of the Experimental Farm. I want to give you a little more history. When Charlottetown was first settled men were given a lot downtown and 12 acres in the Royalty so they'd have a place to grow feed for the horses etc. . Some of the leading citizen who choose to live in the manner of the English Country style, that they had left behind, soon bought up a number of the Royalty lots and built themselves fine substantial homes. They created quite the estates. We had Mount Edward, build by Judge Jarvis, Ardgowan by the Popes, Falconwood by the Grubbs, Belmont and Norwood by the Wrights, Binstead by the Fellows or Hensley, Glynwood by the Longworths, Inkerman House by Colonel Gray and then we had Ravenwood that is the focal point of the Exerimental Farm to day. They were gracious properties, landscaped commodious houses, long treed lanes .. They were homes for country gentlemen. They even ran with the hounds out there....

Ravenwood was built by William Johnston in the 1820's. He was a land agent, a major enemy of James Bardin Palmer and for a few years Attorney general. They described him as talented, ambitious and merciless. I think it might have been fortunate that he died at the age of 33. After Johnston the house was lived in by his son-in-law, then by J.C.Pope our first premier after we joined Confederation.

There were others owners until 1909 when the property with 29 acres was purchased for the Experimental Farm. Over the next 20 years fifteen more properties were acquired. The second largest property purchased was the DeBlois/Blake property that had been built on the Malpeque Road in 1827 and named Davenport Lodge. Frank Tinney lived there for many years when he worked at the farm. They tore it down in 1971. We tried to save it.

Another important property they bought was the old brick and pottery site where FW Hyndman and Mr Hornsby joined forces and produced pottery and bricks to the tune of 13,000 bricks a day and milk pans and crocks by the 2000 dozens. A business than began with a boom in 1880 and was closing with a whimper by 1890.

The Home Farm totalled almost 140 acres. Take away the land given over to the Mountie Barracks, the CBC and the Farm Centre and then the land that they want to keep around the Research Station and we're left with about 88 acres. That is the land that is much in the news these days.

The Experimental Farm in its prime was a lovely place and a meaningful one for many Islanders. Not only did they do important research for Island farmers, but they challenged them into modern farming methods. They also worked hard at creating a friendly place. The Farmers' Picnics where the highlight of the season for many. In 1913 they demonstrated the automobile and took people for rides even tho' it would still be six years before cars would be able to travel on the Island roads seven days a week! The Farm was on the list for all VIP visits and the place was a winter haven for all who lived near by - skating on the ponds, sledding on the hills.....

Written Friday, March 08, 2002 at 12:33 AM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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