A   V I E W   F R O M   C H A R L O T T E T O W N ,   P R I N C E   E D W A R D   I S L A N D



Today a group of people got together to discuss Beautification and Trees in Charlottetowen. It was Councillor Clifford Lee's idea. Landscape Architect, Ernie Morello was the chair. It was a great day. There were a lot of caring people there who truly love this city and want to see it better and better. A number of subjects were discussed and when I get the notes, I'll share them with you.

I was asked to speak on the History of Beautification in our town and I enjoyed the time it took to review my research and come up with a story. It is a little weak around the edges, but its helped me get a better handle on things, so I hope it will do the same for you.


I want to begin by saying that Charlottetownians have been concerned with beautification almost since the beginning - and that is over 230 years! Our early citizens, the layout of the town - and of course the climate - all played a part in how this issue was addressed. Most of our citizens came from the British Isles [directly or indirectly] where gardening and "beautification" was a subject for all classes for almost a couple of hundred years. Our early settlers brought with them the notion of gardening out of necessity, but there is early evidence of landscaping. Although that could mean more removal of trees rather than planting, we have throughout the Common of the Town and The Royalty remains of grand driveways, hedges and groves that had to be planted.

Island books like Hints to a Farmer by Judge Peters written in 1853, Account of Prince Edward Island by John Stewart written in 1806, a book by John Lawson written in 1851 and Bagsters with his hints for emigrants in 1861 all covered the subject , with at least one good chapter, of what grew best and the importance of gardening; it was not all about growing food and survival.

By 1840's we had a Horticultural Society "for the benefit and amusement of the inhabitants" and a Mr. Parker and a Mr. Prendergast were advertizing themselves as Gardeners and Botanists. Mr. Prendergast also advertised "Pleasure Grounds and Shrubbier laid out faithfully and kept neatly".

By 1850 we were beginning to have our critics. Tom Moon put an ad in the newspaper telling us how disgraceful it was to see our large spacious square so neglected. He cautioned us to "stop looking like stubborn mules with continual hot sun shining over your heads' and he reminded us what a treat it would be 'to walk where it was so adorned".

By the time the Horticultural Association held their first Exhibition in 1852, there were classes for Geraniums, Myrtles, Fuchsias carnations etc, etc.. Later on they were holding two exhibitions a year with an Autumnal Exhibition in the fall. These exhibitions were held in Mrs. Grubb's Garden that was at Holland Grove located where the Inn In The Hill is now. They held them for a number of years.

The first mention we have of planting street trees was in 1860, but unfortunately most of them were destroyed soon after they were planted.

The 1870s don't sound great in Charlottetown. The filthy state of the town, the sanitary conditions, the cows, the pigs, the horses running lose, the awful dust and so few trees to speak of. Newspaper articles paint a very poor picture. To make matters worst, we had Oscar Wilde, the Apostle of Beauty visit us in 1882. How embarrassing.

The newspapers continued to rant on the conditions. One letter noted that it wasn't much money that was needed, but "a judicial expenditure, combined with a good deal of energy and enthusiasm and a knowledge of how to utilize, practically, whatever means we now possess" [Not a bad theme to be remembered for our meeting today]

The answer seems to have come in the form of Arbor Day in 1884 [Arbor Day had begun in Nebraska in 1872] and our leading citizens took the event on with enthusiasm. They decided what trees to plant , citizens pledged themselves to one tree, or more, and they held a parade with wagons full of shovels, buckets and trees. They had a band - and they paraded from one square to the other. The trees were Rock Maple, White Birch, Indian Pear, Black Walnut, Elm, Chestnut, Mountain Ash, Lime and Oak. Even then they did'nt plant evergreens. Likely there had just finished getting rid of so many that they could hardly imagine planting them. 110 trees were planted that first Arbor Day and from then it it was an annual event.

At the same time, they began The Queen Square Garden Fund and they tackled the spaces around Province House, Post Office and Court House with avenges. They got lots of financial support. That project was shaped under the direction of Arthur Newberry and in later years by LeBaron Tait's father. It became our piece de resistance.

To celebrate the Queen's Jubilee in 1887 the direction turned to Victoria Park that had been given by the Crown to the City for its care " for the sole purpose of a Park, Promenade and Pleasure Ground for the use of the citizens, the inhabitants of the Island and all her Majesty's subjects." We'll probably have to go to court to interpret what exactly those words mean in the 21st century. The Roadway around the park had long been asked for and it seem the correct to decide to do it. That is when the Park got its name, too. Improving and beautifying the park then became an important issue.

It is hard to image a town without paved streets and sidewalks, with lots of garbage, animals galore and a lot of outdoor privies, but those conditions would exist in this town for many years. Can you imagine with "the fashions" of the day, walking in spring slush, mud or June dust. One newspaper noted the deplorable conditions of the side walks - with all those cellar hatches that use to be around. The article [it was 1919] went on the tell of a women being brought up short when the hem of her skirt got caught on a cellar hatch. They warned our citizens to just "Wait till women vote".

Over the first quarter of that century, we seemed to have turned the town around. The aim was to make it "one of the most picturesque cities in Canada" and when you read visitors' reports in that time, they seemed to have achieve that. The Queen Square that I remember was beautiful - peaceful - and it had that fountain, and a band shell and the Paton's drinking fountain and the cannons. It was grand.

In 1903 we had planted 300 trees and they tackled, particularly, the Malpeque Road. They planted 200 elms there and my generation of Islanders speak with reverence of the " old shaded Elm Avenue" - the present University Avenue that is so sad today. The tree planters kept up the effort. Pownal Street was planted on both sides a couple of years later and individual property owners took it on themselves to plant in front of their properties. That's why great George Street has so many trees.

The same year of 1903 they were pushing big time with a program called "Make Home More Beautiful". Sweet peas were the flower of choice that year. But we still had dust and my now we were worrying over our summer image - the effect on the "The Home Comers Excursion"

It wasn't only tourism that drove us though. Numerous times we read about the link from cleanliness to godliness - the moral value. Once we were advertised as "Clean and Christian" and, often, health was the leading factor. The Flora Association, that seemed to replace the Horticulture Association, was advertising their annual competition, stating that "Cleanliness and tidiness with healthy, growing plants', they stated, 'are the prime factors in healthfulness". They gave as the other reason - it was "the cultivation of a taste for beauty, for beautiful surroundings and for a beautiful city". They advertised that " love of the beautiful is a virtue and one cannot go far astray in morals, in religion, in patriotism, who looks for the beautiful in nature, in art and in man and woman" !!!!!!! [1919]

They tried everything; Limerick Contests, Home and City Improvement Assoc., and Bird House Competitions. Lawn and Backyard Competitions, and then Brighten Up Week. We continued to have exhibitions and we continued to celebrate Arbor Day until it faded a bit and it still isn't as great as it used to be.

Through most of this period we had great gardeners in town. Their homes were showcases. In 1909 the Experimental Farm opened its doors and we had their additional expertise in our community and a very fine setting for VIP's to plant trees! We got great press. We were praised and praised. Letters to the editor all the time.

But we still had the watch dogs!! In 1936 we were worried about how the pruning of trees was being done. We brought a guy to court for driving his wagon up against a birch tree and taking some bark off and we always had to deal with vandalism. I met some of those "vandals " in later life. They weren't so bad.

By the end of the first quarter of the century our streets, in the downtown anyway, where pretty well all paved "with everlasting concrete",{ they called it, Clifford} and we had water and plumbing pretty much all over.

For most of the 20th century we pushed - and we did improve - gaining in some places - losing in others. Fashion changes like the impact of the automobile has been fierce, the wiring, and for that matter the plumbing, and now district heat and Eastlink Cable have had their impacts . But as someone wrote in 1932 "Movements for civic betterment seldom get anywhere without active and responsible leadership" So today I challenge you to contemplate this very special city and help Clifford and our other councillors to shape our dreams in the best possible way.

"Let us beautify the city; let us be proud of it and grateful for its natural advantages for there are few cities in Canada, or elsewhere that possess as much natural attractiveness as Charlottetown." Editorial in Guardian of August 1919.

Written Saturday, June 01, 2002 at 02:06 PM

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

Website design and construction by Reinvented Inc.

ISSN 1496-3108