Description of Historic Place
The Halifax Public Gardens National Historic Site of Canada is one of the rare surviving Victorian gardens in Canada. Located in the heart of downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, it is a favourite place for Haligonians and visitors to stroll and relax. Despite natural changes and occasional storm damage, the original nineteenth century design remains essentially intact, including bedding patterns, exotic foliage, favourite Victorian flowers, subtropical species and tree specimens, serpentine paths, geometric beds, commemorative statuary, and a bandstand that continue the traditions of the era.
Halifax Public Gardens was designated a national historic site of Canada as a rare surviving example of a Victorian public garden. The heritage value of this site resides in its continued use as a public park and in its illustration of Victorian “Gardenesque” landscape design and planting traditions.
The Halifax Public Gardens was established in 1874 by the amalgamation of two older gardens, the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society Garden (laid out in 1837) and an adjacent public park (opened in 1866). In 1872, Robert Power was hired as the park’s superintendent. He introduced an axially symmetrical plan which governs the overall design of the site. Over the years, he oversaw the introduction of the bandstand (designed by architect Henry Busch), fountains, statues, and wrought iron gates as well as establishing the bedding out of annuals in highly designed carpet beds, redesigned Griffin’s Pond and introduced water fowl. He also initiated specimen planting, including many exotic and semi-tropical species. The whole was united by a system of gently curving gravel pathways within a perimeter of mature trees and wide sidewalks acting as buffers between the park and the surrounding city.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1983; Commemorative Integrity Statement 1999.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- the integrity of the boundaries and siting between Spring Garden Road, South Park Street, Summer Street and Sackville Street, including the marking of the boundaries by surrounding streets, sidewalks, fencing and perimeter trees;
- the balanced and clearly ordered Victorian landscape design according to Gardenesque principles with an overall axially symmetrical plan elaborated with discrete areas featuring individual specimens set amongst groomed lawns, geometric, serpentine and scroll flower beds, linked by a network of curving gravel paths within a firm perimeter line;
- the wide variety of species planting including domestic, exotic, semi-tropical, flowering, and variegated foliage, set against well-groomed lawns;
- the High Victorian taste in bedding plants of contrasting texture and primary colours in curving, floating, and carpet beds, as well as rock gardens including cacti and alpine plants;
- water features such as Griffin’s Pond and the watercourse with its gates and walls, the waterfowl house and model lighthouse, enlivened through the presence of waterfowl;
- the limited inclusion of specific building types including :
- the Horticultural Hall/Canteen/Tea Room with its original placement, modest scale and classical vernacular manner distinguished by its symmetrical three-bay street facade, gable roof, original heavy timber construction, and wood cladding;
- the Bandstand as the focal point of the park, in its central location, geometric shape, modest scale, gingerbread woodwork, and primary-colour paint scheme;
- the limited use of carefully placed hard elements including:
- metal fountains, gates, fencing and lighting standards (the bronze Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain, the cast-iron Boer War Memorial Fountain, the cast-iron Main Entrance Gates, Lamp Standards, the wrought-iron perimeter fence) in their placement, classically derived styles, high quality of design and workmanship;
- artificial stone and concrete features such as the six vases and three statues, grotto and concrete bridges, in their placement, design and materials;
- the use of rustic wooden fencing in its placement, design and material;
- the wide sidewalks with avenues of trees on Spring Garden Road and South Park Street in their role as a transitional zone been the gardens and the urban setting;
- continued health of the garden ecosystem through assurance of adequate sunlight, clean air and water;
- the park’s continued accessibility to the public.