Description of Historic Place
The Public Gardens is a Victorian garden situated on a square plot of land enclosed by a large fence and edged with tall trees in Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. The site is composed of a variety of trees, gardens, ponds and birds and several built structures. The municipal designation applies to all the structures, features and land.
The Public Gardens is valued as an excellent example of a formal Victorian public garden, which is rare in Canada. In the summer of 1867 Sir William Young, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, officially opened the park, which at that time comprised of as 0.8 hectars of flowers surrounding Griffin's Pond. The Gardens continued to expand to its current size by incorporating the local Horticultural Society's land in 1874. The current design of the Garden is accredited to Richard Power, the first Superintendent of the Gardens who worked on the property for forty-five years. In addition to public paths, ponds, and floral displays that he created and maintained, he also designated an area for croquet and archery, which were popular leisure sports of the period.
The Public Gardens is also valued as a centrally located public park that is in regular use by visitors and residents as a place to escape the noise and traffic of the city, and is also used as a place to celebrate and commemorate many important events in Halifax. The early tradition of erecting commemorative structures and plaques, and having visiting dignitaries plant trees, has gradually transformed the Public Gardens into a unique part of Halifax's history. In 1887, the Gardens honoured the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria with the construction of a bandstand and the Jubilee Fountain. The bandstand, designed by Halifax architect Henry Busch, is located in the center of the Gardens. That year 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered in the Gardens for a concert and fireworks display to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. There is also the South African War Memorial which lies on the south-east side of the Gardens. It was erected in 1903 in commemoration of those who fought in the Boer War (1889 to 1902). In September 2003 Hurricane Juan caused considerable damage to the Public Gardens, toppling a number of mature trees, particularly those on the periphery. This event did not significantly diminish the heritage value or essential character defining elements of the Gardens and in fact it revealed the value of the park to the residents of Halifax who raised money for the restoration of their beloved park.
The value of the Gardens lies not just in the plants and land, but in the nineteenth and twentieth century structures, ponds, and paths. The three Roman statues and six vases bequeathed to the Public Gardens by Chief Justice Sir William Young in 1887, are valued for their age, association with their donor, and their symbolism. These statues of the goddesses of nature, Ceres, Diana and Flora, as well as the vases, were built in London for Young’s own garden. The design of the Public Gardens itself with over eighty species of trees, variety of birds and elaborate horticultural design offers the city an escape from the urban environment.
Source: HRM Heritage Property File 5769 Spring Garden Road, Public Gardens
The character-defining elements of the Public Gardens include:
- all elements related to Victorian public garden design including: winding public paths; Horticulture Hall (presently the canteen); statues of mythical Roman goddess; bandstand with elaborate Victorian gingerbread details; Diamond Jubilee Fountain; public lawn area; floral beds and rare species of plants to Halifax; memorial bird bath vases;
- main cast iron gates visible from outside of gardens;
- mix of cast, wrought and welded metal fencing surrounding gardens;
- concrete bridges to replace the original rustic wood structures in 1911;
- commemorative sundial;
- grotto built in 1876 over a natural spring;
- water fowl house with low roof and patio built over Griffin's Pond ;
- Griffin’s Pond centrally located in the gardens;
- Boer War Memorial Fountain;
- variety of trees, the tallest being elms and some other noteworthy rare varieties of trees planted by dignitaries.