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Macleod Trail South and 25 Avenue SE, Calgary, Alberta, T2G, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2006/11/17

The west gardens at the Reader Rock Garden, Calgary (March 2005); Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, 2005
View looking south
The rockeries at the Reader Rock Garden, Calgary (March 2005); Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, 2005
View looking west
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1914/01/01 to 1942/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/08/13

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Reader Rock Garden is a cultural landscape composed of an early twentieth century naturalistic rock garden consisting of such resources as rock elements, test plantings, paths, trees and water features. It spans some 0.57 hectares located adjacent to Union Cemetery in the City of Calgary. A replica of the Superintendent's Cottage was reconstructed on the site in 2005.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Reader Rock Garden lies chiefly in its aesthetic and scientific value as one of Alberta's premier public gardens and a significant botanical testing ground. It is also significant for its association with the garden's designer, William Roland Reader.

Established in the mid-1910s and continuously developed until the early 1940s, the Reader Rock Garden is a remarkable marriage of artistic and scientific interests. The garden's designer, William Reader, was deeply influenced by the City Beautiful movement that advocated the development of well-designed civic green spaces as essential dimensions of the modern cityscape. Reader most fully expressed his commitment to the ideals of the movement in his signature piece, the rock garden in Calgary that now bears his name. His use and arrangement of local sandstone, subdued colours, and textural foliage in the garden all speak to Reader's familiarity with significant trends in North American and European gardening towards carefully balanced, naturalistic landscape architecture. Reader envisioned the garden as a showpiece for a progressive, sophisticated Calgary. During the years that he inhabited the (now reconstructed) superintendent's cottage, Reader offered tours of the semi-private garden. In addition to serving as an artistic creation and a tangible expression of civic boosterism, the Reader Rock Garden also served as a botanical laboratory to study the receptivity of Alberta's soils to a variety of plant species. At its height, the garden was home to over 3500 botanical species. Reader was a meticulous steward of his creation. He marked all the plants within the garden and wrote an unpublished book about the botanical features of the site. The garden itself became part of the system of Dominion Agricultural Research Stations and seeds from the garden were used in several prestigious North American and European gardens.

William Roland Reader was educated in Britain as a teacher, but pursued and developed his native interest in plants by serving as a garden designer at several large gardens in England. In 1908, he came to Canada to serve as a gardener for Pat Burns and his vast commercial empire. Five years later, he assumed the title of Superintendent of Calgary's Parks and Cemeteries, a position he held from 1913 until 1942. The development of civic recreational spaces and the greening of the cityscape were two key features of Reader's legacy. He lined streets with trees, greatly expanded the area of city parks, and designed playgrounds, parks, golf courses and tennis courts. Reader's efforts did much to educate Calgarians about contemporary principles and practices of gardening and to transform the cityscape in accordance with the ideals of the City Beautiful movement.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2168)

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Reader Rock Garden include such features as:
- topography, north facing slope, soils;
- surviving evidence of William Roland Reader's naturalistic design;
- vegetation representing Reader's documented plantings and collections;
- remnant evidence of natural and created ponds, streams, and pathways;
- views opening as the path ascends and descends the hill;
- rock retaining walls, stairs, and paths;
- ceremonial arch;
- views of the city from the points in the garden.




Recognition Authority

Province of Alberta

Recognition Statute

Historical Resources Act

Recognition Type

Provincial Historic Resource

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Sports and Leisure

Function - Category and Type




Architect / Designer

William Roland Reader



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2168)

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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