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Ontario's Heritage Gardens

Published: April 2011

Flowers / Fleurs

Often forgotten in the shadows of dwellings, gardens are important places that contain incredible heritage value and should not go unnoticed. Gardens are historically important as they offer an excellent look into our past by reflecting the society in which they were constructed.

However, like many historical buildings and monuments, gardens are prone to fall into disrepair and actions must be taken to conserve these areas in order to protect our shared past. To assure the appropriate conservation of heritage sites, the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada were published to protect the heritage value of many types of places, including gardens, throughout the country.

In Ontario, the Ontario Heritage Trust is the province's leading heritage agency managing the protection of heritage sites at the provincial and municipal levels. In partnership with the University of Toronto and owners of historic places, the Garden Conservancy Program has recently been established by the Trust to assume the task of restoring and preserving heritage gardens according to the Standards and Guidelines, as well as promoting awareness and conservation of these culturally important landscapes.

One category in the Garden Conservancy Program is the restoration of significant historic designed gardens. The Trust recently restored the Olmsted-designed garden at Fulford Place National Historic Site of Canada on 287 King Street East in Brockville. This garden is a national historic site and was designed by the Olmsted Brothers, an important American landscape firm that is famous for having designed such gardens as Central Park in New York City. The Fulford garden was Fulford Place, Parks Canada / Fulford Place, Parcs Canadacreated in 1899-1901 to accompany the wealthy estate of businessman and entrepreneur Albert W. Fulford. After years of neglect, the grounds had fallen into bad condition and the Trust recognized the cultural importance of revitalizing the space. Since only the outlines of the geometric planting beds were visible, considerable research was undertaken using archival sources to find pictures and documents to determine proper restoration of the Fulford garden. The work was completed in 2004 and a great part of the heritage significance of the estate was restored.

Jesse Ashbridge House, Ontario Heritage Trust / Maison Jesse Ashbridge, Fiducie du patrimoine ontarienThe Jesse Ashbridge House located on 1444 Queen Street in Toronto is another example of the restoration of a historic vernacular garden accomplished by the Trust. "Vernacular" refers to an architecture that evolves over time to better suit the needs of the current society. Previously, the Ashbridge family had manicured lawns as well as wide flower and vegetable gardens, whereas the site now consists of extensive flower beds. The Trust's goal for this property is to restore the home's garden back to its original splendor by searching through archival material, such as diaries, letters and photographs, that might show the state of the garden at the beginning of the 19th century.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all gardens need to have manicured lawns and perfect rows of flowers. Chiefswood National Historic Site of Canada, located on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario and home to the famous Canadian poet Pauline Johnson, stands as a connection between English and Native culture. Previous restorations had hindered the historic value of the site by emphasizing the English personality of the house. Kentucky bluegrass and manicured lawns had been utilized during the renovation of the garden giving it a distinct English appearance. To recover the original state of the garden, the lawn had to be burned three summers in a row to allow previous flora to grow wild again. The now historically-accurate garden has been restored for our benefit to its original aboriginal character.

Chiefswood before restoration, Ontario Ministry of Culture / Chiefswood avant la restoration, Ministre de la culture de l'Ontario Chiefswood after restoration, Scott Weir / Chiefswood après la restoration, Scott Weir

Time can take its toll on the appearance of a garden. We spend thousands of dollars every year to protect historic places, and it is time we recognize that gardens are a significant part of the heritage value of many Canadian homes and estates.

Want to learn more about garden preservation and conservation? Visit the Ontario Heritage Trust website as well as the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Also visit the showcase "Garden Voices of Ontario's Historic Gardens", that features even more historic gardens in Ontario.


Ontario Heritage Trust. "Fulford Place"