Station Gardens

A view of Union Station, Ottawa showing part of the grounds with flowerbeds. 
National Library and Archives, PA 141292.

The recent note in Branchline concerning the shop foreman at Ottawa West who cultivated a garden alongside the locomotives prompts the thought that, in earlier days, the Canadian Pacific Railway took a great pride in its passenger stations and actively encouraged flower gardens.  This was particularly true at the Union Station on Broad Street on the Chaudiere in Ottawa.  A contract was signed with Alderman Scrim in 1892 who converted the space fenced in at the front of the depot to a flower garden.  The C.P.R. was intent upon enhancing the appearance of the area and also to diminish the annoyance to passengers by keeping the hackmen on a new stand on Ottawa street until called for.

Alderman Scrim was a well known local horticulturalist.  He had greenhouses in the area and was frequently called upon to judge flower shows, both in Ottawa and elsewhere.  His company seems to have worked closely with Canadian Pacific and is still in operation with a florist shop on Elgin Street in Ottawa.

By 1896, the Ottawa station gardens were in the hands of station constable Robillard who was experiencing trouble with hens scratching in the flower beds.  The constable, who was very proud of his flowers, was considering purchasing a little shot gun for the feathered intruders.

On 2 June 1899 the Ottawa Citizen commented that “The garden plot at the C.P.R. station has been made to look very attractive, the flower beds having recently been planted with a beautiful collection of flowers from Mr. C. Scrim's greenhouses.”

The C.P.R. also beautified other stations along the line.  In commenting on the new station, the Renfrew Mercury of 22 May 1896 noted : “The C.P.R. station flower garden has been fenced in and seeded down.  The beds for the flowers have been prepared and the flowering plants from the Ottawa greenhouses will probably arrive for planting out this week.  The place may be sodded as well as the grass sown.  The station itself is at present being tuck pointed, and when it is finished will present a very handsome exterior.”

The Renfrew Mercury also commented on 30 September 1898: “The garden of the C.P.R. station here has been looking beautiful for some weeks.  The season has been particularly favorable for the growth and coloring of the grass, and the beds of flowers laid out by florist Scrim are handsome.  There has been much debate whether the white caps that have been growing so plentifully within the enclosure are mushrooms or toadstools.  Perhaps there are both.  Anyway, some folks who have hopped over the fence and plucked some of them are living yet.”

Other stations along the Ottawa Valley were similarly improved.  In June 1901 the C.P.R. improved its property at the Pembroke station by adding a large lawn and flower garden which greatly improved the appearance.

By 1908, the C.P.R. had a floral department which was making annual distribution of seeds to stations and to ensure they were used to the fullest there was an annual station gardens competition.  The Renfrew Mercury noted with pride on 10 November 1911: “Once again Renfrew's C.P.R. station figures in the list of prizes given by the C.P.R. company for the best kept gardens at the stations along their line.  In district No.4, of which Mr. H.B. Spencer is superintendent, Caledonia Springs is awarded first prize, and Renfrew second prize.  Though Mr. Dickson, as station master, is credited in the published list with being the winner, he always accords the praise for the neat and tasty appearance of the station garden here to Mr. Godfrey, the baggage master.”

Canadian Pacific was not the only railway which improved the appearance of its stations by encouraging staff to take up gardening.  There was a small garden at the Canada Atlantic Railway Central Depot which could be viewed by passengers descending the stairs to the platforms.  However, the C.P.R. made a concerted effort, with the help of a local horticulturalist, to ensure that its efforts paid off to the maximum.

Ottawa Citizen: 24 June 1892; 3 August 1896; 2 June 1899; 7 June 1901.
Renfrew Mercury: 22 May 1896; 30 September 1898; 3 April 1908; 10 November 1911.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May 2007.

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