This summer, enjoy some of Alberta’s historic parks, green spaces and recreational areas

Written by: Ron Kelland, Geographical Names Program Coordinator

In July 2021, Canada is marking Historic Places Day, or Days as the case may be. First declared in 2017, Historic Places Day is an initiative of The National Trust of Canada as an opportunity to highlight historic places across Canada, to tell their stories and encourage Canadians to learn about, experience and interact with them to foster a better appreciation of the important role these places have in the lives of Canadians and how they impact the quality of life in our communities.

Historic places take many forms, from old and grand public buildings and monuments to small and homey bungalows and farmhouses, to workers cottages, archaeological and paleontological sites, museums and cenotaphs. With summer now here and people looking for opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, we thought it opportune this year to feature some of Alberta’s parks and outdoor public spaces that have been designated as historic resources. So, grab your walking shoes or hiking boots, bring your camera and lots of water, and let’s explore some these historic parks across the province. 

Reader Rock Garden – Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource

Located adjacent to Calgary’s Union Cemetery, the Reader Rock Garden is an early twentieth-century naturalistic garden composed of rocks, primarily local sandstone; trees; water features; and paths.  The garden was designed by William Roland Reader, superintendent of parks and cemeteries for the City of Calgary from 1913 to 1942. Reader was heavily influenced by the City Beautiful movement, which advocated for the inclusion of well-designed green spaces in urban environments. Under Reader’s leadership, Calgary saw the establishment of many parks, playgrounds, golf courses and tennis courts around the city and the planting of trees along city streets. Reader created the Rock Garden as a semi-private park, it was located around the superintendent’s cottage, now a reconstructed elements in the park, and as a living, laboratory where he experimented with thousands of varieties of plants. Reader’s botanical experiments and meticulous observations influenced horticulture across North America through his writings and the distribution of seeds.  

The Reader Rock Garden was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in November 2006 and a Municipal Historic Resource in January 2017

The Reader Rock Garden early in the season, showing bedding plants and green spaces
Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
The Reader Rock Garden in bloom, 2008. Source: City of Calgary

Nose Hill Archaeological Resource – Municipal Historic Resource

Nose Hill is a prominent landmark in north Calgary. An outlier of the foothills, it has a commanding presence over the landscape and offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape. The hill has been an important place for First Nations people for a thousands of years. Some archaeological investigation has been done at sites throughout the park, but most of it remains unexplored, archaeologically speaking. Those sites that have been investigated demonstrate a cultural record of Indigenous use of the hill for at least 9,000 years. Contemporary accounts of Nose Hill and the oral traditions passed down by generations of Indigenous communities show that the hill was an important lookout point as well as spiritual place for vision quests and other ceremonies. In 2015, the Blackfoot Confederacy established a new stone circle on the hill’s summit reaffirming their connection to this significant place. 

The park was created by the City of Calgary in 1984, protecting it from development into new residential neighbourhoods. It was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource due to its significant archaeological resources. For the recreational user, Nose Hill seems a world removed from the bustle of urban life. Once on the hills summits, sights and noises of the surrounding city fade into the background. It is an ideal place for exercise and for reflection and to acknowledge the continuing significance of the landscape to Canada’s Indigenous people.  

Nose Hill Park was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource in June 1998.

Looking towards downtown Calgary from the summits of Nose Hill Park, September 2011. Source: City of Calgary
Looking east from the top of Nose Hill, September 2011. Whilst atop Nose Hill, it can be easy to forget about the large city that surrounds it. Source: City of Calgary

Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden – Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource

Located on the western side of Lethbridge’s Henderson Lake Park, the Nikka Yuko Centennial Garden is a formal Japanese garden. Established as a Centennial of Confederation project in 1967, the garden was envisioned as being a, “Canadian garden in a Japanese style.” While it has many design elements of traditional Japanese gardens, it uses rocks and stones from across southern Alberta and trees and other vegetation native to the province and structures built in traditional Japanese style with materials from Japan. This fusion of native, Canadian elements with Japanese garden design principles is symbolic of the Japanese presence and experience in southern Alberta and their contributions to the province.  The name itself is derived from Nihon (meaning Japan), Kanada and Yuko (meaning friendship) and stands as a powerful statement about belonging, citizenship, forgiveness and friendship as many Japanese-Canadian were forcibly relocated from coastal British Columbia and interned as prisoners in Alberta during the Second World War.  The garden features a manicured landscape of rock gardens, parks, pruned trees and shrubs and ornamental rocks.

The Nikka Yuko Centennial garden was designated as Municipal Historic Resource in July 2015 and a Provincial Historic Resource in October 2017

View of the Tea Pavilion at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
view of the stream and bridges, 2015. These images show the relationship of the water features, architectural elements and manicured lawns and vegetation. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.
(Top) the dry garden and (Bottom) path to the main gates, 2015. These images show the combination of natural elements and rigid lines as well as both symmetrical and asymmetrical elements. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Bowness Park – Municipal Historic Resource

The Bow River Lagoon at Bowness Park, 2012. Source: City of Calgary

Bowness Park is a large urban park on the Bow River in the Bowness neighbourhood in western Calgary. Opened in 1911, it is one of the earliest and largest parks in the city and it has consistently been one of Calgary’s most popular leisure and recreation destinations for more than 100 years. The park was envisioned and designed by landscape architect and town planner Thomas Mawson and brought into reality largely by William Reader, both of whom were advocates of the City Beautiful movement and of the beneficial role of green spaces in urban areas.

The original park featured picnic areas and cabins as well as a manmade lagoon for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter.  Over the years, other features were added, including a swimming pool, a dance pavilion and a carousel (added in 1919), the former of which was enlarged to become a dining hall in the 1930s and the latter of which became the anchor of a small amusement park by the 1960s. This writer has very fond memories of the ridable model train that has Bowness Park continued to evolve over the years, through the addition of new buildings through the 1950s and 1960s and the removal of the amusement park in the 1980s. Today the park features a more tranquil, bucolic nature with open lawns, treed areas, picnic areas, barbeque pits and walking paths. Its continued popularity demonstrates its central place in the social and recreational lives of Calgarians.

Bowness Park was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in March 2014.

Bowness Park Mini-Train, June 1958. The ridable mini-train was a notable addition to Bowness Park in the 1950s. It continues to operate today (and this writer has very fond memories of it in the early-1980s). Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-5600-8124a.

Bowness Park swimming lagoon, ca. 1930. Source: Glenbow Archives, ND-8-337.

Bowness Park Walking Trail, 1975. Source: Photograph by Harry Sinclair, Provincial Archives of Alberta, GR1989.0516/2029#1 .

Confederation Park – Municipal Historic Resource

The Centennial of Confederation monument, at the heart of Calgary’s Confederation Park, 2010. The image also shows the slightly rolling terrain of the park as it follows the natural contours of the coulee landscape. Source: City of Calgary.

Confederation Park is a large park and golf course located in a coulee in the northwest Calgary communities of Capital Hill, Mount Pleasant, Collingwood and Charleswood. It was developed in the late-1960s as one of Calgary’s primary initiatives to mark the 1967 Centennial of Confederation. At the time of its development, the coulee floor was seen by many as a wasted area with little value. The development of the park is a notable example of an undervalued area being transformed into a vibrant community asset.

Unlike many earlier parks, such as the Reader Rock Garden, the downtown Memorial Park and even to an extant Bowness Park on the west side, Confederation park is notable for not featuring rigid lines, structures or a focus on ornamentation. Designed by Harry Boothman, Calgary’s Superintendent of Parks from 1960 to 1976, Confederation Park features wide open areas and a landscape that largely conforms to the existing terrain and natural environment. Paths are meandering, and an area of natural grassland and other natural vegetation was preserved and integrated into the park landscape, rather than being removed and replaced with new plantings. The public golf course was included reflecting the growth of popularity that leisure activity through the 1960s.

The symbology of the park as a monument to the Confederation of Canada is evident today in its name and in the A central monument, surrounded by provincial flags, features a podium bearing the stylized maple leaf that was the Centennial emblem, created in a mosaic form made of stones from regions across Canada.

Confederation Park was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in January 2017.

Central Memorial Park – Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource

Central Memorial Par is an Edwardian style urban park located in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood. The park, originally known as simply Central Park, was established in 1899. It was undeveloped and used as a municipal tree sanctuary until 1908, when it was turned into an ornamental park. This transformation continued after 1912 when, under the guidance of Superintendent of Parks Richard Iwersen, it was transformed into a formal park to be associated with the new Central Library, which opened in 1912.

The park features the rigid geometrical patterns and straight walkways framing grassy areas and ornamental bedding plants. Typical of Edwardian-era urban parks of this nature, this park soon became home to numerous examples of statuary and other monuments, making it a focal point for both leisure and ceremonial activities. Notable monuments are those that memorialize the Boer War and the First World War, as well as the Memorial Plaza at the park’s western edge. In 1928, the park’s name was changed to Memorial Park.  Today the memorial role of the park continues as does its position as a public gathering space and an oasis close to the heart of downtown Calgary.      

Central Memorial Park was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource in December 2012. The Memorial Park Library was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in December 1976. The landscape and ornamental elements of the associated park are listed as contributing elements to the heritage significance of the library.

Unveiling of the South African (Boer) Ware Monument, Memorial Park, Calgary, June 1914. Source: Glenbow Library and Archives, University of Calgary, NA-1604-93.

An elevated view of Central Memorial Park looking towards the east, 2011. The park’s rigid geometrical patterns and numerous monuments are clearly visible. The Central Memorial Library is located at the far, western end of the park. Source: City of Calgary.

Borden Park Band Shell – Municipal Historic Resource

Bordon Park Band Shell East Elevation, 2012, showing the bell-shaped arched appearance, field stone rear feature wall and the wood cladding between the concrete beams. Source: City of Edmonton.

The Borden Park Band Shell is located, well, it’s located in Borden Park, which is in Edmonton’s Virginia Park neighbourhood. The park, originally called the East End Park, was established in 1906. It quickly became a popular place for Edmontonians to gather and enjoy the outdoors. Used in a somewhat similar fashion as Bowness Park in Calgary, Borden Park was a place people could simply relax or take in and play baseball games or listen to concerts. A small zoo was established, which included a tea room as well as a small amusement park with a carousel, roller coaster and tunnel of love ride.

Borden Park went through a major rehabilitation in the 1950s, which included new pathways, sports fields and picnic area. This work also saw the construction of the band shell. Designed by City Architect Robert F. Duke and W. Pasternak, the band shell is a bell-shaped, Early Modern style structure made of arched beams of exposed concrete, wood cladding and a field stone wall. Perhaps inspired by the artistic, modern appearance of the band shell, Borden Park has become the home to numerous art works and sculptures. So whether you are looking for take in the formal gardens, enjoy the art work or just enjoy a walk or bike ride through the trails, Borden Park continues to be one of Edmonton’s most popular recreational destinations.

 The Borden Park Band Shell was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in February 2013.

Families enjoying Borden Park, 1979. From 1905 to the present day, Borden Park has been a popular place for Edmonton families to enjoy. Source: City of Edmonton Archives, ET-28-1558.

Queen Elizabeth Planetarium – Municipal Historic Resource

The Queen Elizabeth Planetarium is a located in Edmonton’s Coronation Park. The park was dedicated in 1953 to commemorate that year’s coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1958, a proposal was raised to erect a permanent memorial as a main focal point in Coronation Park to celebrate the planned 1959 visit by the Queen. The city also accepted the proposal by the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to build a planetarium.

The planetarium is designed in a blend of the International Style with Modern Expressionist style and uses idiosyncratic shapes, extensive use of glass to enhance natural lighting. Built in an era with a burgeoning interest in space exploration, the design and physical appearance of the building was intended to evoke a sense that the structure was hovering above the ground. Surrounding the planetarium are a series of tile mosaics representing the 12 zodiacal constellations. The park’s pathways, which surround and lead to the planetarium, were laid out to resemble a royal scepter, a symbol of the monarchy. The park itself features open grassy areas, tennis courts and the Peter Hemmingway Leisure Centre (formerly known as the Coronation Pool). The construction of the Edmonton Space Science Centre in the 1980s overshadowed the planetarium, but the planetarium’s glory days are returning with the recent completion of a major restoration.

The Queen Elizabeth Planetarium was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in March 2017.

ostcard of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium, ca. 1970. The central dome, aluminum framed sheet and the Zodiacal tile mosaics can be seen. Source: City of Edmonton Archives, EA-320-1.
Aerial view of Coronation Park looking east, 1980. The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium can be seen amidst the scepter-shaped walking paths along the right side of the image. Source: City of Edmonton Archives, ET-28-1575.

White Spruce Forest – Municipal Historic Resource

The White Spruce Forest, also known as the Grey Nuns White Spruce Forest, is a historically and ecologically significant 9.25 acre site located in the City of St. Albert near Big Lake. While white spruce trees are common in Alberta, a surviving stand of white spruce, some of which are believed to be in excess of 100 years old, in this close proximity to major urban centers is exceedingly rare. Although most noted for its white spruce, the forest is also home to numerous other types of trees and bushes, including balsam poplar, aspen poplar, red-osier dogwood, beaked hazelnut, strawberry and bunchberry patches. The City of St. Albert is engaged in tree planting activities throughout the forest to promote the forest’s vitality and longevity and increase its size. Recreational trails traverse the forest, providing the opportunity for people to enjoy the forest in respectful, lower-impact activities.

The White Spruce Forest was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in September 2011.

Aerial image of the White Spruce Forest and the Sturgeon River, 2016. Source: City of St. Albert.
View of the white Spruce trees and other vegetation found in the forest. The forest of ecologically significant and the home to a variety of types of trees and native vegetation in addition to the White Spruce trees. Source: City of St. Albert.

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