Manitoba History: “The Greening of the West”: One Geranium at a Time

by Elizabeth Blight
Provincial Archives of Manitoba

Number 31, Spring 1996

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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How many on us can remember the potted geranium growing on our grandmother’s window ledge? This issue of Manitoba History highlights a number of major initiatives in the rapid spread of horticulture across the prairie provinces. But horticulture can be a relatively solitary “sport” and is often carried out in the privacy of the home. A careful look at early photographs can give us a glimpse at what was going on behind the closed doors.

Limitations of early camera equipment, lack of sufficient ambient light, cost, and fashion means that early photographs of home interiors are not all that common. Many of those that do exist give us an excellent look at plants being carefully tended. However, with a magnifying glass in hand, looking at window ledges in exterior views of buildings we can obtain an even wider glimpse at the gardening activities of the occupants.

The photographs chosen for this article were all selected from the collection of 290 glass negatives found in Boissevain. The anonymous photographer took views of businesses and homes in southwestern Manitoba about 1912, perhaps with the intent of making a living by selling prints to the owners. Although only a small percentage can be precisely identified, the value of the collection is in the depiction of the workplaces and homes of the average family. The entire collection can be viewed at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba or at the Boissevain Community Archives.

The News Printing Shop at Belmont would also appear to be the home of the owner. Potted plants can be seen on the window ledge behind the lace curtain, presumably the residence half of the building.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N351

Not all plants were grown in the home. Here the local manager of the Union Bank of Canada sits in front of a sunny plant filled windows.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N365

Were the potted plants moved outside along with the children to have their picture taken?
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N400

Not only are there pots of plants in the window of this house but we can see the beginning of landscaping outside.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N403

The plants overflow the window ledge. The lushness of planting is carried out into the side yard.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N413

The plants that appear in what is presumably the family living room are also close to the street where the passing public can view them.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N517

The elegant screen door, lace curtains and potted plant demonstrate the care given to decorating this home and contrasts to the bleak surroundings.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N406

Page revised: 26 September 2012