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Manitoba History: “The Most Lovely and Picturesque City in All of Canada”: The Origins of Winnipeg’s Public Park System

by John Selwood, John C. Lehr and Mary Cavett
Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg

Number 31, Spring 1996

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

A spring day at Assiniboine Park, 1949.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Winnipeg Tribune Collection

Since the dawn of civilization recreation space has been an integral part of urban life yet historians have generally overlooked its importance in meeting what is now generally acknowledged to be one of society’s fundamental biological needs. Although this was only dimly recognised at the close of the nineteenth century when Winnipeg was beginning to emerge as an important urban centre, civic leaders were nevertheless anxious to incorporate then current notions of urban design into its evolving townscape. The study of Winnipeg’s park origins indicates that the economic, educational and social theories of the day were no less influential in shaping the evolution of Winnipeg’s park system.

The Canadian City is essentially a Victorian artifact and it is from this era that our contemporary recreation facilities emerge. Early park developments in Canada have largely been discussed in the broader context of town planning or social reform. [1] Chadwick provides very useful insights into the development of British, European and North American parks, indicating the strong links between British and North American landscape design and urban parks planning. He relates more comprehensively than most, how urban recreation space was initially provided for the upper classes then, as urbanization and social reform movements gathered momentum, and eventually as living standards improved, facilities were made available for the less wealthy citizens. Ultimately, recreation space for even the poorest segments of urban society became a matter of wider public concern rather than the preoccupation of a few philanthropists. Other scholars have also outlined the history of urban parks in the North American context, among whom can be mentioned Neumeyer and Neumeyer, Kraus and Soell. [2] Their work shows how this continent’s parks and recreation movements evolved in an essentially similar pattern. Although a definitive study of Canadian parks has yet to be written, a recent history of Winnipeg’s parks by Catherine Macdonald provides a fine local account and an overview of the Canadian urban parks movements. [3] It is evident from this and other studies in urban history and planning that parks development in Canada took much of its inspiration from the same underlying forces that shaped European and American cities and their park systems. [4] Winnipeg’s early parks were certainly developed in accordance with the parks movements prevalent during the period. Literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century reveals that the North American parks movement consisted of six diverse but frequently inter-related elements: the commercially oriented parks movement, the City Beautiful Movement, the residential amenity movement, the amusement park movement, the educational enlightenment movement and the park/playground movement. [5]

The commercially oriented parks movement was in part a reflection of the growing power and influence of the city’s business elites. Its adherents recognized the material and monetary benefits to be derived from the inclusion of parks in urban areas.

The new elites brought principles of business management to local government and pursued civic planning policies designed to enhance the city’s attractiveness as a commercial centre. [6] Greenery was perceived as the means of increasing land values and the quality of life. Thus real estate developers incorporated boulevard streets and designated land for parks and parkways in their subdivisions, using these features to promote sales. Civic leaders made them the subject of boosterism, convinced by arguments that:

visitors to a city are impressed as much by the city’s trees as by its buildings, and are influenced by them in deciding if the city is a desirable one in which to live. [As well], trees are an asset, adding to property. [7]

Allied to the commercially oriented parks movement was enthusiasm for the techniques of the City Beautiful Movement which advocated the beautification of the city and the eradication of urban blight. The visual preferences and cultural ideals of the movement were embodied in the neo-classical monumentality of the ‘White City’ of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. Monumental squares, massive civic centres, large formal gardens, streetscape coherence, and the erection of aesthetically pleasing structures were to be the pathway to urban rehabilitation in an age of disorder and vulgarity. [8] Some of Winnipeg’s influential civic leaders had attended the Chicago Exposition, including the eminent educator W. J. Sisler, who had been impressed by both the new architecture and educational displays which had stressed of environment of learning. [9] Across North America, art leagues and municipal art commissions proposed the adornment of cities with statues, memorial arches and elaborate fountains. [10] Many Canadian cities adopted City Beautiful plans, usually, however, with only limited success. [11] Although the City Beautiful Movement was subsequently discredited by planners who termed it a simplistic solution to the eradication of deep-rooted social ills, it nevertheless left its imprint upon the townscape. [12]

Another aspect of the commercially oriented parks movement was the residential amenity movement which incorporated many of the design principles of the City Beautiful Movement, extending open space and greenery quasi-rustic atmosphere into the suburbs. [13] Following design concepts drawn from the Garden City Movement and the picturesque plans of Frederick Law Olmsted, subdivisions were laid out with curvilinear streets and small parks to attract a wealthier clientele. [14] These developments seldom targeted the working class despite Olmsted’s claim that the provision of open space would certainly result in:

an increase of material wealth as good harvests or active commerce. And the reason is obvious: all wealth is the result of labor, and everyman’s individual wealth is ... increased by the labor of every other in the community ... [Yet] without recuperation and recreation of force, the power of each individual to labor wisely and honestly is soon lost ... [and] the power of each individual to add to the wealth of the community is ... also soon lost. [15]

For entrepreneurs, economic returns promised by the amusement park movement had greater appeal. This movement was firmly allied with the availability of cheap rapid mass transportation. [16] These parks, intended to produce revenue for their developers, incorporated many of the attractions characteristic of popular seaside resorts, including midways with shooting galleries, automatic swings, roller-coasters, ‘hootchy-kootchy’ shows, peek shows, boardwalks, pavilions, and racetracks. The aim was to entertain, rather than uplift, and the urban working class embraced the new amusement parks with enthusiasm—to the profit of their promoters. [17]

Although private entrepreneurs and the business elite did much to promote park development, their activities were generally frowned upon by the social reformers. Whereas genteel reformers supported the improvement of civic aesthetics and parks to ameliorate the drabness of industrial towns and cities, others directed their attention to the more immediate needs of the urban poor. Some supported charities, church missions and schools; many citizens, however, rudely dismissed these efforts. In the words of Thomas Adams:

it has been well said that the saloon is the poor man’s meeting place [yet] ... the counter attraction that the reformer offers is often the basement of a church or school ... Cold comfort for a working man looking for recreation and an opportunity to meet his fellow workers in a social way. [18]

Thus to many, urban parks and playgrounds provided the only effective alternative vehicle for improving social mores and urban life. Through recreation and relaxation the physical and mental health of urban dwellers could only improve.

It was these sentiments that led to another element of the parks movement, the parks/playground movement. Parks and playgrounds were often referred to as the ‘lungs’ of a city—and their sanitary advantages were stressed. To reformers, a park fulfilled two distinctive and important purposes: “That of affording relief from urban conditions ... [and] providing an opportunity for a man ... to see and to think things which the city excludes.” [19]

Physical activity was perceived as an essential complementary element to recreation by proponents of the parks/playground movement. Many reformers considered participation in sports and games essential to any child’s development into a morally secure adult. Through physical activity and team sport the child would develop the strength and stamina for survival in the city and would learn:

... self-restraint, self-control, self-sacrifice, loyalty to his team or club, the value of organization, self-respect, truthfulness and obedience ... [in contrast, by] playing in the streets ... they learn ... drunkenness, bad language, dis-obedience and general lawlessness ... Many a child has in this way picked up evil habits which ever after warped and distorted its moral character. [20]

It was also through public parks that the social and moral attributes imparted the children in parks and playgrounds could be similarly fostered in adults. These green havens would “contribute to the pleasure and health of urban population more than any other recreative feature, and furnish the most necessary and available antidote to the artificiality, confusion, and feverishness of life in cities.” [21] Underlying much of the philosophy of the parks/playground movement was a concern to produce a healthy, loyal and educated citizenry. [22]

Pavillion at River Park, 1900.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Winnipeg Tribune Collection

An integral element of this philosophy was the education movement. Many of the early playgrounds were established adjacent to schools, with the school facilities providing supplemental recreational and learning opportunities. Similarly, the schools were provided with play areas. Public botanical and zoological gardens and even heritage sites were also regarded as important educational assets. [23] Thus, along with the inculcation of social values came the broadening of the population’s world horizons.

The development of urban parks was thus inspired by various motives. To some, parks signified pecuniary gain directly through the enhancement of property values and/or the derivation of revenue from amusement parks, or indirectly, through increasing the city’s business prospects. The social reformers did not hesitate to support the commercial benefits of parks development, seeing this as a means of achieving their more altruistic objectives. They hoped to provide a more aesthetically pleasing, spiritually uplifting, physically healthier and more educational environment for all classes. Winnipeg’s park development was influenced at various stages by these diverse but interrelated philosophies.

The City of Winnipeg did not formally create a Parks Board until the early 1890s. Before then, Winnipeg’s size scarcely merited civic preoccupation with the establishment of a park system. Nevertheless, the private sector had recognized the potential benefits of park development and the need for civic initiatives in parks development had been discussed. In Winnipeg, land for parks was initially designated during the first minor real estate boom of the 1870s. [24] Even at this early date private developers obviously recognized the potential benefits of incorporating land for parks within their development so as to enhance land values in the remainder of the property. The earliest of these parks disappeared during the frenetic real estate boom of the 1880s when the temptation to sell land must have been overwhelming. The assignment of land for park development in subdivisions continued but owners tended to sell the designated park spaces to the city after the establishment of the Public Parks Board. Several sites, however, were sold or donated to the city by Winnipeg’s commercial elite and became permanent city parks. For example, the four lots containing the Upper Fort Garry gate (now one of Winnipeg’s most cherished heritage sites) which were located on the Hudson’s Bay Company Reserve were donated to the City in 1887 by Donald Smith, Baron Strathcona. [25] Some years later, in 1908, two plots of land were donated to the Parks Board by the Riverside Realty Company for park development. These were subsequently developed into Riverview and Pembina Parks; both were incorporated into plans for the area so as to make the parks readily accessible to residents of the neighbourhood. [26]

The private sector, however, did maintain commercial amusement parks before, and for a considerable period after, this time. Probably the first venture of this kind was developed at the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers on land leased from the Hudson’s Bay Company where it was immediately adjacent to the Main Street terminus of the newly constructed horse car line and the Main Street bridge. These privately owned amusement parks, including the better known Elm Park, River Park, Happyland, and Hyland Park provided a wide range of attractions. River Park, for example, which charged no entrance fee, boasted of a roller coaster, a skating rink, an “Electric Riding Gallery” from the World’s Fair Exhibition, a small children’s zoo, a racing track, and a baseball stadium. Despite their commercial orientation, both parks were operated strictly according to temperance principles. [27] River and Elm Parks were founded by James Austin, owner of the Winnipeg Street Railway Company, who believed that “the area would become a popular picnic and amusement centre. Moreover, the novelty of riding on an electric car would be a further inducement to Winnipeggers to patronize the new line.” [28] Elm Park, which was the first to be developed, was set in a mature stand of native elms in a meander loop of the Red River. No entry fee was levied on park visitors, but access from the streetcar terminus was via ferry and later a pontoon bridge, for which there was a charge of twenty-five cents. Nevertheless, the added attractions of a merry-go-round, a dance pavilion large enough to hold 800 people, automatic swings, a shooting gallery, bandstand and restaurant, set amidst the elms, made the park “an afternoon and evening resort for all classes, offering to the meditatively inclined a solitude, to the weary the rest; to the businessman a change, to the old, peace; to the young enjoyment ...” [29]

In early 1892, the topic of public park development was first broached in the annual Report of the City Engineer, where it was argued that the city’s 32,000 people needed a civic park system. [30] Drawing upon the example of Minneapolis, he further claimed that:

The policy in all civilized countries [is] to reserve large areas of land where the citizens of all classes can escape from the noise and smoke of the crowded streets for pure air and recreation ... [Recently] the people of this country began to realize the fact that the cities were becoming solid masses of masonry [sic], and the single houses surrounded by open grounds and gardens were disappearing and were being replaces by solid blocks of brick and stone, and that no provisions were being made for lungs for the cities. [31]

The need for parks, generally recognized and supported by the business elite and the politicians, became a rallying cry for social reformers. Winnipeg’s society magazine Town Topics editorialized that:

... unless parks were established and speedily, half the inhabitants would quickly die of asphyxiation of want of ‘breathing spaces’, capital would forsake the town on account of its forbidding aspect, and the babies, heaven bless them, would perish miserably for lack of room in which to exercise their chubby limbs and expand their developing lungs. [32]

In all probability it was George Carruthers, a prominent member of Winnipeg’s business elite, who prepared the first draft of the Manitoba Public Parks Act, modelling it after the Ontario Public Parks Act of 1883. The Bill was passed by the Manitoba Legislature on 20 April 1892. [33] Soon afterwards, in January 1893, a Winnipeg Public Parks Board was established and given a mandate to establish parks in the crowded city core, an area in which land prices were rising rapidly. By the end of the year, the board had established four small parks, two in the central core of the city, one along the Assiniboine River and one along the Red River in the suburbs. In 1894, the board purchased a further four small suburban parks and by 1914, it had acquired 29 urban and suburban parks. [34]

There was no common agreement as to the role of the newly formed parks board. Many Winnipeggers, influenced by the City Beautiful philosophy, believed that it should devote its energies to improving the aesthetics of the city and so petitioned for the establishment of parks, boulevards, parkways, and large formal gardens. [35] Wellington Crescent and Assiniboine Park are the most striking legacies of this bias. [36] Others argued the case for playgrounds and requested their establishment along with organized sports, clubs and activities. [37] Not all citizens viewed public parks as necessary, preferring that recreation facilities be supplied by the private parks, amusement parks and entertainment areas. [38] Thus, despite the importance of the Public Parks Board, citizen pressure groups and private entrepreneurs played a significant role in shaping the selection and distribution of parks in Winnipeg.

The Parks Board and its advisors were enthusiastic about the ideas of Frederick Law Olmsted, North America’s most eminent landscape architect and central figure in the City Beautiful movement. His picturesque landscape drawing upon the English landscape and pleasure garden traditions, [39] with massed trees and shrubs, open lawns, and natural curvilinear walks, were adopted by his former colleague, Frederick G. Todd of Montreal, who prepared the plans for Assiniboine Park. George Champion, appointed as Park Superintendent in 1907, was also trained in the English landscape tradition. The influence of both individuals is clearly apparent in Assiniboine Park, purchased in 1904, and Kildonan Park, established in 1910. [40]

Assiniboine Park, located along the Assiniboine River, then well beyond the limits of the city, was established as a large “outside” suburban park “for future use as recreation and picnic grounds for the rapidly growing city ... with its boating, bathing, recreation fields ... and motor driveways, its huge open spaces, rolling meadows and lovely landscape ... [as] the favourite resort of the wearied citizen.” [41] Kildonan Park, established nearly one mile north of the city limits along the Red River, in a naturally beautiful site with “rank vegetation ... acres of breast high ferns, and the huge masses of grape vine and bittersweet hanging from the tree tops, suggest[ive of] the tropics rather than rigorous Manitoba.” [42] To complement the site, numerous driveways and bridges were built to transform the park into a showplace. These two suburban parks were designed:

... to place within the reach of the people of a city the enjoyment of such a measure as is practicable of pleasing rural scenery ... that is broad and natural and beautiful. [43]

They were later complemented by two other suburban parks—Fort Garry Park and St. Vital Park, in the southern sector of the city along the Red River, after World War I, thereby fulfilling Champion’s plans for the strategic placement of major parks in the four quadrants of the City. [44] In an attempt to link these and other parks with naturally beautiful sites along the rivers, boulevards were soon planned for city and suburbs. Arthur Stoughten, a local landscape architect deemed parks and boulevards necessary features “in the places where the multitudes live crowded together [for] beauty is an essential element of sane city life.” [45] Thus landscaping, boulevarding and tree-planting were employed to create an attractive cityscape; these programmes were not only used in the more affluent areas but extended into working class districts “already crowded, and with the rapid growth of the city ... districts which must shortly become filled with teeming thousands of workers.” [46] Whereas by 1900, Winnipeg could boast 35 miles of paved and boulevarded roads, by 1911, the city had created 105 miles of boulevards and had planted almost 25,000 trees. [47]

Picnic at City Park, Winnipeg, 1916.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

The city-financed parks and boulevards, intended to raise the aesthetic quality of the city, attracted realtors and their clients. Keenly aware of the popular demand for parks as prized residential amenities, access to parks was an important selling point in many new housing developments. Many of the middle class, desirous of escape from the crowded areas of the city centre and anxious to secure the amenity and prestige of park-like settings, moved to subdivisions laid out with boulevards and parks.

The success of such approaches to marketing was epitomized in the Tuxedo Park development. Designed in the style of the ‘modern’ town planning movement to attract the wealthy and the influential—and named for the exclusive New York city suburb—Tuxedo Park incorporated a “harmonious [sic] combination of city and country, dwelling house and garden, with adequate open space for light, health, and the beauty of the environment.” [48] Through the use of landscape architecture, allowances for wide roadways and boulevards, strict building codes, and generous allotments of park land, Tuxedo Park came to be regarded as “the most beautiful and exclusive district for elaborate home-building in Winnipeg.” [49] The presence of bridle paths, an auto course and speedway, golf course, wading pools—combined with the subdivision’s proximity to Assiniboine Park—added character and prestige to the area. Without the “broad sweep of tree-lined boulevards, the open stretches of green sward and the glint of the river”, it is doubtful that Tuxedo Park would have achieved its elite status. [50]

The impetus for park development arising from the disparate motives behind the City Beautiful Movement, and the residential amenity movement, was increased by the enthusiasm of advocates of the park/playground movement. In Winnipeg, prominent local physicians and active social reformers fulminated over the enthusiasm for aesthetic improvements at the expense of the needs of working class:
By all means cultivate the aesthetic taste by means of flowers. But the boulevards along Broadway on each side of the [streetcar] tracks and on other streets [as] could be adorned with them. [But] there is no need to sacrifice health to aestheticism ... Every available space the city possesses, in as many different parts of it as possible, should be prepared for the children ... to romp and play in ... to fulfill nature’s requirement that they should become strong and healthy men and women. [51]

This cry for parks was echoed by those demanding playgrounds and athletic facilities. F. J. Billiards, Superintendent of Neglected Children in Winnipeg, argued that “as public education is now recognized for the well-being of children, playgrounds should be on land owned by the city and operated at the city’s expense.” [52] Despite this appeal for public action, it required the initiative of the Mother’s Club, which in 1908 raised $800 through private subscription, to equip the Central School grounds. This initiative launched the parks/playground movement in Winnipeg. [53]

In 1909 City Council appointed a commission to establish playgrounds and appropriated $4000 to purchase and equip play centres. Initially, seven playgrounds were equipped, but by 1914 the Commission had opened 20 playgrounds, several in school courtyards. Many were fully equipped with steel apparatus, public baths, steel baby swings, sand boxes, and swings, all for an outlay of $58,280. [54] By 1921, the Winnipeg Public Parks Board, which administered playgrounds, had established 59 centres with paid leaders; 26 of which ran exclusively in the summer months whereas the remaining 33 operated year round. The playgrounds were an undoubted success, for the average daily attendance during the summer was 8,896; in the winter, daily attendance averaged 5,949. [55] By 1923, the number of playgrounds under paid supervision had declined to 47, all run in the summertime, but the average daily attendance reached 14,000—relatively high for a city with a population of 179,087. [56]

The rise in popularity of the playground paralleled the rise in popularity of sports and athletic activities among all social classes. Lacrosse, cricket, snowshoeing, hockey, and football teams all flourished and soon Winnipeg was boosted as the ‘home of Champions’. Imperialistic hyperbole applauded this enthusiasm for physical activity, claiming it to be a

... heritage from generations of sturdy ancestors [whose] ... happy combination of muscle and skill won victories. To this inherent love of manly sports is due the splendid achievements of the British arms in every quarter of the globe ... [for] in every case our adversaries lacked the stamina that results from a long course of muscular education in our national sports. [57]

The foregoing quotation exposes other important motives contained within development of the park system: it was not just the muscles that were to be educated. The minds of the masses were also to be targeted. Notions of social control, inculcation of appropriate values and sanitation were integral to parks programming. [58] Classes in deportment, military drill and body cleanliness supplemented the more athletic pursuits. These programmes were also part of the summer camp experience. [59] At another level came the broadening of the population’s horizons through exhibitions, expositions, zoos and botanical gardens. [60] In Winnipeg, the zoo originated essentially by default in that a few animals arrived at the Assiniboine soon after its establishment. A conservatory was built shortly thereafter. [61]

View from pontoon bridge across the Red River showing the entrance to Elm Park, circa 1900.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index, Winnipeg Tribune Collection

The effects of the numerous economic and social philosophies advocating park development in the city thus quickly became evident in the Winnipeg landscape. In most cases, the motives underlying park development were a complex mixture of altruism and commercialism, fuelled by the ‘boosterist’ mentality endemic throughout the developing North American West. Local pride in the city’s achievements was evident in Winnipeg’s Dominion Magazine:

Winnipeg, at the junction of the winding Red River and the serpentine Assiniboine is the most lovely and picturesque city in all of Canada. Its avenues and boulevards might have been laid our by Olmsted, the King of landscape gardeners [sic], fringed as they are by sheltering trees, spreading lawns, ferns, flowers and fountains ... it is a poetic city, where in summer the hedgerows are melodies [sic] with birds and running streams dance and sing their way to the big river ... The grass covered prairie has been evolved into an elysium, where the air is salubrious, where nature revels in sylvan loveliness, and the sun shines on the just and the unjust alike. [62]

Not all held such sanguine views of the city, but the improvement in Winnipeg’s townscape was considerable: on the West Coast the Victoria Daily Colonist held up Winnipeg as an example of what could be achieved in the face of environmental adversity: “If so much has been done in Winnipeg where conditions are not favourable, very much more should be accomplished in Victoria ...” [63] Despite its patronizing tone, it is clear that the Colonist saw the changes effected in Winnipeg’s townscape as significant and lasting.

Winnipeg’s purchased parks


Name

Date of Acquisition

Cost

Acreage


Fort Rouge Park

1893

$16,531.20

4.85

Central Park

1893

$20,000.00

3.5

St. John’s Park

1893

$20,500.00

10.5

Victoria Park

1893

$11,016.00

1.66

Selkirk Park

1894

$3,801.65

2.0

Dufferin Park

1894

$8,377.88

2.0

Notre Dame Park

1894

$4,500.00

3.8

St. James Park

1894

$6,002.78

6.0

Assiniboine Park

1904

290.0

Weston Park

1909

$8,777.04

1.84

King Edward Park

1909

$10,858.59

6.2

Elmwood Park

1909

$23,268.59

6.51

Machray Park

1909

$11,391.32

3.6

Kildonan Park

1910

$163,800.00

98.5

Sargent Park

1911

$160,480.15

19.3

Kitchener Park

1911

30.0


 

Winnipeg’s donated parks


Name

Date of Donation

Donor

Acreage


Fort Garry Gateway

1898

Hudson’s Bay Company

0.6

Enderton Park

1903

2.0

Pembina Park

1908

Riverview

2.95

Riverview Park

1908

Realty Company

2.16

Clark Park

1909

1.51

Seven Oaks Park

1913

Colin Inkster

2.53


 

Winnipeg’s transferred parks


Name

Date of Transfer

Acreage


Alexandra Square

1906

4.0

Exhibition Grounds

1907

36.5

Cornish Park

1909

1.3

Logan Park

1909

3.10

Midwinter Park

1909

0.3


Source for above tables: Annual Report of the Winnipeg Board of Parks and Recreation (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Board of Parks and Recreation, 1962), pp. 39-49. Parks and Recreation Scenes, Winnipeg, Canada (Winnipeg: Public Parks Board, 24 May 1939).

Conclusion

It is clear that the evolution of the early parks system of Winnipeg was largely determined by the social philosophies prevailing in Europe and North America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The commercially oriented parks movement, the residential amenity movement, the City Beautiful movement, the mass recreation movement, the education movement and the parks-playground movement, were all integral components of the development process. Each had its advocates pursuing specific and often limited goals but together they constituted a major force in the creation of a parks and recreation system in Winnipeg.

As the parks movement gathered momentum emphasis shifted between the various components. The first initiatives were taken by the private sector which encouraged park development merely by designating land for parks in sub-divisions in the hope of raising land values within them. Subsequently, park lands were actively developed and promoted on a commercial basis by individual entrepreneurs. Some of these parks catered to the mass recreation demands of the day tripper. On a less overtly commercial basis land developers took a no less significant role when they adopted ideas of landscaping and aesthetic improvement from the residential amenity and City Beautiful movements. This latter group provided strong support to those who pressed for the provision of parks and public amenities by civic governments. The assumption of responsibility for parks development by the public sector culminated in the extension of access for the poor to parks by way of the parks-playground movement.

In general terms, this process evolved from the uncoordinated efforts of individual entrepreneurs to a more comprehensively structured system with local government involvement. Running parallel to this was the increasing formalization of recreational activities within parks. Along with increased landscaping went the addition of physical facilities and the eventual introduction of programmed and structured recreational activities. Within the parks movement in Winnipeg the profits were various: some developers gained financially, the social reformers derived the satisfaction of achievement, and the general public benefited from increased recreational opportunities. While only the Winnipeg press boosted the city as “the most lovely and picturesque in all of Canada,” there is no doubt that as the city experienced physical improvement, likewise did the minds and bodies of its inhabitants. [64]

Children’s playground in Winnipeg Park, 1917.
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

Notes

This paper is a revised and expanded version of a paper first published in 1982: Mary Ellen Cavett, H. John Selwood, and John C. Lehr, “Social Philosophy and the Early Development of Winnipeg’s Public Parks,” Urban History Review 9 (1982) 27-40.

1. George F. Chadwick, The Park and Town: Public Landscape in the 19th and 20th Centuries (London: Architectural Press, 1966).

2. Martin H. and Ester S. Neumeyer, Leisure and Recreation (New York: Roland Press Company, 1958); Richard Kraus, Recreation and Leisure in Modern Society (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,1971); Charles E. Soell, A Brief History of Parks and Recreation in the United States (Chicago: Athletic Institute, 1954).

3. Catherine Macdonald, A City at Leisure: Parks and Recreation Services in Winnipeg, 1893-1993. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Parks and Recreation Department, 1995.

4. Galen Kranz, “Changing roles of urban parks: from pleasure gardens to open space,” Landscape 22 (3: 1978) 9-18).

5. Mary Ellen Cavett, H. John Selwood, and John C. Lehr, “Social Philosophy and the Early Development of Winnipeg’s Public Parks,” Urban History Review 9 (1982), 27-40.

6. W. C. McKee, “The Vancouver Park System, 1886-1929: A Product of Local Businessmen,” Urban History Review 3 1978, pp. 33-49).

7. “Civic Plan for Street Trees,” Canadian Municipal Journal. XV (May, 1919),151.

8. For contemporary accounts of the Chicago Exposition and its varied exhibits, see H. C. Benner, “The Making of the White City,” Scribner’s Magazine (October 1892), pp. 399-418; and W. Hamilton Guison. “Fore-ground and Vista at the Fair,” Scribner’s Magazine (July 1893), pp. 29-37.

9. W. J. Sisler, “Diary 1893,” Provincial Archives of Manitoba, MG14 C28, Box #5.

10. Despite its popularity, the City Beautiful Movement had many critics. The Chicago Post was scornful of the massive purchases of statuary by civic authorities: “What is the use of buying $1,000,00 worth of public works of art annually while our antismoke ordinance are violated every hour of the day and our streets are never even half cleaned?” Scott, American Planning since 1890, p. 79.

11. Walter Van Nus, “The Plan Makers and the City: Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Urban Planning in Canada, 1890-1939,” unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1975.

12. For a more recent comprehensive review of the City Beautiful Movement see William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University of Toronto, 1975.

13. Cavett, Selwood and Lehr, “Social Philosophy ...” 30.

14. H. John Selwood, “Lots, Plots and Blocks: Some Winnipeg Examples of Subdivision Design,” Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada Bulletin, 11 (2:1986), 6-8; and H. John Selwood, “The Emergence of Winnipeg’s Town Plan, 1870-1914,” in Christof Stadel and Herman Suida (eds.) Salzburger Geographische Arbeiten 28, “Beitrage zur Geographie Kanadas I (Salzburg: Institut fiir Geographie der Universitat Salzburg, 1995), 171-184.

15. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, “Preliminary Report to the Commissioners for Laying Out a Park in Brooklyn, New York: Being a Consideration of Circumstances of Site and Other Conditions Affecting the Design of Public Pleasure Grounds,” in Albert Fein, ed., Landscape into Cityscape: Frederick Law Olmsted’s Plans for a Greater New York City, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, [1968]), p. 100.

16. H. John Selwood, “Urban Development and the Streetcar: Winnipeg 1881-1914,” Urban History Review, 3 (1977) 34-41; Ted McLachlan, “Early Private Parks in Winnipeg—Elm Park and River Park,” Dalnavert Lecture Series, Manitoba Historical Society, Winnipeg, 7 April 1993.

17. For an excellent dissertation on the origins and development of that American phenomenon, the amusement park, see John F. Kassen, Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Mill and Wana, 1978); and Robert E. Snow and David E. Wright, “Coney Island: A Case Study in Popular Culture and Technical Change,” Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. IX (Spring 1976), pp. 960-75.

18. “Public Parks and Playgrounds,” Canadian Municipal Journal, Vol. XVI (November 1920), p. 330.

19. Henry V. Hubbard, “Playgrounds: The Size and Distribution of Play-grounds and Similar Facilities in American Cities, Construction (August 1914), pp. 321-30.

20. F. J. Billiarde, Public Playground for Winnipeg Children: A Series of Articles (Winnipeg: Parliament Buildings, n.d.), pp. 5-6.

21. John Nolen, “The Parks and Recreation Facilities in the United States,” Annuals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. XXXV (March 1910), p. 8.

22. H. John Selwood and John Lehr, “Building Better Canadians with American Technology: Diffusion and Adoption of a Recreation Concept,” “ Bulletin Association of North Dakota Geographers, 34 (1984) 24-31. See also H. John Selwood, John C. Lehr and Myron Schultz, “An Investment in Health: Children’s Summer Camps in the Winnipeg Region,” Recreation Research Review, 3 (1983) 51-56.

23. Michael Hugh, “Changing Roles of Urban Parks—An Environmental View,” Environment 17 (2:1985) pp. 84-94.

24. On an 1877 map of the City of Winnipeg there were three parks incorporated into the suburbs: Burrows Park, Victoria Park and Mulligan (Reserve) Park. McPhillips Brothers’ Map, 1877. See also, “Dufferin Park,” as identified on lithograph may by A. Mortimer of Winnipeg published in Ottawa 1881.

25. The Manitoba Historical Society’s direct appeal to Smith led to the preservation of this fragment of the old fort — see Selwood, J. “A Note on the Destruction of Upper Fort Garry,” Manitoba History, 4 (1982), p. 28.

26. City of Winnipeg Archives, City Solicitors Department, folio 660(b), Parks and Playground — Fort Rouge and Crescentwood districts, City Solicitor to City Comptroller, 8 August 1908.

27. Manitoba Free Press, 24 May 1895; Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 16 July 1941; and “Reflections,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 May 1913; also McLachlan, “Early Private Parks in Winnipeg ...”

28. Sharon P. Meen, “Holly Day or Holiday? The Giddy Trolley and the Canadian Sunday, 1880-1914,” Urban History Review, Vol. IX (June 1980), p. 52.

29. Manitoba Free Press, 31 August 1895.

30. Alan F. J. Artibise, Winnipeg: A Social History of Urban Growth,1874-1914 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), p. 130.

31. “Winnipeg Works: Annual Report of Mayor Ruttan, City Engineer,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 March 1892.

32. Editorial, Town Topics, 30 July 1898, p. 1.

33. Macdonald, A City at Leisure ...

34. The twenty-nine parks occupied 579.83 acres of land, “Winnipeg, The Garden City,” Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 1916; Parks and Recreation Scenes, Winnipeg, Canada (Winnipeg: Public Parks Board, 1939).

35. See, for example, Arthur Alexander Stoughten, “The City Beautiful: Civic Esthetics,” Dominion (April 1914), p. 10; and Byrtha L. Bowman, “Winnipeg as a Summer Town,” Dominion (June 1911), pp. 96-98.

36. Randy R. Rostecki, Crescentwood: A History (Winnipeg: The Crescentwood Home Owners Association, 1993); J. Selwood, The Winnipeg Townscape: A Survey (Winnipeg, Manitoba Environmental Council, 1976).

37. See H. R. Hadcock, “Athletics and Sports in the West,” Western Sportsman, Vol. II (October 1906), pp. 281-82; John H. R. Bond, “Cricket and Other Sports Considered from a Philosophical Standpoint,” Western Sportsman, Vol. II (January 1906), pp. 14-16; Billiards, Public Playgrounds for Winnipeg Children.

38. Manitoba Free Press, August 31, 1895; Town Talk, Vol. II (23 May 1891), p. 17.

39. Galen Cranz, “Changing Roles of Urban Parks,” Landscape 22 (3:1978), p. 9.

40. Macdonald, A City at Leisure, Parks and Recreation Department, Assiniboine Park: History and Development (Winnipeg: City of Winnipeg [Metro], Parks and Recreation Department, 1972); and Parks and Recreation Department, Kildonan Park: History and Development, Winnipeg: City of Winnipeg, Parks and Recreation Department 1972.

41. George Champion, “The Parks and Boulevards of Winnipeg,” Canadian Engineer, Vol. XX (19 January 1911), pp. 167-68.

42. Champion, “Parks and Recreation Facilities in the United States,” pp. 9-10.

43. Nolen, “Parks and Recreation Facilities in the United States,” pp. 9-10.

44. Macdonald, A City at Leisure ...

45. Stoughten, “The City Beautiful: Civic Esthetics,” p. 10.

46. “Parks and Boulevards: Winnipeg’s Main Boulevards,” Dominion (April 1914), pp. 14-15.

47. Ernest A. Blow, “Winnipeg, Capital of Manitoba in 1900: Marvelous Growth of the Metropolis of the Canadian Northwest,” Northwest Magazine Illustrates (June 1900), pp. 10-20; Champion, Parks and Boulevards of Winnipeg,” p. 170. Not all of the streets were truly boulevards, however; many merely had trees planted on narrow “nature strips, a practice which appears to have started in Winnipeg in the 1880s.

48. F. C. Pickwell, “Tuxedo Park, Winnipeg,” Construction (September 1926), PP. 291-94.

49. “A Residential Suburb of Winnipeg in the Making.” Dominion (April 1912), pp.135-38. See also “An Interurban Elysium - Beautiful Tuxedo Park: A Sylvan Borough — Winnipeg’s Choicest Residential Retreat,” Dominion (October 1910), pp. 20-21.

50. “Residential Suburb of Winnipeg,” Construction (September 1926), pp. 291-94.

51. Bond, “Cricket and Other Sports,” p. 16.

52. Billarde, Public Playgrounds for Winnipeg Children, p. 20.

53. “Playground Work in Winnipeg,” Dominion (April 1914), p. 17. See also: Selwood and Lehr, “Building Better Canadians with American Technology ...

54. “Playground Work in Winnipeg,” p. 17, “Splendid Growth of Play-grounds Movement in Winnipeg,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 June 1915, p. 4.

55. “Playground and Recreation Centre Statistics for 1921,” Playground, Vol. XV (March 1922), pp. 784-85.

56. “Playground and Community Recreation Statistics for 1923,” Playground, Vol. XVIII (April 1924), p. 52. A complete listing of the playgrounds has yet to be compiled.

57. “Western Sports,” Great West Magazine, Vol. XIII (December 1898), p. 205.

58. See Cranz, “Changing Roles of Urban Parks” and Galen Cranz, Urban Parks as a Mechanism for Social Control,” Working Paper No. 6, Dept. of Architecture, University of California, Berkley, 1975. See also Selwood and Lehr “Building Better Canadians”.

59. Selwood, Lehr and Schultz, “An Investment in Health...”

60. Hough, “Changing Roles of Urban Parks — An Environment View.”

61. Macdonald, A City at Leisure.

62. “Beautiful Canadian Homes, Number One — Winnipeg’s Charming Residential Districts,” Dominion (November 1910), pp. 46-48.

63. Daily Colonist, (Victoria), 2 June 1907, as cited by Martin Segger and Douglas Franklyn, Victoria, A Primer for Regional History in Architecture (Victoria: Heritage Architectural Guides, 1979), p. 27.

64. Dominion, “Beautiful Canadian Homes ...”

Page revised: 1 August 2015

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