Niagara Parks School of Horticulture Gathering - Part 1

The Niagara School of Horticulture gathered late last week and here’s the first half of my report on the get-together.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

February 27, 2011

Above: here is the entire group of 22 who met at The Boathouse Restaurant in Horseshoe Bay on Thursday, February 24th, and one shot of yours truly and the guest of honour, Alf Savage, who flew in from Edmonton. Below: an exterior shot of The Boathouse Restaurant, and a shot from indoors looking out to Sewell’s Marina. Photos by Juergen Neudoerffer.

Last year about this time I wrote here about a little re-union I had attended a few days earlier. It was a luncheon get-together of graduates from The Niagara Parks Commission Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture, held at The Boathouse Restaurant in famous Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver). On the success of last year’s event, one of our grads, Juergen Neudoerffer, decided it should be held again, and said he would take over from Stan Kochanoff (from the Halifax area, who happened to be in B.C. working as a volunteer for the Olympic Games) in organizing it.

This year there were a few more faces, but still many missing. The thinking is that many of the younger grads cannot take at least a half day off to attend, and maybe we should hold subsequent gatherings on a Saturday or Sunday. It will be looked into!

If we go by seniority, then once again Bill Browne has to be mentioned first. He graduated in 1948, and worked both in the West (the City of Vancouver, for example) and the east (the City of Scarborough). Bill now lives in Coquitlam, part of what might be called the Greater Vancouver area. I remember Bill as Director of Parks in Scarborough very well. He was always a quiet, efficient manager. Particularly I remember him back in the late 60s when he got involved with several prominent nurserymen in Ontario, on the pros and cons of fall planting of nursery stock! The industry was promoting fall planting, and Bill dared to disagree, and that upset one nurseryman in particular. I think I’ll leave his name out of it, but it raged hot and heavy with articles and letters in the trade magazine for quite some time.

Bill and Alf Savage (grad in 1952) were great friends and when Bill heard that Alf Savage was going to juggle a cruise he had planned in order to attend the get-together, he said he would pick Alf up at the Abbotsford airport. None of us knows just what kind and extent of reminiscing they got into, or whether the flight from Edmonton (where Alf is now living) was late, but Bill and his lady friend Mary Palmer and Alf arrived quite late, to everyone’s applause. Alf is no stranger to Edmonton, his final position in Alberta was as a commissioner with the City of Edmonton. [However he served and continues to serve through various boards and committees.] He also worked in the east, as commissioner of parks and recreation for the City of York, and there is a great story I have about his breaking a pencil to make a point at one City Council meeting.

Alf and I were out driving looking at some particular aspects of parks one day, and he said he had the entire day except that around 2 PM he needed to stop by the City Council meeting for “a few minutes.” We organized our driving to suit that. I stayed out in the car and did some work, while he went into Council. Before that, Alf told me the problem was that he wanted (not necessarily needed) a new truck for his parks and recreation department and he was competing with the works commissioner who badly needed (by Alf’s own admission) radios for their fleet of trucks (which Alf’s department already had), and Council would have to decide which department would get the money.

When Alf came back out to me he was laughing, and I said “Well obviously you were successful!” He replied, “Yes!”

Then he told me how he did it. When he stood to back his parks and recreation department’s request he ended by saying that if his department did not get the truck, it would “break the department just like this” and as he said that he picked up a pencil with both hands and broke it in two. The vote was taken, and Alf got his truck, and Works Department did not get their radios.

That was typical of Alf. He told us at the luncheon, when he retired, that the staff gave him a large bundle of pencils tied with a red ribbon upon his leaving the department!

Next in the seniority line is Juergen Neudoerffer, a grad in 1958. Occasionally while I was at school, I would ride with William Snowden (or he would ride with me) and on our way back we would stop at Juergen’s parent’s home in Brampton. By that time Bill was already a member of the School’s instruction staff.

At the get-together, Alf Savage told the story of his Edmonton department having recruited Juergen to come and work for him in Edmonton. That was fine, but he said that Juergen’s mother didn’t like it one bit that Alf was “stealing” her son to be a long way away from her. Alf said Juergen’s mother hated him!

Again this year, Juergen’s wife Norma, whom I remember well from 50 years ago (!) was with him.

Sticking with my seniority theme, the next three participants were all members of my 1961 graduating class—David DeShane, Martin Moore and myself. Again this year, Dave and I travelled to the get-together on the 10:30 AM ferry from Nanaimo’s Departure Bay to the mainland’s Horseshoe Bay, from where we walked (in freezing cold) to the nearby restaurant. Dave told me he was no longer on the Board of Glendale Gardens (formerly Horticultural Centre of the Pacific), but was heading up a project for them. Within the City of Saanich, Glendale took on the upgrading of an old estate the City purchased. It had been let go for years with no maintenance, although Dave says the landscaping ‘bones’ were well in place. The first task was the removal of all the wild, overgrown plants such as the omnipresent blackberries.

Martin Moore looks much better this year than he did last when he had recently returned from a long hospital stay. His happy-go-lucky attitude which entertained us daily back at the School 50 years ago still seems to be there today. It is unfortunate that he does not think he’ll be able to make the 75th anniversary of the School of Horticulture Re-union being held in August this year back at the School. At the moment, Dave DeShane and I are planning to be there, at least for the Saturday and Sunday.

The class which followed us out of the School, in 1962, included J.J. (or Jay) Houston who has had a very varied career since graduating. He has worked in both the U.S. and Canada for major floral companies, and has operated his own company. Jay says he has now officially retired and is living on Telegraph Trail in Langley, B.C. Here’s an interesting note, the son of one of Jay’s classmates, the late Fred Smith (who died early in his career), also attended the School and is now the Superintendent! For two years while I was at the School, I drove Fred to his home in Winona (the fruit belt) and picked him up on the way back almost every weekend.

Next on my list is Hugh Monroe who was at the get-together with his wife Sandi, and who graduated in 1964. Hugh went to work for a unique organization—Wascana Centre Authority, which was unusual in that it was made up of representatives of the City of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan, and the Province of Saskatchewan. The latter did most of the funding, which included all of the landscaping around the Provincial Government complex, but the other two organizations originally had more votes than the province. I gather that is now quite different and that the entire organization has become ultra-political.

Hugh came to the School from having worked in the oil field industry in northern Alberta and was well known for his arm wrestling acuity—beating some of those older students who thought they could easily beat him!

Finally for today, my friend Frank Schortinghuis and his wife Joyce were there. Frank graduated in 1967 and was soon operating his own landscape business (Allgreen Landscaping) in the lower mainland area of B.C. He decided to go into semi-retirement and move to Vancouver Island almost a decade ago, and they now live in Lantzvville, just down the road towards Nanaimo from here in Parksville. Since retiring, he won a significant award from the B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association for a large landscape development involving several ponds and streams on a property on Gabriola Island which is reached by ferry from downtown Nanaimo. Frank now devotes a large amount of his ‘spare’ time to photography.

I’ve got eight guys and gals yet to write about but this has already gotten rather long, so I’ll cover them in next week’s article. Also next week, I’ll have a good selection of photos from the gathering taken by Juergen Neudoerffer—groups of two, three and four.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row