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Has It Really Been 50 years?
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

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 http://www.artdrysdale.com


August 28, 2011

I am beginning writing this aboard WestJet flight 310, Comox to Toronto via a stop in Calgary this past Wednesday (August 17). Most of this item will be taken up by mentions of some of the people I encountered, and sites we enjoyed at the 75th Anniversary celebrations of my old Alma Mater—The Niagara Parks Commission Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture. Coinciding with that, it is/was the 50th anniversary of our class’ graduation in 1961. Though the event was held in conjunction with, and co-ordinated by, the Ontario Parks Association (who are also celebrating their 75th Anniversary), apparently 95 per cent of the attendees are past grads of the NPC School.

From our own 1961 class six out of eight are rumoured as going to be in attendance for at least some part of the two-day celebrations. One of those classmates whom I have mentioned here before, is David De Shane, originally from Sarnia, Ontario, but now retired in nearby Victoria, B.C. where he served about a dozen years as parks superintendent for the City of Saanich, the largest of the municipal entities that make up the Greater Victoria area. He and I are both flying to Toronto (he from Victoria and me from Comox) today (Wednesday), and we’ll meet up in T.O. on Friday morning and Dave is going to drive us Niagara-on-the-Lake for the event (in his brother’s car).

Well, we’re beginning our descent into Toronto, so that is all for now; the rest will be written from either Niagara Falls or Toronto

Turns out it is Toronto. We returned from Niagara arriving here about 2 PM on Sunday.

It was a very good weekend! We began by driving down to the School of Horticulture from our digs at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake. There’s a separate story about that but I won’t bore you with that here. On passing the Floral Clock we saw the first evidence of the 75th anniversary celebrations. It is the first photo in the series here.

The next sign we encountered was much closer to the School—drawing tourists’ attention to the 75th anniversary celebrations. It is the second shot in the series.

At the dinner last night they told us that there were nearly 400 present, including nearly 300 graduates of the School.

While there Dave and I took several walks around the close-in gardens at the School. The first thing that impressed us were new signs of wood strategically located in at least three areas (shown here in 3rd spot). They show all of the features on the grounds. As we walked toward the vegetable garden (#4) I noted a nice wire sculpture of a human hand, surrounded and intermingled with herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses (here in 5th spot).

The highlight of any walk around the School of Horticulture was always the rose garden, and while the number of actual bushes has been decreasing recently, it still looks marvellous as you can see from photo #6.

Many different classes, in their third year worked on building the School’s rock garden. Ours was no exception, and naturally I wanted to take a look at it. Photo #7 gives you some idea of how it looks now.

Six of the eight in our class were there, but no more than five at any one time! It was interesting to observe how some had changed more than others—but not just in our class—over the entire range of classes represented. Of our class, I think Tom Clancy, retired parks superintendent and then Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kitchener, tied with David De Shane (with whom I travelled from Toronto to Niagara), retired parks superintendent for the City of Saanich (Greater Victoria) vied for top honours in the category as to who still looked good!

But I think most of those in attendance would agree with the observation that the winner of the category overall, was George W. Dalby, a graduate of the School who also served on the staff both as an instructor at the School (in landscape architecture) and as Superintendent of Horticulture (later Superintendent of Parks) for the entire NPC properties. George will be age 91 in just a few days and he looks terrific, as you’ll see from the two photos included here, #s 8 and 9. The latter shows George in conversation with one of our classmates, Byron Essery, who was the oldest in the class and is now age 78 (love the beard!).

Of all of the events during the two-day affair, the party at Queenston Heights Park on Friday night was likely the highlight. It began with free time to do as we liked, and one of the things we opted for was a horse and carriage ride around the park. This carriage and horse normally provide tours around the grounds of the School of Horticulture but since we were all up the road a few Ks at Queenston Heights, they moved their operation up there as well. Dave and I decided to take a tour around in the carriage and were joined by an old friend of mine, Loyd Syer (and his wife), from Belleville, where he retired some years ago as Parks Superintendent. Photo #10 shows the carriage with us in it and #11 a close-up.

One of the things that many of us noted on re-visiting Niagara Parks was a lower standard of maintenance throughout the system than had been the case when we were there as students. Debbie Whitehouse, who now holds the position which is similar to that of George Dalby back a couple of decades ago, told me personally just how much she had had to trim her annual maintenance budget—millions of dollars. Obviously with that level of reduced spending, the parks are not going to look as good as they did a way back.

The tree maintenance seems to be lacking significantly and the turf maintenance almost as bad. Of course, the recent banning of all ‘cosmetic pesticides’ by the Province is not helping things any. The floral decorations remain excellent and it seems that is what keeps most of the tourists happy.

My classmate Tom Clancy has been heading a committee for a new one-acre garden to be built with funds raised by the Alumni Association of the School—to be called the Legacy Garden. At an unveiling of the design of the new garden, right at the close of the re-union, Tom was able to announce that the fund was now at $90,000, but that he was hoping for considerably more, so that they would be able to set some aside for ongoing maintenance of the garden. The final photo shows a sketch of the garden, with (l. to r.) Janice Thomson, Interim Chair of The Niagara Parks Commission; Tom Laviolette, recently retired as Superintendent of the School; and the landscape architect responsible for the plan.

Finally, to comment on the event itself, almost everyone judged the re-union to be a huge success! From the historical display of the photos and memorabilia taking up the entire main floor of the lecture hall, to Alf Savage’s address to us all on Friday night, and the excellent food and entertainment provided, there was very little with which to find fault.

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