Canada's History

Flowering regenerati­on

The spectacula­r Butchart Gardens north of Victoria was developed from a quarry and cement operation.

- By Hans Tammemagi

Jennie Butchart was a talented and energetic woman who transforme­d an industrial site north of Victoria into the showpiece Butchart Gardens, one of the best-manicured and most popular gardens in the world.

Situated alongside Tod Inlet on the west side of Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula, the spectacula­r gardens include a former limestone quarry that in the early 1900s was used to make cement for the burgeoning province of British Columbia. The cement company was owned by Robert Butchart, whose wife, Jennie, started to plant flowers around their adjacent residence in 1904, without any idea of the renown her garden would eventually achieve.

In 1902, Robert Butchart formed the Vancouver Portland Cement Company and began to acquire land on Tod Inlet. Constructi­on of both the cement factory and a substantia­l wharf was initiated in 1904, and the manufactur­e of cement began in March 1905. The company prospered, and Tod Inlet quickly became a thriving community. By 1911, there were 368 employees at the plant, including Chinese, Sikh, Indigenous, and European workers.

Jennie Butchart continued to enlarge her garden, and before long the Butcharts’ house and gardens began to attract attention and visitors. A Japanese garden, including a grand torii gate, was built with the help of Isaburo Kishida, a Japanese landscape artist. Cement was readily available from the nearby plant, and the garden’s design includes bridges, stone paths, and flowing water alongside varieties of flowers.

As the limestone deposits were exhausted in 1909 and the quarry closed, Jennie Butchart began to employ Chinese workers from the cement plant as gardeners. With the goal of beautifyin­g the gaping hole of the quarry, she hired farmers to bring in soil to cover the barren ground, eventually forming the famed Sunken Garden.

Jennie Butchart was fearless and could be found hanging in a bosun’s chair while planting ivy on the quarry walls. At the

same time, her generosity was legendary. Her growing floral showcase attracted visitors from afar, and she served tea to many of them, including complete strangers.

Awash with the vibrant magentas, pinks, and purples of rhododendr­ons and azaleas, the Sunken Garden is today the largest and most distinctiv­e part of Butchart Gardens. At the south end, the Ross Fountain sprays water in a number of huge jets that are like a troupe of choreograp­hed ballerinas, constantly changing shape, size, and even, after dark, colour, thanks to a programmab­le LED lighting system. A total of four distinct gardens were developed by the late 1920s, including the rose and Italian gardens.

With designs by architect Samuel Maclure, what was originally the Butcharts’ small summer residence was enlarged and renovated between 1911 and 1932. The refurbishm­ents made the Butchart home — which they named “Benvenuto” (Italian for welcome) — much more luxurious, with a pond, billiard room, and even a bowling alley. By 1921 the cement plant had been largely shut down, except for minor manufactur­ing such as for drainage tiles and flower pots that continued until the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Jennie Butchart’s garden continued to grow and to prosper. In 1931, she was named the city of Victoria’s “best citizen” for opening the gardens to visitors every day of the year. That decade, the CPR’s cruise line boasted that Butchart Gardens was “one of the most enchanting beauty spots on this continent.”

Until recently, tours were offered seasonally aboard small electric boats that travelled past key points of interest and that allowed visitors to see some of the wildlife of Tod Inlet — including otters, eagles, and herons. Remains of the cement plant can still be found within the gardens, and multiple visits are required to take in the enormous historical and botanical richness of the site.

In the summer, more than nine hundred bedding-plant varieties are featured

 ?? ?? Autumn foliage in the Japanese Garden, part of Butchart Gardens north of Victoria.
Autumn foliage in the Japanese Garden, part of Butchart Gardens north of Victoria.
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 ?? ?? Above left: The Sunken Garden flowers in springtime. Above: A totem pole carved in the Coast Salish style by master carver Doug LaFortune for Butchart Gardens’ one hundredth anniversar­y in 2004. Far left: A historical photo of Jennie Butchart at the Butchart home Benvenuto. Left: Arches above a pathway in the Rose Garden.
Above left: The Sunken Garden flowers in springtime. Above: A totem pole carved in the Coast Salish style by master carver Doug LaFortune for Butchart Gardens’ one hundredth anniversar­y in 2004. Far left: A historical photo of Jennie Butchart at the Butchart home Benvenuto. Left: Arches above a pathway in the Rose Garden.
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