Monday, August 31, 2015

First Botanical Garden

These four photos were taken between 1911 and 1916 by John Davidson. Essondale Botanical Gardens.

In 1911, John Davidson arrived in Mount Coquitlam. Davidson was the province's first botanist and was destined to become a professor of botany at the new provincial university when it opened in Vancouver. In the meantime, his plan was to open a botanical garden at the new mental hospital.

Davidson's position as Provincial Botanist meant he had to assemble a representative collection of plants from all over the province. Then he was to grow a set of species for study and research as well as to determine the accurate name for each species.

Davidson set up an office, a nursery, an arboretum and a botanical garden. The first in Western Canada.

A professional portrait of John Davidson taken between 1905 and 1911 in Aberdeen, Scotland.

John Davidson in the 1930s.

Miss Mary Gruchy, Davidson's secretary, wrote to all the school principals, the mining companies and government agencies, requesting samples of plants from their regions. In return, the contributor would find out the correct identification of the plant.

This sparked an interest in botany around the province.

Over the next few years, Davidson not only collected over 600 species of plants from the province but also exchanged information and materials with other countries around the world. Much of the work done at the botanical gardens at Essondale was carried out by the patients. Some of the residences had experience in clearing the land and constructing stone walls. The patients contributed 3,718 hours of work on the creation of the botanical gardens in 1915.

Through chance and design, the gardens at Essondale were created. Mr. McLean, a landscape architect, was hired to design the hospital grounds in 1911. He convinced Dr. Esson Young to purchase half the stock of a Surrey nursery that had gone bankrupt.

Mr. McLean envisioned the nursery operating at the mental asylum farm. He saw the trees and plants grown there used at the new University of British Columbia and at government ground throughout the province.

The nursery was established and for the next 50 years, it provided trees, plants, and other vegetation for parks, courthouses and other public places around B.C.

In 1911, the Colony Farm was thriving and considered the best in Western Canada. At the Dominion Fair in Regina in July of that year, the Colony Farm won more than 20 prizes. This tradition continued well into the 1980s with multiple awards won at the Pacific National Exhibition agricultural competitions.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, a Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information and to the City of Vancouver Archives for the old photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill


  1. Nice photos to bring your story a more realistic theme. I think Botanical Gardens are very enriching. I know very little about plants or plant life. Thanks for bring botany to the forefront.

    1. I don't know much about plants either Lee but my sister-in-law is quite knowledgeable.