May 13: The Halifax Public Gardens: Victorian tradition, soul of a city, and a space for growth

Henri-Dominique Paratte – The Friends of the Public Gardens

The Halifax Public Gardens, opened in 1867, is the oldest Victorian Garden in North America and has retained its  original Victorian character. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984.

Description: The Industrial Revolution in England created numerous social problems, some of which Victorians thought they would solve with the creation of public parks and gardens, considered primarily a place for viewing pleasure, but also a place to educate and be educated. In Halifax, the original space of the Commons – long used by Mi’kmaw (L’Nu) people as a source of freshwater and hunting grounds for moose and beaver – was seen as a space where increasingly urban dwellers could connect with nature. The first public garden, founded in the 1830s as “People’s Garden’, brought together a number of rich property owners who wanted to develop and import new plants from all over the world; it was a place to learn, to grow, and to be seen. In the 1860s the city was asked to join its small public garden with the financially constrained people’s garden, adding another space used as landfill to create the 16-acre large Public Gardens of today, largely designed by a gardener and landscape architect from Ireland named Richard Power. This space has been continuously in use since as Public Gardens, with additions over the years that sometimes disappeared after a time: the first covered skating rink in Camada, a small zoo, various temporary buildings, walls around the pond, among others. Some stayed and became icons of the city, particularly the bandstand and the fountains. A historic landmark of Canada, the Gardens survived horrific destruction because of Hurricane Juan in 2003, and it is today a space to be viewed, to find peace and fresh air in the middle of “condoland”, and the place for a large number of social functions: graduation pictures, marriage pictures, paintings, concerts, gatherings of the Friends of the Gardens, the Mayor’s garden party, and visits from tens of thousands of people from the whole world, particularly in the last few years with the number of large cruise ships coming to Halifax on a daily basis between April and October.

About Henri-Dominique Paratte

Current Chair of the Friends of the Public Gardens, HDP moved to Halifax from the Annapolis Valley, after teaching in French and Acadian studies at Acadia University for 40 years, to complete a major in Russian studies at Dalhousie university. Recipient of the Yuri Glazov award in 2018, he has also done a certificate in International cultural relations, and is currently completing a minor in Arabic and a certificate in Indigenous studies. His first discipline was, however, English and Irish studies, which made it natural for him to research further Victorian times as he became a volunteer and a tour host with the Friends of the Public Gardens, while also working as a member of the Tartan Team at Halifax airport, both activities closely connected with tourism. Always particularly interested in trees, he enjoys giving tours where history, social questions, and horticulture come together in the very peculiar space of the Halifax Public Gardens – his weekly tours can be in English, French, German, and Russian if requested. As a translator, he has done the French side of the large panels visitors to the Harriet Irving gardens in Wolfville can enjoy, and the French version of Anne of Green Gables. A writer and a poet, he also has for two years now been radio host and researcher for two weekly broadcasts on Oui 98.5 FM, “Avec le Temps” and “Kj’ipuktuk’, and has sung with the King’s Chorus for the last three years. Dr. Paratte has three children and a newly born granddaughter named Mirabelle – also an iconic name for a delicious fruit in the French region of Lorraine he’s originally from on his mother’s side.

May 13th, 2019 7:30 pm
NSCC Kingstec, Belcher Street 
Rooms 2101 & 2102