The history of gardening in Canada is intimately connected with the Canadian immigrant experience. Beginning with learning how to grow corn, beans and squash from the native Algonquins and Hurons, the early settlers quickly undertook to grow their essential provisions in the Canadian climate and geography. Without taking this key first step their initial few years of life in Canada would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible. As a result, everyone had to become proficient at productive gardening, using whatever means readily at hand. This formed the basis of the strong Canadian gardening tradition.
Ornamental gardening was the natural next phase after all the basic food needs had been met. Practically every Canadian homestead featured a garden adorned with flowering bushes and shrubs such as lilacs and roses or annuals and bulbs such as poppies, crocuses, daffodils and tulips. Perhaps the most outstanding example of a Canadian ornamental garden is the magnificent Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, established in the early 20th century and designated a national historic site in 2004, 100 years after work was first begun on it.
Many references to Canadian gardening can be found within the Canadiana collections and those of Canadiana contributors. The items shown below are only a very small sampling.
The Frugal Housewife's Manual (1840) by an author identified only as A.B. from Grimsby, Ontario, contains recipes as well as practical directions (p.33-66) for the cultivation and management of vegetables.
The Canadian Garden (A pocket help for the amateur) (1903) by Annie L. Jack is a concise but very useful guide an growing all manner of flowers, vegetables, fruits and berries in Canada.
The Emigrant Housekeepers Guide to the Backwoods of Canada (1857) by Mrs. C.P. Traill contains helpful information for new immigrants about gardening on a Canadian homestead.
The Canadian Florist and Cottage Gardener (October 1885) is a lively periodical published by Francis Mason of Peterborough, Ontario, providing detailed information about the growing of flowers, vegetables and fruits and berries.
(Note: access to this publication is only available to subscibers of Early Canadiana Online)
A small backyard vegetable and flower garden in the late 19th century.
Two proud Edmonton gardeners display the products of their labours in the early 20th century.
A young Inuit woman gardening in Labrador in the late 19th century
(The 3 images above were provided by Library and Archives Canada)