By Elia Marini
"The most striking part about the gardens [at the Sault Canal] is that they do not have that "bedded" look … [the] seemingly careless arrangement of flowers has produced a riot of colour … coupled with the sedate shrubbery, flagstone walks and white wooden gate give the grounds an air of an old English garden" - Sault Star, 1960
After the Sault Ste. Marie Canal's construction in 1895, the landscape was left bare, and beautifying the grounds became a top priority for Superintendent J.W. LeBreton Ross. In 1911, motivated by the "Beautify Canada" campaign, LeBreton Ross applied for funds to improve the canal's landscape. He was given $5,000 and immediately began planting tree seedlings and flower beds around the site. Some of these trees are still standing today. In the 1920s, the canal employed three gardeners. Art Briscoe was hired as the lead gardener in 1931 and worked at the canal for 29 years. He strived to maintain the landscape in the style of an English garden. By the 1930s, the canal grounds were said to be at their peak and became quite a tourist attraction.
LeBreton Ross's affinity for gardening and his community involvement led him, in 1926, to become the first president of the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society, a group still active in our community today.
The gardens at the canal continued to bloom even after LeBreton Ross retired, through the hard work and dedication of gardeners like Art Briscoe. The last Superintendent of the canal, J.D. Bouchard, also shared in the love of gardening. When he arrived on site in 1959, he continued to beautify the landscape around the canal with updates to existing and new flower beds.
Today, Parks Canada continues to preserve the gardening legacy at the canal. This year marks the 10th anniversary of our partnering relationship with the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society. Every year, the national historic site and society work together to grow, plant, and care for the flower beds around the site. Every spring a volunteer team from the horticultural society uses the greenhouse located next to the Superintendent's Residence to produce seedlings that are planted in the gardens around the site and around town. Flowers such as zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, and geraniums are some of the annual flowers chosen based on the historical record. Both groups take great pride in the gardens that dot the landscape of the canal.
This year we are launching two initiatives that will allow visitors and volunteers to participate in the site's gardening legacy. The first opportunity is the Gardening Adventure Lab, a geocaching experience visitors can play on their mobile phones. The adventure takes you on a walk through the canal grounds, among the 100-year-old trees and through the wetland, while highlighting aspects of the site's horticultural history. The second opportunity is for those who would like to get their hands a little dirty. The site offers volunteering opportunities for those interested in helping out with the gardens, including planting, weeding, watering and fall clean up.