From Golf Course to Garden
Opened in 1975, the VanDusen Botanical Garden was built on the former Shaughnessy Golf Course. The private golf club had opened in 1912 on a 50-year lease from the Canadian Pacific Railway. Following the golf course’s relocation to Musqueam lands in 1960, a 25-acre parcel east of Oak soon became the site of Eric Hamber School, while a section from 37th to 41st Avenue became a housing and care-home site. By 1965, the Park Board had adopted the idea of creating a botanical garden on the 55 acres between 33rd and 37th west of Oak. The Vancouver Botanical Garden Association, created in 1966 by a group of gardening enthusiasts, lent their support to the idea of a garden and lobbied for the creation of what would become the VanDusen Botanical Garden.
Negotiations and Opening
Following lengthy negotiations between city and provincial representatives, the CPR’s real-estate division agreed to sell 55 acres of the former course to the city for $2 million in return for the right to build townhouses on 12 acres. Lumber magnate and Vancouver Foundation founder Whitford Julian VanDusen contributed a $1 million and became the garden’s namesake. After four years of development work under the direction of W.C. Livingstone, the gardens opened to the public on August 30, 1975. Opening-day festivities included music by the Kitsilano Boys Band and tours of the new garden. Ticket prices were $1 for adults and 25 cents for students.
Roy Forster was the garden’s curator from 1977-1996; he oversaw the planting of 12,000 trees, flowers and shrubs representing 3,072 species. During excavation, workers discovered sea shells — evidence that the land had been under the ocean about 12,000 years ago. In 1999, Forster received the Order of Canada in recognition of his work in designing the VanDusen gardens. Of the buildings, Herb Wilson of Underwood, McKinley, Wilson and Smith designed the floral hall and garden pavilion; Paul Merrick of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners designed the forest centre. The dramatic visitor centre, oriented more toward Oak Street than the earlier buildings, is the work of Peter Busby of Perkins + Will.
Early Botanical Gardens
Essondale (now the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam) is the site of the earliest botanical garden in Canada, started by “Botany John” Davidson, the provincial botanist. He moved the botanical garden to the new UBC campus in 1916, where it remains to this day.
The VanDusen Botanical Garden continues to be jointly operated by the City of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association, the city’s charitable not-for-profit partner. An administrative staff is bolstered by approximately 1200 non-gardening volunteers and six full-time gardeners with seasonal interns assisting during the summer. Special features include totem poles, large stone and wooden sculptures, a maze, and a Korean Pavilion, a cypress pond and a seasonal heritage vegetable garden. The Gardens organize some special annual events including the VanDusen Garden Plant Sale and the Festival of Lights in the winter.
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