City visionaries

A look at two men who had a hand in planning Calgary’s parks and gardens

Part three of the three-part series YYC Grows.

The City of Calgary has more than 10,000 hectares of parks and more than 800 kilometres of pathways for residents and visitors to enjoy. Calgary might not have been nearly what it is today if not for the vision of two men more than 100 years ago.

William Reader

A renowned horticulturist, William Reader was the superintendent of Calgary Parks from 1913 to 1942. According to the Alberta Register of Historic Places, Reader was strongly influenced by the City Beautiful movement. Taking place through the late 1800s to the 1920s, the City Beautiful movement was a way of linking morality and social progress with living in a beautiful, park-filled, airy and clean town or city.

Previously gardener to one of Calgary’s Big Four, Pat Burns, Reader was responsible for lining many city streets with trees and expanding park space from 210 to more than 526 hectares.

During his tenure as superintendent, Reader would create several public parks, such as Central Park, Tuxedo Park and Victoria Park. He would also create a number of children’s playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts and outdoor skating rinks. His work occasionally took him out of Calgary as well, as was the case with landscaping of the EP Ranch for the Prince of Wales.

Reader’s signature piece was the rock garden that today bears his name and is located along 25 Avenue southeast just south of the Stampede grounds.

Thomas Mawson

During England’s Edwardian era, Thomas Mawson was one of the world’s most celebrated landscape architects. In 1912, during a lecture tour of Canada, Mawson made a stop in Calgary where he delivered the speech, “The City on the Plain and How to Make it Beautiful”. Mawson
so impressed the people of Calgary he was hired in 1913 to “provide a plan for Calgary’s rational urban growth into a city of roughly one million people by April of 1914,” said the University of Calgary’s Canadian Architectural Archives.

Almost immediately, the city began using Mawson’s retention to its benefit, promoting itself as
the first western city to hire a town planner. The resulting plan included having downtown businesses to renovate their ground floors to include three-metre wide pedestrian arcades like the one still seen today at the Hudson’s Bay Building; the appropriation of land too low, steep or marshy to be used as public parks and having Fourth Street and Centre Street southwest as the location for public squares.

“Unfortunately, Mawson’s plan was very expensive,” said the Archives. “In 1914 it would have
cost at least $10 million to create Mawson’s vision for the City, a huge amount when you realize that one of Calgary’s largest supermarkets made only $420 a day.”

Adding in the beginning of the First World War, money was even harder to find. While Mawson’s final vision was never realized, certain aspects, such as the final location of Mewata Armoury, remain.

Read part one of the series here … and part two here.

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