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04.10.2014
If you have a garden you can construct a real steam driven locomotive all weather railway layout in G gauge or 16mm scale. This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. Dunlop knew that many CPR employees were cultivating bits of ground near stations and other railway buildings. Hysop’s observations are the key to understanding the rise of railway gardening across Manitoba. So, if these two men cannot be credited with the invention of the Canadian railway garden, who can?
Searching further back, we discover that like many 19th century gardening ideas and practices, railway gardening had been imported into Canada from Britain, the horticultural leader of the western world.
In due time gardens sprang up around the depots, switch towers, and signal shanties built to service the line, as well as near company-owned employee housing.
Railway companies were slowly realizing that they too were being educated by the railway garden.
Thus the railway garden became entrenched on the eastern Canadian scene by the early 1880s. The Canadian railway garden varied in size and composition, however nearly all were frequently described as the only colourful spot in a developing town.
Subject to the same dictates of fashion as the private garden, the railway garden came of age when the flower garden dominated landscape designs. The new informal, natural style of flower gardening, however, had its supporters in Canada. Another criticism was directed against the usual practice of forbidding public access to these gardens.
The CPR only permitted woven wire fencing supported by whitewashed, rough cedar posts, with black painted tops to be erected.
Before 1907, CPR gardens and others were mainly cultivated as a form of recreation by station agents and foremen, with minimal support from the companies seed and sometimes prizes for the best gardens in informal competitions. Once gardens were established, members of the department would inspect the gardens, offer suggestions, and tell inexperienced gardeners what to do.
By 1912, Forest Department employees had set out horticultural practices and plant choices designed for western conditions. When Canada entered World War I, the railway garden underwent a transformation influenced by patriotic horticultural displays and plantings.
By the 1920s, the connections had been strengthened and intensified among railway culture, gardening and popular culture through the interplay of the railway garden and its four participants: the gardening railway employees, the passengers, the railway company and the municipalities the railway lines passed through.
Gardens were proliferating on all the major lines, and garden competitions had become deeply entrenched throughout the system.
The Dauphin Canadian National Railways (CNR) station agent continued to maintain a traditional railway garden of lawn and flower beds encircled with whitewashed stones, with vines growing up the station facade. As the CNR added railway company after railway company in the early 1920s as it was forming, it discovered that it had inherited more than rolling stock and corporate ledger sheets, it had also gained a number of thriving railway gardens. Although the company was justifiably proud of its gardens, it did not create an expensive or extensive support system for them as did the CPR. Railway gardens continued to be sited to gain maximum public exposure—traditionally near station houses, where they could be seen from the train, the platform, or from the street. Support was said, by the two major companies, to be given enthusiastically by their employees.
Railway workers, many of them immigrants from the British Isles, would have packed these assumptions and traditions of gardening, reform and duty into their trunks when they immigrated. Although some employees did not want to garden, grumbling that it was just another demand for extra work from the company, this attitude seemed to be in the minority. Although many gardens were reputed to be maintained in the employee’s spare time, the company supported them in various ways. In 1930, it took twelve cars to deliver the 200,000 annuals and 2,000 shrubs and trees to 650 stations in the Central Region.
The CPR also continued to support between eight and twelve greenhouses—two of which were in Manitoba.
Yet another form of CNR endorsement, in addition to the employment of professional gardeners, was the direct support of company officials. The railway gardening movement was also supported by frequent gardening articles in the Canadian Pacific Staff Bulletin and in the Canadian National Railways Magazine—ranging from the congratulatory to the descriptive to the practical. The proud winners would be shown standing in a variety of gardens—from the naturalistic to the traditionally formal, to gardens containing floral pictures (the Union Jack was a favourite). Despite the ongoing private and public success of the railway gardening movement, it began to lose its momentum after the Second World War. However, the two companies were both caught up in the changes affecting North American transportation—the availability and affordability of air, bus, and then private automobile travel. Railway gardens had bloomed vigorously for nearly 70 years across Manitoba before slowly expiring. The man who first put steam engines on rails was a tall, strong Cornishman described by his schoolmaster as “obstinate and inattentive”. On February 21, 1804, Trevithick’s pioneering engine hauled 10 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles from Penydarren, at a speed of five miles-per-hour, winning the railway’s owner a 500 guinea bet into the bargain. Perhaps because it was the birthplace, Britain can boast more railway attractions per square mile than any other country. But it is North East England that is known as the birthplace of railways for here, around Newcastle, the world’s first tramways were laid and, later, the world’s first public railway between Stockton and Darlington steamed into life. At nearby Beamish, the open-air museum of North Country Life – where the past is brought magically to life – there’s an opportunity to see one of the earliest railways re-created. They span from early steam engines of the Victorian times to the modern high speed intercity express locomotives.
The ability to have model steam engines that are actually powered by steam is irresistable. An enthusiastic gardener himself, he thought he would encourage their efforts by sending them flower seeds from his own garden. On the one hand, he saw the benefits of a railway garden offsetting the constant threat of fire due to dry weeds growing on the embankments. It seems that as railway lines began to creep across Britain, cottage and allotment gardens jumped over the hedgerow and onto the right-of-way, uniting ornamental gardening with the new technology. By 1861 railway gardens were so visible on the British landscape, that the editor of the Canada Farmer remarked on those he had seen on a recent trip there. Not only was the railway garden included in this horticultural value system, but also in another common theme of turn-of-the-century gardening commentary—the garden as an educator. When the CPR established its cross country connection, the railway garden began to creep along the line.
Large park-like grounds such as the Herbert, Saskatchewan CPR station garden were at one end of the spectrum.


The garden was generally squeezed between two horizontals: the track on one side and the access road on the other, creating a long narrow site, sometimes broken into two sections by a station entry road. Hedges, trees, and shrub groupings, traditional focal points in a landscape, receded into the background and became backdrops for flowers.
By the 1870s, dissenting voices, originating in Britain, were denouncing it for causing a serious deterioration in the practice of horticulture. In addition to their agitation to change Canadian home garden design, these garden innovators also tried to influence the design of public gardens, including the railway garden. Unlike some of the larger park-like station gardens, the majority of railway gardens were to be seen and not touched. Where gardens were directly attached to a station, the company later provided white picket fences, and later iron-piping fences.
The CPR, by 1907, had recognized the economic benefits of the increasingly popular activity, and decided to regularize its participation.
In places where towns were looking after station gardens, the CPR would supply materials if the town maintained the garden properly. Campaigns arose promoting cultivating vegetables on any available land, public and private, to supplement supplies for Canadian fighting forces in Europe. Some companies sought to place their gardening efforts on a more permanent basis, as railway competition intensified. By 1926, a handsome wooden gazebo in the midst of flower beds and immaculate lawns ornamented the Transcona Shops area.
Although noteworthy, the smaller gardens tended by trackmen, clerks and switch tenders were often overshadowed by the show gardens attached to many station buildings.
The company did not downplay or downsize the gardening efforts, perhaps because the gardens had become accepted features, or because they were increasingly seen as valuable public relations tools. For a small investment, the company received significant floral advertising, as well as a reputation of being forward-looking and mindful of its civic duty.
Gardens were also placed near the switch house, the locomotive shop, the roundhouse, or various administrative buildings, but these were less visible to the passerby. I find it a pleasure to work among my flowers after my work is done,” remarked a horticulturally-inclined section foreman. The railway garden was also nourished by the developing bonds of railroading, a culture that was being built upon a shared technology, schedules, and specialized language. The articles were written by professional gardeners such as William Glass, landscape gardener at CNR’s Jasper Park Lodge, J. After the war, gardens along the right-of-way were hardly mentioned in CNR promotions or in the Canadian National Railways Magazine. These changes were also felt in Manitoba as passenger traffic across the nation declined drastically.
The gardens had been living monuments to the urge to beautify the prairie, as well as a reflection of the spirit of horticultural cooperation between industry and labour. Are you into GWR, Great Western Railway, British Railways, Flying Scotsman, Station track, Caternary set, Steam locomotives, Deisel locomotives, Electric locomotives, Passenger cars, Freight cars, Trucks, Scenery kits.
Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), who learnt his craft in Cornish tin mines, built his “Penydarren tram road engine” for a line in South Wales whose primitive wagons were pulled, slowly and laboriously, by horses. He was 20 years ahead of his time – Stephenson’s “Rocket” was not even on the drawing board but Trevithick’s engines were seen as little more than a novelty.
The figures are impressive: more than 100 heritage railways and 60 steam museum centres are home to 700 operational engines, steamed-up by an army of 23,000 enthusiastic volunteers and offering everyone the chance to savour a bygone age by riding on a lovingly preserved train. Though small in stature, these narrow-gauge lines are real working railways, originally built to haul slate and other minerals out of the mountains, but now a wonderful way for visitors to admire the scenery, which is breathtaking. Feel the wind – and steam – in your hair as you travel in open carriages behind a working replica of a pioneering engine such as Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1, built in 1825.
However, we do know that railway gardening had been on the Canadian scene since the late 1860s.
Some also say that these gardens were established to hide the scars of railway construction. When passengers were led to gardening and thus a life of health, piety and community uplift through the example of the railway garden, there could be a financial spin-off for the company.
This garden (91 x 31 meters) was a mixture of formal and informal styles and contained nearly 500 trees and flowering shrubs. Often the design was no more than a border of trees, shrubs and flowers along one or more sides of an expanse of fenced-in lawn. By the 1860s, when railway gardens were beginning to proliferate, the bedding out style was the fashionable garden design choice.
They said the style limited the number of plants grown and consequently reduced horticultural knowledge. A Forestry Department was formed to take charge of wind-break plantings along the right-of-way, and station grounds improvement. Winnipeg, as a major western railway centre, supported one of the first large station gardens.
Gone was an ad hoc attitude, to be replaced by a more business-like approach to the garden. The committee listed the following as a suitable collection for a perennial garden: five each of achillea, campanula, Sweet William, larkspur, columbine, Icelandic poppy, dianthus, gaillardia, bleeding heart, paeony, phlox, golden glow, and native hop vine. The spacious grounds at the Dauphin CPR station were so enjoyed by the general, non-travelling public that the city contributed to the park’s upkeep.
The fact that other companies supported and publicized their gardening efforts may also have convinced the CNR that railway gardening was another way of retaining a competitive edge. Station masters and track forces, such as switchmen and sectionmen, seemed to be the primary station gardeners. Traditionally, in its professional and official guises, gardening has been a male-dominated occupation. Upper class 19th century reformers seized onto this working class enthusiasm, seeking to promote it as a solution to the problems of British working class life.
Within the railway brotherhood, gardening was defined as an acceptable pastime worthy of the praise the company often lavished upon it.
The CNR had inherited a number of small greenhouses when the various railroads were amalgamated into the system. Statistics for the different regions were lovingly recorded up into the early 1940s: how much earth was carried in to make a station lawn, how many annuals were shipped, how many prizes were won by gardening employees in local shows. It was a successful experiment which merged technology with an expression of pastoral nature.
There are eight lines to choose from and one, the Ffestiniog Railway, is the oldest of its kind in the world.
Part of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry is situated in the world’s oldest passenger station; and the ‘Thinktank’ museum in Birmingham contains the world’s oldest active steam engine, designed by James Watt in 1778.
You feed it with real coal and when there is enough pressure you can run your model steam train around your track.


Certainly, it can be proved that by the 1890s the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) had seized the initiative and had become a leader in the Canadian railway gardening movement. The company can supply the seeds, the station agents and the section foreman can look after the gardens, and, if water is needed, the locomotives can supply it, and it can be kept in barrels along the track. Giles from the country, where grass and trees are abundant, reflects how readily he could make a pleasure garden on a far larger scale, and beat the little railway parterre hollow by a spacious lawn, an extensive shrubbery and spreading flower-beds on his own farm.
As more people gardened, they would need garden material, such as garden ornaments, trees, shrubs and plants, which the railway company could freight in.
Immigration, as foreseen by men such as David Hysop, would certainly benefit their financial position.
At the other end of the continuum were stations ornamented by small beds of annuals and the station name spelled out in whitewashed stones.
The gardens were always located to present the best view from the station platform or from the train. The object was to create broad colour effects in regular patterns by planting large beds of brightly-hued flowers.
As well, the bedding-out style was criticized for being overly stiff, formal and fussy as opposed to the increasing popularity of informal, natural groupings of hardy plants and shrubs. The department established two nurseries, one at Wolseley, Saskatchewan where trees, shrubs and perennials were grown, and the other in Springfield, Manitoba where bedding plants and other perennials were grown. Grand Beach also had an extensive CNR station garden, comprising the usual floral components, a fountain, sun dial, flag pole, rustic work fencing, and gravel paths.
Those in the running trades, such as engineers, brakemen, firemen, or conductors, whose free hours were uncertain, might tend gardens at home, but not necessarily on company property. When did these men actually garden—during their meagre lunch hours, before work, after work, on their days off?
Sectionmen, in particular, were often avid railway gardeners, and were frequently praised for the gardens they tended around the section houses. Plant explorers, head gardeners, landscape designers, up until the 20th century, were mostly men.
Some social commentators thought that if a worker gardened, he would avoid the saloon, relinquish dangerous political ideas (i.e. By the Second World War, two greenhouses were built at Montreal and Winnipeg which brought the CNR’s total to four.
Chappell, General Superintendent of the Manitoba District, was commended for his constant sustaining interest in his region’s gardens. Almey, the CPR’s chief horticulturist for western lines, gardening employees and professional garden writers.
A graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College [now the University of Guelph], Almey went on to become the first provincial horticulturist for Manitoba.
Almey was said to travel hundreds of miles every summer between Vancouver and Fort William to judge the gardens along the line. As land pressure around stations intensified, more and more station gardens were replaced by buildings and parking lots.
Wives and daughters besiege husbands and fathers for leave and help to do something equally pretty where they live.
And then because these happy gardeners were being educated in the benefits of outdoor living and the aesthetic pleasures of the garden, they might want to travel to see distant scenes of beauty.
Revenue would be generated by increased passenger rail traffic, by the sale of railway land to settlers, by shipping manufactured goods from eastern to western settlements, and by shipping western agricultural produce all over Canada. Plants meeting the special requirements of bedding-out (identical bloom time, neatness, strong colour and prolonged blooming) were found in semi-tropical plants annuals such as lobelia, geranium, calceolaria, alyssum, canna and salvia—which required greenhouse protection until frost-free weather. By the 1890s, the bedding-out style was no long au courant in certain horticultural circles—however, it did remain the defining style of the railway garden up into the 1950s.
Railway companies supported the effort not only by allowing their land to be gardened, but also by supplying detailed vegetable gardening instructions to participating employees, and, in the case of the CPR, providing free fertilizer. It is not clear if station agents could garden between trains or signal tenders between signals. Women were, of course, interested in gardens, and probably worked in some, but they were more often classed as ornamentals themselves. Stanley Taggart, chief gardener of the Fort Rouge, Winnipeg greenhouse, came to the job after wide experience as a gardener and nurseryman. In 1929, he succeeded the CPR’s chief horticulturist for western lines, and remained in this position until he retired in 1960.
Up into the late 1950s, the winners of prizes (which topped $1,200 in the 1950s) would be featured in the Staff Bulletin. This shift probably had much to do with a lessening of interest from the younger, unionized employees who were not as willing to devote unpaid leisure time to company interests. Occasionally, the traveller will see the vestige of a vanished Manitoba railway garden: a line of trees or clumps of hardy daylilies amid weedy prairie. Stewart Dunlop, a CPR tax and insurance commissioner in Montreal, and David Hysop, a CPR insurance claims adjustor, who lived in Killarney.
Oxnard’s flower garden at the Grand Trunk depot in Guelph, Ontario was detailed in the Canada Farmer. To set this process in motion, the CPR, in particular, invested heavily in a campaign (through the media, excursion trains, and an active immigration policy) to promote the richness of prairie land. This formal style, which still persists in public plantings today, was a reflection of the fashionable Victorian style of garden design. These beliefs persisted, finding their way into early 20th century Canadian social commentary as well. Almey also held office in the Manitoba Horticultural Association and the Winnipeg Horticultural Society, and was recognized by a number of local, provincial and national honours.
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Interestingly, it was described as one of many attractive gardens cultivated along the company’s Central Division lines. Station gardens, characterized as effective advertisements for prairie fertility, were a prominent part of these campaigns.
The employees evidently paid for plant material, while the Grand Trunk financed the fencing and leveling of the garden site. The station, especially in the west, was often the focus of the community and a major link with the outside world.
In 1918 the station agent at the Stony Mountain station was commended for the amazing amount of vegetables he produced in a 100 foot square garden vegetables and potatoes, plus straw-berries and citrons.



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