"After all, a lively interest in one’s own environment makes for all that is best in life."
-B.M. Winegar 
In 1885, Donald A. Smith drove the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), marking the completion of a railway line connecting eastern and western Canada. Shortly after, the CPR worked to beautify railway stations throughout Canada. Shrubs, trees and flowers were planted in an effort to beautify towns along the line. By 1915, they tended to an astonishing 1,500 gardens.
Railway Gardens in the West
In 1897, Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, set forth the National Policy. Initially, this economic policy aimed at protecting manufacturers by placing higher tariffs on imported goods. Over time, the policy changed, recognizing that immigrants were needed to help build the infrastructure that would turn Canada into a great country. It called for the construction of the CPR and settlement of the West. As a result, the CPR developed vast tracks of land in western Canada. In a small way, railway gardens helped fulfill part of the policy's aim by beautifying the prairie landscape in the hopes of attracting new settlers. These gardens were used as advertisements and links to the outside world, showing visitors and those passing through the beauty and fertility of prairie life.
Many immigrants found the expansiveness of the prairie landscape daunting. There were few trees, and the land stretched as far as the eye could see. Italian immigrant Luigi Fincati recounted that upon arrival in Canada, his family took the train from Montreal to Saskatchewan. The family's first impressions of the new country were that it was very vast; they seemed to travel on the train for days, and it felt endless. Many immigrants coming to the prairies had the same impression. Railway gardens were often seen as a welcome and colourful break from the flat landscape.W.J. Strong, a native of Wolseley, Saskatchewan, wrote an article for the OAC Review (1910) expressing this sentiment. He wrote that:
If the good work now begun goes on increasing year by year until the Prairie is literally dotted with these beautiful spots, how different will be a journey across the great wheat lands of Canada. Instead of the traveller and settler being wearied with the monotony of huge grain fields and open prairie, they will have, at short intervals, beautiful pictures composed of trees and shrubs, and lawns and flowers, upon which to rest their gaze. Thus their first impressions of this vast prairie country will be so pleasant that they will desire to make their homes here.
Royden Loewen, Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, argued that the open prairie landscape often required new immigrants to undergo a "mental reorientation". Railway gardens were thus seen as a welcome change of scenery and a taste of "home"; they were used as a symbol for demonstrating the robustness of prairie life.
Railway Gardens in the East
Railway gardening was prevalent in the West, but it was also practiced in eastern Canada. The CPR was pressured by beautification groups in places like Ontario to create gardens at railway stations. This era was a time when beautification efforts were heavily championed. Vacant lots were filled with flowers, schools created gardens and horticultural societies did various plantings. Considering these efforts, it only made sense that railway stations and lines were beautified in the same way. Much like their western counterparts, people in the East recognized that railway stations were important points of entry; they felt it was important to plant beautiful gardens in order to make a good first impression. B.M. Winegar, representative of the CPR, expressed this view in 1921 when he stated:
For the traveler who spends many weary hours on a transcontinental train the sight of a garden is joy. He appreciates our efforts and his ideas of the town he goes through many times are influenced by the appearance of the station and its grounds. Later on he will say, ‘I remember that town, there must be a fine spirit there, the station was neat and the little garden was well kept, and the surroundings attractive.’
Railway Garden Creation and Maintenance
The earliest CPR gardens were created and maintained by employees who volunteered their time in this pursuit. In 1907, a Forestry Department was created within the company, with a special branch created to take charge of the park and garden work. That year, a nursery in Springfield, Manitoba was established. By 1912, there were greenhouses operating in Fort William, Kenora, Winnipeg, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Revelstoke and Vancouver. From these nurseries, trees, shrubs and plants were distributed to different stations along the rail line.The company also established a Floral Department. In 1911, this department distributed over 100,000 packages of flower seeds to the company's agents, section men, and other employees. A 1911 Globe article explained that:
[t]he effective work of the [CPR] Floral Department has had wide-reaching beneficial effects, not only in encouraging a love of flowers amongst its army of employees and in beautifying its long lines of rails, which is highly appreciated by those who travel by the company’s trains, but in showing the world that all corporations are not exclusively after the almighty dollar always.
As added incentive, prizes were often awarded to the best gardens. For instance, the 1920 first prize for the "best kept plot" was awarded to the Chalk River Division, where a beautiful garden was kept by baggage man Ed Williams who "devoted his spare time to its cultivation." The outstanding efforts of the CPR and its employees resulted in many beautiful gardens dotting the railway lines, which were enjoyed by the many who saw them.
This Calgary CPR station grew both flowers and vegetables. Many stations during the First World War began growing vegetables to support ongoing war efforts. This photograph is undated, so it cannot be said for sure if this garden was created with these means in mind. Source: Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-026186/ Mikan 3424622
Where Did the Gardens Go?
Railway gardens were created and maintained until shortly after the Second World War. At that time, Canadian society underwent a rapid transformation. Rural settlement of western Canada began to slow down. Newer technologies and increased disposable income meant that people could now travel more conveniently by car or plane. Railway stations, although still frequented, became seen as less vibrant entry points to the community. It seems fitting to end this post with a quote from Canadian garden historian Edwinna von Baeyer, who said that “[i]n many places where station gardens bloomed, there are now only parking lots.”
 B.M. Winegar, “Railways and Horticulture” in Sixteenth Annual Report of the Horticultural Societies for the Year 1921 (Toronto: Department of Agriculture, 1922)
 Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930 (Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd., 1984), 26.
 Donald Grant Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician, the Old Chieftain (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 119-120
 Edwinna von Baeyer, "The Rise and Fall of the Manitoba Railway Garden," Manitoba History, Number 31, Spring 1996.
 Saskatchewan Archives Board, audio tape file number A-307 side A, Fincati, Luigi, interviewed by Anna Maria Crugnale, August 2, 1973.
 W.J. Strong, “The Beautification of Station Grounds by the Canadian Pacific Railway in Western Canada,” in The O.A.C. Review, Vol. 23, No. 3, December 1910.
 Royden Loewen, Ethnic Farm Culture in Western Canada, The Canadian Historical Association Canada Ethnic Group Series Booklet No. 29, p. 7.
 B.M. Winegar, “Railways and Horticulture”
Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930, 25.
“C.P.R. Sends Seeds to the Employees,” The Globe, April 5, 1911.
 Renfrew C.P.R. Station Garden Wins Div’n Prize, The Globe, November 3, 1920.
 Edwinna von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses: A History of Canadian Gardening 1900-1930, 33.
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