History of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory
November 18th, 2017 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the official opening of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory.
© Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory. All Rights Reserved, 2014
The Centennial Botanical Conservatory was conceived by the Fort William Board of Parks Management as a centennial project to commemorate Canada's 100th birthday. It officially opened on November 18, 1967.
Designed by Lord & Burnham, a renowned American greenhouse manufacturer, it reportedly was constructed with 18 tons of glass and steel from St. Catherines, and 3 tons of amethyst and freshly split granite mined locally, for a cost of $162,000. By 1977 it boasted 800 species of tropical plants.
"Declared Open - A ribbon-cutting ceremony with axes climaxed the opening of Fort William's new conservatory Saturday. From left, MPP James Jessiman, Centennial Committee representative Herb Carroll, Mayor E. H. Reed and MP Hubert Badanai wield axes -T-J Staff Photo" | Published in the Daily Times Journal, November 20, 1967
Mr. Joseph Matthew (Trapper Joe) Rollason:
Born on October 22, 1942 in Fort William Ontario, he attended local schools, the Niagara School of Horticulture and Guelph University, graduating with a degree in horticulture. Returning to Thunder Bay he was hired by the city Parks Department and was instrumental in the development of the Conservatory. After 30 years of service Joe retired from the City of Thunder Bay as a Superintendent of Parks.
(excerpt from Mr. Rollason's obituary in the Chronicle Journal)
"You don't have to live in Brazil to grow bananas. You can grow them right here. The Fort William conservatory has proof in the above six - foot plant. It has been in the conservatory about a year and is now bearing fruit." - Fort William Daily Times Journal, May 12, 1969 | Photo courtesy of City of Thunder Bay Archives, Acce. # 1996-02, Item 16.
Centennial Botanical Conservatory
Plant Donations 1966-1969
by Monika McNabb
From the beginning people have donated plants, or money to buy plants for the Conservatory.
Donations during this period were vetted by Rob McCormack, Secretary-Manager and Joe Rollason, Curator with the Fort William Parks and Recreation department, and approved by the Board of Parks Management. Working closely together, these two individuals were largely responsible for the creation and early development of the Conservatory’s collection.
The Canadian Daughters’ League formed in Vancouver in 1922 and one of its aims was “to create and foster a distinctively Canadian national spirit and develop Canadian institutions, literature, art and music.” In December 1967, the members of the Superior Assembly #34, (the Fort William chapter) decided to donate $100 to the Conservatory for Canada’s Centennial. They left the choice of plant up to the city. After being contacted by Ben Veldhuis Ltd., a commercial greenhouse in Dundas, Ontario regarding the availability of a Red Banana Plant, R. McCormack and J. Rollason decided to purchase this for them and a little planting ceremony took place in August 1968.
The first donor on record was the West Fort William Women’s Institute which in November 1966 chose the purchase of a plant for the Conservatory as their Centennial project. After discussing the type of plant with staff they settled on a tea plant native to Ceylon. But, this turned out to be more difficult than expected since it required negotiations with the Government of Ceylon and their Embassy. After more than two years of waiting, patience wore thin and the Women’s Institute gave Fort William Parks and Recreation until November 1969 to secure the plant because they wanted to have it before the amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur in January 1970. In his letter of November 28, 1969 to the organization, R. McCormack conceded and apologized to the Institute. He asked them to consider another plant, the Bird of Paradise native to South Africa, which was purchased that year and this offer was accepted by the Institute in December 1969.
In March 1967 the Biology Department of Lakehead University offered $500 toward the purchase of plants of interest to the university such as tropical palms, ferns, conifers, and ginkgo as well as those that would be of economic interest to the community such as coffee, vanilla, tobacco and banana. They provided a list of 33 plants which was used to populate the Conservatory. In return they asked for permission to “remove fruiting and vegetative structures periodically” for educational purposes. This was granted by the Board of Parks Management. In his letter to R. McCormack, Assistant Professor P. Barclay stated “I’m sure that the conservatory will be a popular and rewarding addition to the Lakehead.”
A tragedy led to the donation of 30 prize winning fuschias in September 1968. A young woman from the Fort William area was on her way home from visiting relatives in B.C. when she was killed in a railway accident near Revelstoke. A letter was received from her uncle in Vancouver in which he also mentioned his visit to the Conservatory earlier that year and that he was grower of many fuschia varieties. He wanted to donate some of his plants as a living memorial to his niece and at the same time “assist the head gardener build up a stock of worthwhile plants for display in the future years.” On behalf of the Board of Parks Management, R. McCormack accepted his offer to ship them to the Conservatory and praised him for his gesture.
Also in September of 1968, Mrs. L.A. McNaughten was thanked for her donation of a rubber tree through Harold Lovelady who was on the Fort William Civic Recreation Committee.
Photo credit City of Thunder Bay Archives, Acce. # 1996-02, Item 16
City of Thunder Bay Archives Fort William Parks and Recreation File #4789-28
City of Thunder Bay Archives Council Minute Book 1964
Fort William's centennial year botanical conservatory is richer by one plant today. The Canadian Daughters Assembly 34 in Fort William donated a banana tree to the conservatory. FROM LEFT - Mrs. F. H. Bonnett, past president of the organization and Mrs. B. Landersitch, second vice-president. Rob McCormack, secretary - manager of the parks board, said that the tree was shipped from Florida and will grow to a height of 15 feet. - Staff Photo