History of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory
November 18th, 2017 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the official opening of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory.
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.
Lord & Burnham Co.
By Monika McNabb
Frederick Lord began building greenhouses in Buffalo, New York in 1849 as a sideline to his carpentry business and then expanded the company with financial help from his son-in-law, William Burnham.
After the civil war ended in 1865, plants and flowers for social occasions became more popular; residential interiors of the wealthy were decorated with tropical plants; municipalities, parks and gardens wanted greenhouses for public and educational use; and private greenhouses became an added feature on estates. As the demand for commercial greenhouses grew so did the company. In 1876 they were commissioned to build the Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, California, a 12,000 square foot conservatory modeled after the famous Kew Gardens in London, England.
Early greenhouses were made with cypress wood and iron or steel. It wasn’t until 1932 that experimentation with aluminum began and it wasn’t until 1955 that aluminum construction became the standard.
Due to society’s growing demand for greenhouses and advances in materials and heating and ventilation systems, this innovative company became the most notable boiler manufacturer and greenhouse designer and builder in America.
Their expansion into the Canadian market began with the building of a manufacturing plant in Des Plaines, Illinois, on the shore of Lake Michigan, and the establishment of a sales office in St. Catherine’s, Ontario in 1914.
The firm continued with research and development of their products, converted its facilities to the production of military equipment during both wars, went through major re-organization in the following years, and eventually dissolved in 1987. Their architectural records and drawings are housed at the LuEsther T. Merz Library, New York Botanical Garden.
It is likely because they were so well known, highly regarded, and had built other conservatories in Hamilton, Montreal and Calgary, that Rob. B. McCormack, Secretary Manager of the Fort William Board of Parks Management, contacted Lord & Burnham early in 1964 to submit a proposal for the construction Thunder Bay’s Centennial Botanical Conservatory.
Fort William Board of Parks Management, Minutes 1964; City of Thunder Bay Archives TBA 4259
Lord & Burnham Wikipedia
"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)
Centennial Botanical Conservatory
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