The rock garden of Stanley Park was, in its heyday, one of the most popular and admired places in Vancouver. For more than fifty years it was enjoyed as a tourist attraction and is noted as being the first public garden in the city. Slowly over the years, though, this beautiful creation became hidden, lost and forgotten and seemed destined to stay that way.
But we step back in time where the story of the rock garden begins with a Scotsman by the name of John Montgomery.
John was born in the small village of Strachur in 1844. He then moved to the town of Peebles where he lived and worked for much of his adult life, but it wasn’t until his children had grown that he began to follow his true passion of landscape gardening. It was this passion that led to him becoming a master gardener and would soon allow him to make his mark in a big way thousands of miles across the Atlantic.
On June 18th 1908 he left his native country and travelled to Canada, making his way eventually to Vancouver. He would regularly visit Stanley Park and at the age of 65 accepted the position of park gardener.
John undoubtedly loved working in the park and in 1911 he was to happen upon an idea that would change the following nine years of his working life. Excavations had begun to build the Pavilion and after construction was complete a rather unsightly pile of boulders remained.
John proposed to the park commissioners that the stones be used to build a rock garden and after building a sample garden to show them he was given permission to continue.
And so, nine years and what must have been a massive amount of hard work, the rock garden was completed. It comprised ponds, arbours, benches, flowerbeds and rock-lined pathways that measured almost a mile in length. John died on March 15th 1920 but before he passed away he must have been justifiably proud by what he had achieved. The garden was enjoyed by many and with postcards and booklets showing off this wonderful place it would become an attraction for tourists in its own right for decades to come.
Fast-forward to the year 2000 and a descendant of John Montgomery, Chris Hay, discovered the story of the garden whilst researching his family history. It would take Chris many years of research to even find out where the rock garden was in the park but through his hard work and with help from the huge windstorm of 2006, he would eventually piece the whole story together.
The storm uncovered parts of the lost garden and would allow Chris, along with his research, to trace the route of the old pathways and to find the true extent of John’s work.
On July 11th 2011, Vancouver Park Board formally recognized the Rock Garden as a historical site of Vancouver and this was followed by a celebration on October 23rd to commemorate the 100th anniversary of both the Pavilion and the Rock Garden itself.
Just to the east of the Pavilion you can view the plaque that was unveiled by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation that officially recognizes the work of John Montgomery and his garden. Equally, though, it shows the efforts of Chris Hay, without whom this wonderful tale would have been lost forever.
The Rock Garden was a creation of true beauty by a man who had the heartbeat of an artist and a vision to give to the city a place it could be truly proud of.