Did you know that one of the most historic green spaces in Niagara is in the heart of downtown St. Catharines? A space that was essential to establishing our original community’s core (Shipman’s Corner) and the essential fabric that united us as a country? I kid you not!
I know what you’re thinking: “Come on Karl! That space doesn’t exist in St. Catharines! Especially not downtown!”
Well, it does! I’m talking about our very own 30-acre urban forest: Centennial Gardens.
If you have lived here most of your life, there is a good chance you have never visited. If you have moved here in the last 15 years, you definitely haven’t.
The history of Centennial Gardens’ land
The history of Centennial Gardens is rich and fascinating. Some historical highlights of the land include:
- It was once home to Richard Pierpoint, one of Niagara’s first black residents. Pierpoint took UP arms against the Americans in Butler’s Rangers.
- Harriet Tubman used the land as part of the route for the Underground Railroad that ended for many at downtown St. Catharines’ Salem Chapel.
- It was also part of the route for Laura Secord’s historic trek to warn General Fitzgibbon that the Americans were coming in the War of 1812-1814.
- Centennial Gardens’ land was home to the First Welland Canal (1826) and the Second Welland Canal (1856). These waterways opened up the Great Lakes shipping routes well before the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.
The establishment of Centennial Gardens
Opened to much fanfare in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100 year celebrations, Centennial Gardens was dedicated to be “The Crown Jewel” of our local parks system, complete with a beautiful plaques, gorgeous irrigated gardens. The rare Totem Pole from Vancouver Island still stands today as one of our finest pieces of public art.
This was Phase 1 of a 2-phase plan. Phase 2 was to complete with a bandshell, refreshment booth, bridges over the water, illuminated fountains and lighting all the way down the water’s edge from Geneva St. to Westchester.
This, of course, never happened and the original concept was never fulfilled.
49 years later and the park has been lost and forgotten. It has been this way for over more than thirty years, becoming home to the marginalized and the type of people we pray for.
Let’s Celebrate this Park!
St. Catharines Disc Golf in Centennial Gardens is becoming a BIG deal these days, and with Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation happening next year, I thought it was time we embraced Centennial Gardens the right way. Last Monday, I made a presentation to St. Catharines City Council, deep diving into how we started, where we are going and how the success of Disc Golf can change the culture of this green space to make Centennial Gardens something that is celebrated and used for everyone. We have more than 24 sponsors standing with us who know that our success will be the park’s success and vice versa!