The reopening of the RBG Rock Garden nearly nine decades after its inception recalls the dedication and energy of Thomas Baker McQuesten, the founder of the Royal Botanical Gardens. In the late 1920’s McQuesten, as a member of the Hamilton Board of Parks Management, engaged in a stunningly rapid series of land acquisition moves that forever transformed the physical appearance of Hamilton. In 1927 he had successfully petitioned the province to turn over Cootes Paradise and its shoreline to the Parks Board for a possible bird sanctuary. At the same time he had spearheaded a complicated land acquisition and refinancing deal that resulted in the creation of the campus that secured the move of McMaster University from Toronto to Hamilton. While all that was underway, McQuesten and the Parks Board played a major role in beautifying what was called the Northwest Entrance of Hamilton—the area around the High Level Bridge, at that time a dilapidated iron structure, and the then York Street entrance to Hamilton. Within a roughly three year period, the McMaster Campus was developed and adjacent to it the Parks Board constructed the Sunken Garden—the first physical manifestation of what would soon be the Royal Botanical Gardens. At the Northwestern Entrance the Parks Board commissioned a design competition for the beautification of the area. The winning design from Toronto landscape architect Carl Barnstorm involved lowering and widening York Street and creating a landscaped formal parkway. Adjacent to the parkway was an abandoned gravel pit which would become the Rock Garden. Borgstrom’s original concept was a stark alpine setting. Thousands of tons of rock were hauled to the site from Albion Falls east of the city. While that was underway, a new bridge was being built—a bridge designed by Architect John Lyle with four distinctive limestone pylons at each corner rendered in an Art Deco style. Had McQuesten not insisted over the objections of many that the bridge be built to a four-lane width; it is likely that the current bridge that bears McQuesten’s name would have been replaced during the road building boom of the 1950’s and 1960’s. This amazing flurry of construction was capped off in May 1930 when permission was secured from King George V to create the Royal Botanical Gardens which would encompass the Rock Garden, Cootes Paradise and the Sunken Garden at McMaster. It would be years later that McQuesten as Highways Minister of Ontario, would transfer highways-owned land of Plains Road (then still part of Hamilton) to the RBG, where the current headquarters are located. One of the last places McQuesten visited before his death in 1948 was the Rock Garden that he had played such a key role in creating.
Leave a Reply