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80 Years of People, Plants, Place, and Planet

Royal Botanical Gardens acknowledges the long history of First Nations and Métis People in the Province of Ontario, and pays respect to the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the holder of the Treaty with the Crown for these lands. The land we steward is within the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Huron-Wendat Nations.

In 2021, Royal Botanical Gardens is celebrating 80 years of connecting people, plants, and place through a number of blooms celebrations and special events including a full schedule of diverse programming on our new Blooms Stage, the opening of our new Healing Garden in Hendrie Park, and a new accessible trail planned for the fall.

How we arrived at this point is a captivating story.

In 1941 the Province of Ontario created Royal Botanical Gardens through a special Act, which gave the young botanical garden the ability to develop and display gardens, prepare educational facilities and programs, acquire new lands, and undertake all of the activities of a botanical garden that attracts visitors.

In the 80 years that followed, diverse landscapes have converged and RBG has established a national and international reputation as a living museum  for science, a connecting point for children in their early embrace of nature and creating a life-long appreciation of the outdoors that extends through generations . A place of respite, a leader in sustainable gardening, ecological restoration and plant conservation.

This is our story . . .

Share your RBG story for a chance to win!

As we celebrate 80 years, RBG wants to hear stories about your connection to our people, plants and place!  Perhaps seeing wildlife while hiking with your family, or participating in one of our programs and applying what you used at home? Or maybe you are an educator who brought your class to RBG for one of our school programs and your students got to see a turtle up close for the very first time! Whatever your story is, we want to hear it!  

A message from Mayor Fred Eisenberger

(audio only)

1910’s:
Dreams of the City Beautiful

1917: The Beginning

The beginning of Royal Botanical Gardens goes back even further, to 1917 when the City of Hamilton, in search of improvement projects to beautify the city, identified Burlington Heights as a grand entranceway.

1920’s:
Visions Take Hold

1924: T.B. McQuesten

Thomas Baker McQuesten, politician, lawyer and Chair of the city’s Park Management Board, imagines a botanical garden of national significance for Hamilton.

1927: Land Acquisition

The City of Hamilton buys 377 acres for botanical garden and to preserve Cootes Paradise; Whole area declared “Dundas Marsh Crown Game Preserve”.

1928: Design Competition

The City proceeds with the grand entrance project and holds a design competition. Architect Carl Borgstrom is chosen to transform 55 acres and an abandoned gravel pit into a landscape of display gardens. This is the first step in building the botanical garden.

1930’s:
Consultations and Construction

1930: A Royal Name

King George V approves the name “Royal” for Hamilton’s planned botanical garden and by 1932 the abandoned gravel pit is transformed into the magnificent Rock Garden, later considered by many the Gardens’ “birthplace”.

1932: Memorial Garden & Rock Garden

A sweeping Memorial Garden landscape including the Rock Garden is opened to the public; McQuesten creates blue ribbon panel to develop  the concept for Royal Botanical Gardens.

1940’s:
Creating and Building

1941: Formal Creation

Nearly a decade later, in 1941, the Province of Ontario separates the land from the City of Hamilton and makes it a not-for-profit organization.

Royal Botanical Gardens is born.

1946: Director

Dr. Norman Radforth is appointed as the Gardens’ first director.

1947

First education, library and other programs are launched.

Auxiliary

Women’s Committee, later known as the Auxiliary is founded.

1950’s:
Growth and Discovery

Arboretum

The Arboretum is developed as 70 acres of open land with nature trails.

Major Gardens

First Lilac and other major gardens created.

1953: Hendrie Gates

Hendrie Gates are erected as monument to family donation of land.

1957: Coat of Arms

Royal Botanical Gardens’ Coat of Arms is granted by England’s College of Heralds.

1958: RBG Headquarters

RBG Headquarters, now core of RBG Centre, is completed.

1960’s:
Planting, Blooming and Pruning

1965: Hendrie Park

Hendrie Park Gardens and Rose Garden are built.

1967: Rose Garden

As Canada celebrates 100 years of confederation, RBG opens the Centennial Rose Garden  in Hendrie Park, an iconic meeting place for years to come.

Lilac Collection

At the Arboretum, The Katie Osborne Lilac Collection, now the most diverse in the world, is built.

Nature Interpretive Centre

Nature Interpretive Centre opens at the Arboretum,  providing RBG educators with a place to teach visitors of all ages about the value of nature. The centre is home to numerous nature-related activities, day camps and educational programs.

1970’s:
Consolidation and Environmental Awareness

Cootes Paradise

By the 1970s conservation efforts are in full swing with major cleanup projects beginning in Cootes Paradise Marsh,, an ongoing challenge that remains one of RBG’s key initiatives to this day.

1971: Logo Concepts

New logo concepts submitted by students of Mohawk College, Commercial Arts Programme.

1977: Brand Launched

The bird and leaf logo launched and used as RBG’s official brand.

1980’s:
Branching Out and New Horizons

The construction of RBG’s first indoor garden is complete with the creation of the Mediterranean Garden, along with supplementary teaching spaces at RBG Centre.

Laking Garden

Spring Garden is renamed Laking Garden to honour Leslie Laking, RBG’s longest serving director, and his wife Barbara, founder of the volunteer auxiliary.

1990’s:
Restoration and Recognition

National Historical Site of Canada

In 1994, Royal Botanical Gardens named a National Historical Site of Canada and becomes part of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

This recognizes the unique role major landscape architects played in creating RBG’s large gardens, the national significance of our plant collections, and historic movements for city beautification and nature conservation that came together in RBG’s creation. Inspired by these movements, RBG’s founder Thomas Baker McQuesten and his colleagues Carl Borgstrom, designer of the Rock Garden, Matt Broman, RBG’s first superintendent and designer of the Arboretum and Laking Garden, and later J. Austin Floyd, designer of the gardens in Hendrie Park, and many other architects, botanists, plant curators, and environmentalists created Canada’s largest botanical garden.

1994: Trademarked

RBG’s Bird and Leaf  logo is officially registered trademark.

1997: Fishway

Measures against the invasive common carp take great leaps with the construction of the Cootes Paradise Fishway, a part of the Project Paradise campaign to support habitat restoration.

2000’s:
Reorganization and Innovation

Major Projects

A new century brings new projects including the building of the new Helen M. Kippax Garden and the Gold Leed-certified Camilla and Peter Dalglish Atrium. The Atrium has become home to many of the Gardens’ major exhibitions and events and includes among its many green features, two breathing walls to improve indoor air quality.

Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System

RBG, together with several partners, forms the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System, a park alliance dedicated to preserving the last remaining ecological corridor between the Niagara Escarpment and any major wetland on the shore of Lake Ontario.

2010’s:
Rejuvenation and Rebirth

2015: Rock Garden Rejuvenation

The single biggest capital project in RBG history is completed with the rejuvenation of the historic Rock Garden, renamed David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden for local community champions and philanthropists.

2017: Rose Garden Rejuvenation

RBG continues its mission in sustainable, forward-thinking horticulture with the opening of the new Rose Garden. The new garden uses hardy rose varieties, together with beautiful companion plants, creating a healthy eco-system garden with extended blooms.

2019: Master Plan Begins

A new 25- year Master Planning project begins, aimed to position RBG as Canada’s leading environmental centre with world-class gardens, natural areas, programs, services and facilities that powerfully influence positive change in the way people interact with our planet.

2020:
The Dawn of a New Era

Master Plan Finalized

The 25-year Master Plan is completed. The long-term policy document will identify short-term capital projects to be addressed in the next five years as well as longer-term projects for the next 25 years.

The completion of the Master Plan allows RBG to bring its new storyline to life, to develop a new brand identity and to connect new audiences to the Gardens. Included in this new identity is the new Royal Botanical Gardens logo . . .

NEW RBG Brand

The logo represents the different parts of RBG’s mission brought together in one image, it takes its basic structure from the 1957 Coat of Arms, but is represented in a simpler form.

This new brand will guide Royal Botanical Gardens through the next decade and beyond. It is time for RBG to realize our full potential, to dream big and to build on our successes in education, science, conservation and horticulture . . . to take full advantage of our resources, knowledge and reputation and move the world toward actively caring for our planet.