Skip to content

Taking a Careful Look at the Hendrie Gates

October 21, 2021

By Dr. David Galbraith, Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Last week at RBG we had the help of an amazingly talented team of artist blacksmiths and heritage professionals come to inspect the 89-year old wrought ironwork of the Hendrie Gates. Justine Southam, Lloyd Johnston, and Mike Armstrong undertook a painstaking inspection to identify any condition issues, list things that need repair, and help us plan for the conservation of the iconic gates for the future.

Justine Southam (l.), Lloyd Johnston (centre), and Mike Armstrong (r.)
Justine Southam (left), Lloyd Johnston (centre), and Mike Armstrong (right)

Lloyd Johnston, who led the team, is one of Canada’s most experienced blacksmiths and artists. He’s no stranger to the Hendrie Gates, having undertaken their first major restoration in 1992.

Justine Southam is a graduate of Willowbank School of Restoration Arts in Niagara on the Lake and is a talented professional in heritage structures. She is both a practicing blacksmith and a stone carver. Justine drove in from the Eastern Townships of Quebec to participate in the inspection.

Mike Armstrong is an artist blacksmith who has worked at RBG before! He fashioned the iron gate at the Dalglish Family Courtyard at Rock Garden

The Hendrie Gates were fashioned in 1932 by Fredrick Flatman, the blacksmith for the Hendrie family companies in Hamilton, and also a labour activist and newspaper publisher. The gates were designed from a model, large gates at “The Backs” at Cambridge, England. Through the connections of the Hendrie Family, Flatman had access to excellent Swedish iron for the project. The resulting wrought ironwork is considered some of the most beautiful and best ever made. Examples of Flatman’s work can still be found in many places in the Niagara region as well as in Hamilton.

archival photo of the grounds where Hendrie Park was to being built. The tall gates are visible on the righthand side
Grounds circa 1963, looking west.
Hendrie Gates without any gardens of vegetation surrounding. RBG headquarters is visible in the far distance.
Hendrie Gates, circa 1958. Photo courtesy of Jack Boorman.

The gates themselves have a curious history. The Hendrie family commissioned Flatman to make them after the City of Hamilton had taken on their former Valley Farm as a park. The gates were intended to stand at a new drive-in entrance to the park, one that was never built. As a result, the beautiful ironwork panels and frame were placed in storage for about 20 years. In 1953, as the first gardens in Hendrie Park were being built, the gates were finally hung on masonry pillars built by a construction firm owned by the Schwenger family.

Although the Hendrie Gates today are a focal point for Hendrie Park, they were not set up in the location of the planned grand entrance to the park. As a magnificent example of wrought-iron artistry and a significant local landmark, they even have their own City of Burlington heritage by-law to protect them, enacted in 1991.

The ironwork of the Hendrie Gates is rich in symbolism and decoration, a testament to Fredrick Flatman’s artistry as a blacksmith. Next time you are in the area, see how many of these features you can find!

  • Bunches of grapes
  • Cornucopia, or “horns of plenty”
  • Scottish thistles (for William Hendrie’s Scottish origins)
  • The old City of Hamilton Coat of Arms
  • Acanthus leaves
  • Beech leaves
  • Roses and other flowers
  • The artist’s signature
  • The year the gates were made (1932)
  • A sheaf of wheat
  • A plaque bearing symbols associated with the Hendrie family
Detail of the old City of Hamilton crest featured on the iron Hendrie Gates
P1040979 (1)

More from the RBG Blog

Check out RBG’s blog for announcements, articles, and more from Canada’s largest botanical garden.

Want to be sure you hear first? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to hear about upcoming events, weekend activities, articles, and more!