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A walk in Sarnia’s early parks

Published on

Phil Egan

A park forms one of my earliest memories.

I was five back in 1952. My two spinster aunts, Frances and Lily, used to walk with me through the grounds of Victoria Park.

The old Carnegie Library with its rounded dome was here, and I can remember evening concerts with musicians playing in the old bandshell in the park near Wellington Street.

They’re both gone now, and today we know this area as Veteran’s Park – but there was a time, back in 1888, when it was the only planned green space in Sarnia. Families would come for picnics, and every major event in old Sarnia usually took place there in what had once been called the Market Square or Wellington Park.

A Parks Commission was formed in 1888 and chaired by Dr. J.G. Johnson. James Symington was the mayor and the board consisted of some famous Sarnia names – Thomas W. Nesbit, George Leys, William Steed, David Barr and John C. Mahoney. In 1891, the Market Square was renamed Victoria Park.

By the time of Sarnia’s Centennial celebrations in 1936, five more parks had appeared in the city.

There was tremendous celebrating in the town on the Aug. 18, 1891 Civic Holiday. That day featured the official opening of the magnificent Bayview Park, fronting Sarnia Bay. Sculling, canoe and even barge races drew huge crowds of spectators. The bicycle races were popular, and a big crowd gathered to watch a lacrosse game between St. Mary’s and Stratford. Boat and bathhouses stood adjacent the water.

Most of Bayview Park disappeared in the late 1920s with the building of the grain elevators and the filling in of parts of Sarnia Bay.

The original Athletic Park has disappeared, not to be confused with the prior name given to Norm Perry Park. It stood farther east on two lots that were later replaced by the town’s racetrack and fairgrounds.

Elgin Park had been a cemetery during Sarnia’s earliest days. Taken over by the parks board by 1911, it was designed to serve “north end” residents as a park.

Like Athletic Park, Tecumseh Park has also done a little moving around. Originally part of Imperial Oil’s property, it later took that name to the property on which SCITS now stands. Today, Tecumseh Park is a family sports and recreation centre on Russell Street.

Our most magnificent park 80 years ago, as it remains today, was Canatara Park, which opened in 1931. With 3,000 feet of lake frontage, Canatara would prove to be a great comfort to Sarnians during the Great Depression, as were all of our treasured early parks.

 

 

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