On the first day of July, 1875, Sarnia celebrated a milestone accomplishment. A splendid new waterworks had been constructed, and with it came unexpected results.
The fire brigade, naturally, had a powerful new weapon to fight fires. Street sprinklers began to control road dust, more drinking troughs for horses appeared, and outhouses were torn down and replaced with indoor plumbing.
Additionally, lawns and flowerbeds became possible, and they flourished. By the late 1890s horticulturalists were already talking about pooling their resources to continue beautifying the town.
But it would be a few more decades before Maud Hanna, Sarnia’s grand social queen, would produce the spark.
The wife of Imperial Oil president William J. Hanna, a noted philanthropist, and a supporter of children’s causes, Maud is perhaps best remembered for providing the matching funds that allowed the city to purchase the core area of Canatara Park.
But she was also a founder of the Sarnia Horticultural Society, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Ontario had a horticultural association established as early as 1906, and by 1920 it had 125 municipal members. The Sarnia Horticultural Society was formed to aid the beautification and cultural growth of the town and city.
Over the past 100 years, it has benefited hospitals, schools, nursing homes, public parks, veterans’ associations, and others.
In 1927, Maud Hanna purchased property for the Society at 231 College Ave. N. Within two years the garden, featuring a rock mound covered in spring flowers, was hailed as one of Sarnia’s most popular beauty spots.
Sarnia Historical Society member Dave Burwell, an avid postcard collector, owns a 1943 card of the Horticultural Display Gardens, now a tourist attraction.
With few nurseries around, the Society imported large quantities of bulbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs from Holland for planting and to sell to members.
The College Street Garden remains a key attraction to this day. In 1969, Windover Nurseries donated a rare blue Kosher spruce, which was planted near the College Avenue entrance. The Society later bought a second tree for the other side of the garden. Both are still going strong.
The Sarnia Horticultural Society and its 207 current members are marking the centenary on April 9. A book covering its history is being prepared, and a commemorative tree planting is planned in Canatara Park. A special community event is also planned for the fall.
During the winter, the Sarnia Horticultural Society meets monthly at the Kiwanis Community Centre on College Avenue.