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Located in Thunder Bay, Waverley Park was designated a parkland in 1871. A big draw to the park is the 234-year-old Hogarth Fountain, built in England in 1790. | SUBMITTED
Strange Tales

Ontario’s Second Oldest Park Celebrates 150 Years: Waverley Park

Have you ever been to an old-fashioned picnic in a beautiful park with a big band (Roy Coran’s Big Band, in this case) playing entertaining music from a band shell?

Well, on Sunday afternoon, June 23, you can experience some of that old nostalgia. Head to Waverley Park in Thunder Bay’s Old Town (Port Arthur) between 1-4 p.m. to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Waverley Park, the second oldest municipal park in Ontario.

Waverley Park was designated a parkland in 1871, just four years after Canada’s Confederation in 1867 created the Dominion of Canada, and 13 years before the pioneer town of Port Arthur was incorporated (now part of the city of Thunder Bay). At the time, the combined population with neighbouring Fort William was just above 500.

It could be said that the 5.2-acre parkland owes its existence to road construction that didn’t work out. According to the Waverley Park Heritage Conservation District Study (1986), Simon Dawson’s road construction crew in 1871, “had cut a road west along the present route of Waverley Street, but that horses pulling heavy loads would not be able to negotiate the hill. A second road was built along the alignment of the present Red River Road [formerly Arthur Street]. The dirt lot between Arthur and Waverley Street was designated as land to be used for park purposes by Ontario government.”

In the article Waverley Park: Park of the People (1984), Marlene Stirrett wrote, “In its very beginning, Waverley Park was just a large oval-shaped dirt lot located in the centre of the town of Port Arthur, then known as Prince Arthur’s Landing. Since then, it has become one of Thunder Bay’s most striking parks, owing to the stubborn will of the Port Arthur people. Through their persistence, the land was developed and became a place of restful beauty and a source of pride to all citizens.”

The parkland remained undeveloped for over a decade after its designation in 1871, until sports teams, like the Thunder Bay Cricket Club (1880), began using the park. Then there were times the business community lobbied to privatize the parkland, including letting a hotel company build at the park, or the time there was talk of building a city hall on the parkland site. But the pushback from citizens forced the projects to be abandoned.

The park’s 150th anniversary will take place Sunday, June 23 from 1-4 p.m. | SUBMITTED

Though the ‘dirt lot’ was designated to be parkland in 1871, it wasn’t until 1906 that ownership was transferred from the Ontario government to the city, making Waverley Park a municipally owned property.

Moving forward to 2024, Waverley Park continues to be a restful place to relax. There’s also plenty of parkland for it to be a gathering space for people, and be a hub for an eclectic mix of community activities.

“More and more the park is being used for everything from weddings to graduation ceremonies, to dance classes, to exercise, yoga, and Tai Chi,” said Keith Nymark, of the Coalition for Waverley Park, incorporated in 1995 as a coalition of groups and organizations wanting to prevent the site from being privatized. The Coalition and the Thunder Bay Musician’s Association hold a free concert series on Monday evenings in July and August showcasing local singers and musical groups.

A big draw to the park is the 234-year-old Hogarth Fountain, built in England in 1790. Originally it was a part of the Luton Hoo Mansion in the town of Hitchen, Herfordshire, England. Weighing 18,843 pounds, the fountain was transported across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the ship S. S. Francesca Sartori in four heavy wooden boxes to Thunder Bay, and was unveiled at Waverley Park on June 5, 1965. The water of the fountain pours from the mouths of lions mounted above leaves, which deflect the water away from the centre and out into the pond. Hogarth Fountain was donated to the city of Port Arthur in memory of Major General Donald McDonald Hogarth (1879-1950) by his wife Madge Hogarth.

And 110 years after Waverley Park was designated as a parkland, it became part of Canadian history when, during the 1981 Canada Games, the park hosted cultural events and became part of “Canada’s first full-length cultural program attached to the Canada Games,” Stirrett wrote. “The performances included music, dance, drama, visual art displays, and arts and crafts. Both local residents and the many visitors to the city during the Canada Games were delighted with the entertainment by the various cultures from across Canada, set within beautiful Waverley Park.”

By the way, you might be wondering why the 150th anniversary wasn’t celebrated in 2021. Due to the COVID pandemic at the time, the anniversary celebrations were rescheduled to 2024.

The 150th anniversary celebration is open to everyone. Join in with a picnic, food, live music, and good times held the old-fashioned way.

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