On Saturday, Nov. 18, the Centennial Botanical Conservatory will host celebrations for its 50th anniversary.
As early as 1963, the Fort William Board of Parks Management was already thinking about projects that could be achieved in celebration of Canada’s 100th Birthday in 1967.
The Board brought the Botanical Conservatory to city council and it was adopted as a plan in 1964.
Excitement built in the community and the project was started in 1965.
The Conservatory was designed by famous American architects Lord and Burnham. The building boasted 18 tons of glass and steel, incorporating three tons of local amethyst and granite with an original price tag of $162,000.
The Conservatory structure, paid for by all three levels of government, was completed by the autumn of 1966 and planting began at that time.
The 11,800-square-foot building featuring plants from all over the world officially opened to the public on Nov. 18, 1967.
Early on, plants and/or money to expand the collection for the newly constructed botanical gem were donated by many people.
Early donations, such as the red banana plant, bird of paradise, tropical palms, ginkgo and coffee plant were vetted by secretary/manager Rob McCormack, and Joe Rollason - curator with Fort William Parks & Recreation.
These two individuals were largely responsible for the creation and early development of the Conservatory’s collection. To this date, many of the plants that now adorn the building are from original plants from the early years of the Conservatory.
On Nov. 18, 1967, the Centennial Botanical Conservatory was officially opened by then MPP Jim Jessiman, Centennial committee rep Herb Carroll, mayor E.H. Reed and MP Hubert Badani with a unique ribbon cutting ceremony using birch stumps and axes . . . truly a northern touch.
The Conservatory, one of only 10 in Canada at the time, was considered quite the asset to the community.
Over the next four-plus decades, the Conservatory has been used for educational programs by both local school boards. Other events included seasonal displays, weddings, photography sessions, public events and special church services.
Two additional growing greenhouses were added to the existing one, giving staff 8,344 square feet of growing space. Staff continues to grow all the annual flowers that adorn city parks, libraries and public spaces.
In February, 2012, due to safety issues, the Conservatory was temporarily closed.
Co-ordinated petitions and depositions to city council followed over nine months by a group of LU students and a group of avid users. The Conservatory proper reopened to the public on Feb. 15, 2013.
Unfortunately, due to ongoing safety concerns, the city has opted to keep both the Cactus House (west wing) and the seasonal display room (east wing) closed until further renovations are done to the building.
After the reopening, the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory officially formed in 2013. The groups’ main objective was to elevate the profile of the Conservatory in the community and increase attendance. Their first public event - An Afternoon in the Tropics - was held January, 2015.
This free afternoon of music, refreshments, and children’s activities was a resounding success. Since then, the Friends group has continued to put on almost monthly events.
In the summer of 2015, a community/straw bale garden was created to provide a “hands-on” learning experience for the public, as well as the Children’s Garden.
The Dutch-Canadian Friendship Tulip Garden, awarded by Canadian Garden Council, was planted in October, 2015.
The City of Thunder Bay is now assessing the future needs of the Conservatory. Renovations for the building will take place once the assessments are complete.
The Conservatory attendance continues to grow, with over 21,000 visiting from January-August of this year.
On Saturday, from 2:30 - 7:30 p.m., the Friends and Conservatory staff ask you to join them in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the official opening of the Conservatory.
This event is a free, all ages event. An opening ceremony is at 2:30 p.m. followed by music, cake, refreshments, fellowship and children’s activity. We are pleased and privileged to be able to celebrate 50 years of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory in our community.
- Submitted by Kathleen Ott, Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory