Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Just beyond the Fringe: Churchill Park Garden Suburb in St. John's, Newfoundland

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Just beyond the Fringe: Churchill Park Garden Suburb in St. John's, Newfoundland

Article excerpt

In the late nineteenth century, Canada suburbs were home to a wide diversity of residents. By the middle of the twentieth century, this widespread pluralism had largely disappeared. Suburbia became the vanguard of the modern, segregated city. Individual suburbs became more regulated, more 'planned' and more middle class (McCann 1999). The gradual loss of suburban living opportunities for Canada's working class population has been called a national 'tragedy' (Harris 1996). Suburbs were originally characterised by housing types not entirely different from those found closer to the urban core, but the 'garden suburb' tradition came to dominate Western cities during the twentieth century. The essence of the garden suburb model was a single-detached house in a private garden, which seemed the perfect way of catering to the desire for living accommodation in the romantic tradition of rus in urbe. The widespread adoption of the garden suburb model transformed streetscape into landscape (Whitehand and Carr 1999, 77). This model, based on the Garden City idea, popularised in Ebenezer Howard's (1965) classic 1902 work Garden Cities of Tomorrow was well known by intellectuals in Canada but arrived in a more formal sense when Thomas Adams came to take up his new position as Town Planning Advisor to the Federal Government's Commission of Conservation in 1915 (Simpson 1985; Stein 1994).

During the early years of the twentieth century, Canadian municipal reformers were preoccupied with the problem of slum clearance. Planning was still in its infancy, but it was generally agreed that the best, cheapest and most politically acceptable solution to the 'slum problem' was to build new housing on the suburban fringe (Ravetz 1995) relying on a process that would later be referred to as 'filtering' (Ratcliffe 1945). The 'garden suburb' provided an ideal template for such developments. There are many examples of such suburbs in those parts of the world receptive to British planning practice (Barnett 1986; Hall 1988). The peculiarities of local conditions and practices add interest to the general story of suburban planning and development, and the story told here is therefore just one of many that each make a small contribution to our knowledge of the ways in which Canadian suburban townscapes have evolved. It tells of a development in St. John's, the capital of the Dominion of Newfoundland. For its time, and in its place, it was an audacious undertaking which represented a coming together of the best of current town-planning thinking and practice in a place that many might consider a surprising venue for progressive planning ideas. Churchill Park, as the suburb came to be known, was intended to serve multiple objectives: to promote the clearing of the downtown slums, to advance the cause of social welfare and justice, to introduce modernity to the Avalon peninsula, to provide housing for returning veterans, to facilitate the orderly future expansion of the city and to restore the battered self-confidence of the people of the city. Surpris-ingly, most of these objectives were reached.

The Context

Context is all-important in the explanation of townscape. The absence of self-government in Newfoundland between 1934 and 1949 is one critical factor in the Churchill Park story. During these 15 years, the country was run by a Commission of Government appointed by, and answerable to, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in London (Hiller 1993). Three of the six commissioners and the governor were English, while the remaining three Commissioners were Newfoundlanders. Had Newfoundland enjoyed responsible government during the war years rather than a 'benign oligarchy' (Rowe 1980, 417), it is probable that Churchill Park would not have been built (Winter 1999).

A second factor was the changing world view of Newfoundlanders during the early 1940s. The traditional attachment to Britain was replaced by a new attachment to the prosperous North America to which they were being introduced (Jackon 1986). …

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