Horticulture in Manitoba History
For most of Manitoba's history, horticulture and gardening have been central to the experience of its peoples. We use the term "horticulture" to signify the cultivation of plants, flowers, and trees, as well as their scientific study. "Gardening" encompasses the cultivation of plants for subsistence, sale or ornamental display, as well as the manipulation of plant material to realize a landscape plan or design.
Hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans and other immigrant groups, horticulture occupied an important role in successful human occupation of this region. As Leigh Syms and Catherine Flynn show in their essay on Manitoba's first farmers, the province's Aboriginal populations have for centuries either harvested plant materials from the natural environment, or cultivated plants to provide food or to manufacture goods essential to occupation of the prairie region.
Horticulture and gardening assumed an even greater role in the era of European-Aboriginal trade, as fur traders planted gardens to provision their networks of forts across the West. Plains Aboriginal cultures were by then primarily buffalo hunters, but several groups in this era traded with the agricultural Mandan and Arikara peoples to the south for maize, squash, and beans. In turn, they traded this produce with Europeans for other goods. In this regard, they might be considered the region's first horticultural entrepreneurs.
The greatest change came after 1870, when Canada acquired Rupert's Land, and took steps to develop it into a major agricultural region of the new Dominion. The post-Confederation era involved more than a change in the scale of horticultural activity. It represented a complete change in world view, as European and Judeo-Christian concepts of improving the earth invested plant culture with a complex set of meanings extending far beyond its role in subsistence. For the first time, gardening became a repository of memory, an entry point into collective history.
As Susan Buggey points out in her review article on four recent works on landscape history, European and North American perceptions of landscape have been shaped by a variety of historical traditions. Whether serving as an entry point to some of the great myths of Western civilization, as a shared framework for the social memory of ethnocultural communities, or as a demonstration of the authority of monarchs, cultural landscapes have served as important documents to our collective history.
Paradoxically, while landscape offered a route of access to the past, it has also functioned as a vehicle for the promotion of concepts of the future. After 1870, a common vision of the province as a fully-integrated component of the Canadian political and commercial framework led prominent political and business interests to promote horticulture as an essential support to attracting and sustaining settlement. Lyle Dick's survey of the development of prairie horticulture in this period describes how federal, provincial, and municipal governments, private companies, and grassroots activists envisioned the recreation of a garden province in the heyday of central Canadian expansionism. An example of their influence was the city beautiful movement, which first emerged on the prairies in Winnipeg. The article by John Lehr, John Selwood and Mary Cavett describes the development of an urban park system in Winnipeg that served as a model across the region.
The promotion of the gospel of horticulture in the settlement era reminds us of the ideological role of gardens in our history. There were specific ideological agendas, including the use of gardens as vehicles for instilling patriotism, as in the school gardens of the First World War. …