After a trip to Scotland in 2000, a Maple Ridge man decided he wanted to learn more about his great-grandfather, John Montgomery.
Little did Chris Hay know, at the time, that his curiosity would lead to a rock garden in Vancouver being recognized as the first public garden in the city, a project that took Hay two decades to complete and resulted in an award of recognition from the province.
Upon his return from Scotland, Hay decided to visit an elderly cousin, who happened to mention the Vancouver rock garden his great-grandfather built.
The 74-year-old recalled it was odd that he hadn’t heard about the rock garden until then.
When Hay started his search, he only knew that the garden was in Stanley Park, but had no idea where, until he discovered a picture of it on a postcard in 2002. But only a portion of it.
It gave him something to start with.
“I thought there is no point researching until I know where it is,” said Hay.
“I didn’t even know how big it was. I thought it was just a small little garden he had built. I didn’t know it was this big and as well-known as it was. It was a feature attraction of Stanley Park,” he said.
Hay discovered that the construction of the garden began in 1911 by Montgomery – as a master gardener in Stanley Park – from unwanted boulders that were excavated for the construction of the Stanley Park Pavilion.
Montgomery was born in Argyll, Scotland on March 24, 1844 and immigrated to Vancouver in 1908, when he was 64-years-old.
He told the park commissioners at the time that the boulders could be put to good use. Montgomery was told to produce a sample garden before he was given permission to proceed with the project.
It took him nine years to create the garden that extended from Pipeline Road to Coal Harbour and had rock-lined pathways, ponds, arbours, and benches.
For 50 years the garden flourished until the years following the Second World War, when it slowly became abandoned.
Following the 2006 windstorm, which devastated Stanley Park, more lost portions of the rock garden were discovered.
After the garden was restored, Hay, then, spent years lobbying various levels of government to get official recognition for the garden.
And in 2011, Stanley Park Rock Garden was recognized as one of Vancouver “Places that Matter.”
In March 2013 it was acknowledged by Parks Canada as a distinct, significant heritage feature of Stanley Park.
And on May 15, 2013, a formal motion was passed by Vancouver city council to add the Stanley Park Rock Garden as an historic landscape to the Vancouver’s city heritage register.
Hay received a city heritage award of merit in 2015 for his rediscovery of the rock garden and his hard work promoting its existence and advocacy for its restoration.
And a few weeks ago he received notice that he is the recipient of the 2019 certificate of recognition by the British Columbia Historical Federation.
Hay said he was honoured to receive the award.
“To receive that recognition, I thought it was pretty amazing,” said Hay.
The B.C. Historical Federation’s award of recognition is awarded to individuals who have given exceptional service to their organization or community, either for a specific project or for long service in the preservation of British Columbia’s history.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 health situation, however, the BCHF annual conference schedule for June 2020 – which was set to include the awards gala – has been cancelled.
Winners will be honoured during the BCHF conference in 2021.
Hay is hoping some additional work will be done on the rock garden in the future, specifically the installation of wooden arbours, that had – at one time – been placed throughout the garden.
“They kind of identified where the garden is because the garden is so spread out,” said Hay.
The BCHF was established in 1922, and provides a collective voice for over 100 member societies and 24,000 individuals in the provincial not-for-profit historical sector.