By Mike Keenan
Just as water, sewer, and public safety are considered essential public services, parks are vital to establishing and maintaining the quality of life in a community, ensuring the health of families and youth, and contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of a community and a region.
St. Catharines is no exception. New York City has Central Park and we have Montebello Park on Ontario Street in the heart of the downtown area. What they have in common is that Frederick Law Olmstead, considered the founder of landscape architecture, was commissioned to design both parks. Olmstead had achieved wide acclaim as planner of Central Park, the grounds of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Parks System.
Montebello covers 6.5 acres, originally deeded in 1796 as a Crown Grant to Robert Hamilton. In 1820, the property was sold to William Hamilton Merritt, founder of the Welland Canal. After passing through the hands of several members of the Merritt family, W.H. Merritt Jr. purchased the site and named it Monte Bello, meaning beautiful mountain.
In 1887 the City of St. Catharines purchased the site and it became the first public park in the city. In 1888, a pavilion was built on the foundation of the original Merritt estate. In 1904, a covered circular bandstand modelled after the one built for the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo was constructed in the park by Edwin Nicholson, builder of the Henley Grandstand in Port Dalhousie. Dedicated August 27, 2002 in honour of former Mayor T. Roy Adams (1977-1985), it now carries the name, “The T. Roy Adams Bandshell.”
The pavilion and bandstand, the focal points of the park and used for municipal festivals, have been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Other attractions include the original commemorative rose garden and ornamental fountain. This is the city’s largest rose collection with more than 1,300 bushes in 25 varieties. An area of enchanting beauty and a source of enjoyment for visitors to the park.
Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903) was an American landscape architect, journalist, social critic, and public administrator, famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his senior partner Calvert Vaux. The quality of Olmsted’s landscape architecture was recognized by his contemporaries, who showered him with prestigious commissions.
Aside from St. Catharines, the only other notable Canadian park commissioned to Olmstead exists at Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec.
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