The Halifax Public Gardens is surely one of the City of Halifax’s most recognizable historic places. The stunning sixteen acres bordered by Spring Garden Road, South Park Street, Summer Street and Sackville Street are right in the middle of city action – near a busy shopping district, a hospital, hotel, and popular walking and driving routes. Despite the hustle and bustle, it is today a scene of peace. It is defined by its lush flower gardens and towering trees, meandering pathways, fountains and ponds. But the Public Gardens hasn’t always been this tranquil: historically, the park was a hive of activity for sports lovers from all over Halifax.
In 1874, the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society’s garden combined with the adjacent public park to give us the Gardens we know today. From the 1840s, the park was the site of numerous sporting activities.
The Gardens were in use at every season of the year. In the winter, it was the usual haunt of the Red Cap Snowshoe Club. Founded in 1874, The Red Cap Snowshoe Club is Halifax’s oldest local sports organization. Decked out in their distinctive red caps and woollen coats, up to fifty Snowshoe Club members met twice a week to go “tramping” in the Public Gardens. The park also became home to Canada’s first-ever skating rink in 1863, and the facility drew skaters from all over the city.
Sporting did not stop when the snow melted. The Public Gardens was also home to Canada’s first public lawn tennis court built in 1876. In addition to tennis, the park hosted cyclers, croquet players, and even archery clubs. Renowned competitive rowers and Hall of Famers George Brown and John O’Neill made the Public Gardens’ ponds the site of their rigorous training routines.
Gone are the days of athletes’ supremacy over the gardens, but the site still remains a focal point for downtown Halifax year-round.