The gardening season for Thunder Bay parks in Ontario starts on the first full moon in June — that’s when parks staff start emptying the greenhouses of the thousands of annuals grown for the many parks that green city streets and byways, and plant them into the carefully prepared beds. When I visited on June 14, Canada’s Garden Day, the lilacs were perfuming the air and colouring front lawns with their myriad shades of purple, pink and white.
“Peonies start blooming in late July,” says parks division manager Paul Fayrick, “and we can get frost as early as August.”
In Vickers Park, a Victorian-era park in the Fort William section of Thunder Bay, Wanda and Pam plant dianthus, which are sown over the winter in wooden flats, and then placed in the beds in a triangular pattern that makes them appear to be naturally woven together.
But this is just one of many parks in Thunder Bay. When you visit, you’ll want to see the Soroptimist International Friendship Garden on Victoria Avenue, with its gardens representing the city’s multicultural community; Centennial Botanical Conservatory, which is filled with mature tropical plants; and Waverly Park, the second park in the country created after the establishment of the National Parks Act of 1930.
Prince Arthur’s Landing at Marina Park
As vital as these historic gardens are to the community, Thunder Bay continues to grow its public green spaces, and the most recent and exciting development is the award-winning Prince Arthur’s Landing at Marina Park. Opened in 2012, the park has become an important part of community life and a vibrant visitor experience.
The landscape here is very different from the city’s more formal parks. A “living shoreline” holds back the banks using native shrubs such as ninebark, red-osier dogwood and sweet gale. Along the piers, linear plantings of ornamental grasses, hardy ‘Brandon’ elms and alders add multi-season interest to a park that’s the site of season-long activities, including outdoor movies, concerts and a summer blues festival. And throughout the waterfront park, art and sculptures, including whimsical balloon animals, dazzle and delight.
The park also reflects the Lake Superior shoreline’s native heritage with a spirit garden and a stunningly beautiful gathering circle that stands at its heart. The open-air pavilion was designed by aboriginal architect‐intern Ryan Gorrie and crafted using a traditional bentwood technique.
At the far edge of Pier 2, visitors and locals are drawn to the viewing circle where stone benches offer two opposite views: One is of the famous “sleeping giant”; the other, the city skyline. Visitors turn toward the natural landmark that looks like a giant, asleep with hands crossed over his chest. Locals turn to see the cityscape, their only viewpoint of a city that continues to offer its citizens a multitude of ways to enjoy the outdoors.