A wonderful news article about A.H. Browne.
He was Saskatoon’s first park superintendent in 1911.
Joan Browne has a blue spruce in her yard that is taller than the University Bridge. There are five cedars and two chokecherries, a bur oak and a caragana. Her dad planted them as saplings and seedlings when he lived in this house in the 1950s.
Alfred Henry Browne — people called him A.H. — planted trees everywhere in the city. A native of London, England who trained as a gardener’s apprentice at the Downside Abbey in Somerset in his teens, he became Saskatoon’s first park superintendent in 1911. He ran the parks for 42 years, retiring to this two-storey house on a street in City Park in 1953. He died in 1957 at age 74.
“When I see parks I think of him,” said Joan, who is in her 90s. “I think about the happy life I had with him. He was a wonderful father and grandfather.”
Hilary Borton of Regina is one of the grandchildren. She and her husband Gary visited aunt Joan on a recent weekend. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Hilary and Joan sat at the kitchen table near a window facing the back yard.
“I have a clear memory of him,” said Hilary, who grew up in Kindersley and Regina. Her mother Margaret was the oldest of A.H.’s three children, all daughters. “He’d throw pennies in the gravel, making a game of pick-up for us to play.
“He loved taking us to the Forestry Farm. He took me and (my brother) Greg to Waskesiu lots of times.”
A.H. kept a pond in his yard stocked with goldfish. He raised birds at home, including peacocks that looked as sharp as the wide-brimmed hat he wore all the time.
“I remember seeing all this,” Hilary said. “As a six-, seven-year-old kid this was really neat stuff.”
Hilary and Joan know A.H’s story.
They know he had only one sibling, a brother, Will, in England who used a wheelchair all his life.
They know A.H.’s daughter Dorothy died in Saskatoon when she was four.
They know A.H.’s wife Esther died a year later, only months after Joan was born.
They know how A.H. dealt with personal loss. He parked his problems. He smiled and looked ahead. For him, planting trees was a joy, not a job. His satisfaction; our reward.
“I would like to know what the city was like before he came here,” Joan said. “I know what it’s like after. He came to the prairies and made it beautiful.”
Said Hilary: “He had vision. You see what he did even if you don’t know who he was.”
A.H. is all around us in Saskatoon.
Kiwanis Park near the Bessborough Hotel was his idea. So were the trees and the picture postcard landscape on the other side of the river across from Kiwanis.
Remember the stream lagoon in Kinsmen Park? A.H. started it. The stream is gone, but Kinsmen Park goes on. Having a spread of natural green in the concrete and glass of downtown Saskatoon is a product of his fertile mind.
Trees are rooted in on Saskatchewan Crescent, their trunks almost as wide as a Chevy pick-up. The trees weren’t always there. Nature didn’t happen by chance. They are there because of A.H. and his colleague Wyndham Winkler Ashley. They planted elms and maples.
“People would knock on our door, always at supper time, and ask dad if he would come over and look at their yard, design a flower bed for them,” Joan said. “ ‘Maybe not tonight,’ he said, but he’d be there tomorrow. He made time for everybody.”
Said Hilary: “He’d go to small town fairs and judge plants. I like the story he told about a time he judged a bunch of cauliflowers. It makes me laugh. He said when he picked up a cauliflower the white came off. They had put baby powder on it to make it look really white.”
Civic leaders around Canada soon came calling. They asked A.H. to move to their city, to do there what he was doing here. He stayed in Saskatoon. Saskatoon is home.
Saskatoon is Joan’s place.
The family lived on 16th Street in her youth, a few blocks from A.H.’s greenhouse/office on Avenue H. Joan went to elementary school at King George and to high school at Bedford Road Collegiate. After graduating from school she worked for the Board of Grain Commissioners. She became a teacher, first in Perdue, then at Walter Murray Collegiate. She taught English and typing and bookkeeping.
She had a garden. She still does.
“I just love to dig around the yard,” Joan said. “I like trees — the height, the colour, the look, the shade.”
Hilary gardens, too.
“I like to get dirt under my fingernails,” Hilary said.
As the tree is bent, so is the twig inclined.
In the Mayfair neighbourhood in Saskatoon is a park a block long. The park has a spray pool and a hill. There are spruce trees and maple trees, basswood and lilac. Most of us call the place simply “the park.” A wooden sign at the corner of 37th Street and Avenue E says this is A.H. Browne Park, named after him.
Even if we see the name on the sign we don’t know the man. But his spirit is throughout Saskatoon. It’s in the trees.
“He’s like the sea,” Hilary said. “He lives on forever.”
Published in the 2013 Fall Newsletter. By Bob Florence
Let’s go to Bethune’s.
Kids in the neighbourhood in Hudson Bay Park did this for years. They played and partied and laughed at Bethune’s house on Howell Avenue. With four boys and a girl in the family, Bethune’s was a happening place.
Bill and Elaine Bethune are the parents. When they moved to Howell Avenue in 1959 from a two- bedroom bungalow a few blocks away on Avenue D, their new home was on the fringe of Saskatoon. Standing in their kitchen, Elaine and Bill could look out the window facing the street and see wheat fields.
Howell Avenue began with three houses, with the Bethunes, with Bruce Howie of North Star Oil and his wife Shirley, with plumber Thomas Flaherty and his wife Marie.
The city grew. The neighbourhood, too. Howell became home to George and Eileen Fidgett, Walter and Leona Dumka, George and Lois Podratz. A Co-op grocery store opened on Avenue P, then a Credit Union. New houses mushroomed.
Marlene Buller, who lived in a house near the start of the street on Howell, graduated from Mount Royal Collegiate and won a scholarship for the University of Saskatchewan where she studied paediatric nursing. Hank Siemens, who lived a few doors down from Buller on Howell, converted a school bus into a mobile summer home for his wife and four children.
Howell Avenue added the Brickers and Werbickis, Primes and Peters. There was firefighter Herbert Stoll and truck driver Peter Hyshka, clerk Anne Hrytzak and Safeway secretary Norah Reynolds. Bill Bethune worked in floor covering. Elaine raised the five Bethune children as well as babysat for other families.
“Kids across the street who didn’t have TV came over to watch,” Elaine said. “Friends are always welcome.”
The five Bethune children all went to Henry Kelsey elementary school. When he was in Grade 6 in 1966, Jimmy Bethune was part of a school project with principal Peter Russell to find out where towns and train stops in Saskatchewan drew their name. Russell wrote a book on it.
Kids in the school helped Russell do another book on Saskatoon’s street names, including Howell Avenue and Valens Drive, Donald Street and Kusch Crescent in Hudson Bay Park.
Neighbourhoods are about everyday people, not just those who have a street or park named after them. We may not change the world, but we shape our community. Elaine knows Hudson Bay Park, has for more than 50 years. She knows names and faces, the work they do and interests they have. Her children grew up there. Bill died in 1980. Times change. The character of Bethune’s house on Howell endures.
As many as 13 members of Elaine’s family join her for supper in the kitchen of her house on Howell every Sunday. She likes to prepare a big meal for everyone. The challenge is variety.
“Especially dessert,” she said. “They like dessert.”
When her children turned older, she worked for a hotel on Idylwyld Drive, then as a room attendant for the YWCA.
For the past 17 years she has volunteered with a program for seniors that meets at Clinkskill Manor. Every Monday and Wednesday morning she helps at Oliver
Lodge, a special care residence for seniors.
“I enjoy the activities they do,” she said. “I enjoy seeing them.”
Although the garden Elaine grows in her back yard is smaller than it once was, her yard has been a fountain of nectar for ruby- throated hummingbirds. She has a comfy chair in the sunroom for her white cat Bella. Among the needlepoint mats she stitched and framed are two pieces on the living room wall showing grain elevators.
Elaine was raised on a mixed farm at Bounty near Outlook with eight brothers and sisters, plus two stepbrothers. They walked across the field to go to school. They caught the train to visit their grandmother nearby in Conquest, especially at Christmas. Elaine moved to Saskatoon in 1948. She and Bill married a year later.
Howell Avenue is home.
The result is a continued trade in Mayfair’s basic hardware products, fine-tuned to meet the needs of people who live in older homes in the Mayfair and Caswell Hill neighborhoods that flank the store on the north and south. Mayfair doesn’t carry any plastic plumbing pipes, for instance, ‘it’s all the old galvanized stuff’.
But those are needful things. Mayfair is also the kind of place where you can drop in, browse around and almost always find things that surprise, delight or amuse: Parcheesi games, Mother Goose figurines, horses with clocks in their stomachs, old-fashioned washboards, knives that cut through shoes, pot-mending kits. . .
Thomas admits his buying decisions today are based more on personal curiosity than the likelihood any particular item will become a hot seller. Yet invariably, according to McHargue, things that tickle Thomas’ fancy have the same effect on his customers.
“We’ll say to him: ‘What are you bringing this stuff here for?’,” says McHargue. “But it’s amazing how it sells.”
Jean Wrightson, a Caswell Hill resident, has been coming to Mayfair for years. She spoke of a special trellis Thomas found for her and a home-improvement project that kept McHargue and another Mayfair employee named Leo Mareschal occupied at Wrightson’s house during every spare moment of an entire summer.
“If you want anything,” says Wrightson, “you come to Bruce’s.”
Ten nuggets of information about Hudson Bay Park, Mayfair, Kelsey-Woodlawn and area
- Explorer Henry Kelsey wrote of seeing a “great store of buﬀalo” when he reached Canada’s Great Plains in 1691. You can see a hint of it now. A big rock near the corner of 33rd Street and Valens Drive is a stone used by buﬀalo to remove winter hair and burrs. The stone was found on a farm southeast of Saskatoon and moved to Henry Kelsey Park in 1965.
- Neil Chotem, a 16-year-old prodigy in Saskatoon, played piano in a concert for Caswell, Mayfair and Westmount schools in 1937. Chotem gave his ﬁrst recital at age 11 and was instructed by the esteemed Lyell Gustin for eight years. Chotem went on to be a classical pianist and composer in Montreal, writing music for Canadian performers and being the guest conductor for prominent orchestras.
- George Donald saw a lot of change in Saskatoon police. The force went from having all the oﬃcers on walking patrol, to riding bikes, to driving the ﬁrst cars in the province equipped with two-way radios. He was the city’s police chief for 31 years. Donald Street in Hudson Bay Park honours his name.
- Ellen Drummond, who lived on Bedford Road, was the ﬁrst female public school trustee in Saskatoon. She promoted the idea of building Bedford Road Collegiate, returning to Ontario in 1923, the year the school opened.
- The Caswell Hill area is home to Saskatoon’s newest outdoor pool, including a water slide and basketball court. The previous Mayfair Pool was the oldest pool in the city, open every summer for 51 years.
- A family of three girls, four boys, their mother Julia and father Karl travelled from Moose Jaw to Saskatoon by covered wagon in the spring of 1883. The eldest son, John, 16, walked the full distance as he herded cows and calves. The family homesteaded east of what is now the Forestry Farm. The land later included Bridge City Speedway, the track for the Saskatoon Stock Car
- Racing Association. The family was the Kusch family. Kusch Crescent is in your community. During the Kusch family trip to Saskatoon, a four-gallon crock of molasses spilled from their wagon and smashed. The name Blackstrap was born.
- After 38 years with the Saskatoon Municipal Railway System, Joseph Horan drove a street car on the Mayfair line Nov. 10, 1951. This was the city’s last tram run.
- Alfred Henry Browne had peacocks in his back yard on 16th Street. He planted trees all over the place. From maple and ash to elm and poplar, Browne made Saskatoon green. A native of England, he worked as the park superintendent in Saskatoon for 44 1/2 years. A.H. Browne Park in Mayfair keeps his name rooted in the city.
- “We bake it and you serve it.” This was the slogan for Mayfair Bakery, which opened in 1932. They’ve been cooking ever since. Janet and Ennio Muzzolini bought Christie’s Mayfair Bakery in 1965. It’s now run by their daughter Tracey and son Blair.
Compiled by Bob Florence
Located on the corner of 33rd Street and Avenue D.