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.”