Heritage Garden

THE GARDEN at Port Moody Museum

by Tom Galinis

In order to provide information about the gardens at the Port Moody Museum, one must review the mission statement for the museum:

The Port Moody Heritage Society is dedicated to preserving the history of Port Moody and the surrounding area. The Society continues to own and operate the Port Moody Station Museum as part of their effort to promote increased awareness and knowledge of Port Moody’s heritage and history. The Port Moody Heritage Society promotes appreciation of community heritage by collecting, showcasing and celebrating area history through exhibits, programs and events at the Port Moody Station Museum.

So a garden at the museum should align with the museum mission statement.  To that end it was determined that the garden at the Museum serve to increase or maintain curbside appeal of the museum.  In addition the garden at the Museum would maintain plants or shrubs or trees that have some connection with the history of Port Moody and the area.

Consideration was also given to the Port Moody museum being housed in a former Canadian Pacific Railway train station with a restored railcar – the Venosta – on display.  The station (which was located in Port Moody near Clark Street) was decommissioned in the 1970’s and the Port Moody Historical Society purchased it and renovated it and the museum has been located in it ever since. And that is an important influence on the creation and maintenance of a heritage garden.

In the 1890’s Canadian Pacific Railway became the leader in establishing and maintaining railway gardens in Canada. Gardens were attached to Canadian Pacific Railway train stations across Canada and it was the station master’s responsibility to maintain them. There were various reasons for this: some railway workers were enthusiastic gardeners and did it for hobby and encouraged others to follow; while railway senior management realized that having a garden at each railway depot would attract more settlers to Canada. The more settlers coming to Canada, then more business would be generated for CPR and that was fine with management. Therefore after a time, it was mandatory for station masters to maintain a garden.

The concept of railway gardens was supported with the company locating greenhouses and nurseries in various parts of the country to supply the station masters with needed plants and trees; and the publication of a gardening magazine that would share gardening tips and practices in the country.  When the other national railway, CNR – Canadian National Railway – was formed, it too maintained gardens at many of its depots.  Railway gardens were maintained into the 1950’s and there were regular competitions to see who had the best garden. One hundred years ago, there were an estimated 1000 railway gardens in Canada.

During the 1950’s, railway gardens went into a decline and eventually disappeared.  This reflected the shift away from railway traffic to car, truck or air transportation.  With that shift, stations were closed and the land around stations was built over or used for parking lots. When CNR and CPR gave the passenger railway business over to VIA Rail, many more station were closed – among them the station in Port Moody – and railway gardens were gone too.

Ironically it appears that there was not a garden at the Port Moody railway station.  If one studies the pictures of the station going back through the years, there does not appear to be a formal garden at the station.  There are banks of blackberry bushes and ferns but no formal garden.  The little information that can be found relates to the last station master – Frank Tree (his picture hangs in the station master’s office at the museum) – he grew Mexican mock orange (Choisya ternate) outside the building when located at Clark Street, otherwise he didn’t garden much outdoors.


Even though there may not have been a garden at the Port Moody Railway Station, it was thought to be an excellent project for a museum in a railway station.


Although the Port Moody railway station may not have had a railway garden attached to it, other stations in British Columbia did have such gardens.  Some of those stations are now museums as well.  These include the railway museum at Cranbrook; at Fort Langley; at Revelstoke; and at Squamish.  Many of the railway gardens were attached to railway stations on the Prairies and there are a lot of pictures and articles about the gardens in Manitoba and Alberta.

When researching railway gardens, we came across information that at one time the station master would be considered an excellent resource for local gardeners trying to set up their own garden!  No need to go to a nursery to find out what to do when one could just stop by the railway station.

When maintaining a historical or heritage garden at the museum, we use the following terms to describe the plants, seeds, shrubs, or trees:




HERITAGE when applied to gardens usually means that the plants have been sold or available on the market for at least 100 years. Many heritage plants have disappeared or become quite rare or are difficult to locate which is why a museum garden could focus on growing them.


VINTAGE when applied to gardens usually means that the plants have been sold or available on the market since about the middle of the 20th century say 1945 onward.  However, it is trying to recognize that there are many plants that were not available 100 years ago, became available around the middle of the last century and are increasingly not available in the 21st century.


HEIRLOOM usually means something that is attached or important to a place, event, or person. In this garden, the plant has some connection to the city of Port Moody or to the area around Port Moody or to an individual who is associated with the museum.


In using these terms, some consideration is given to the terms of reference for both heritage and vintage.  Because Canada is geographically large and has a diverse climate, what could be considered Heritage in this part of the country might not be known in other parts of Canada and vice versa.  In addition, the seed or plant supplier in each province might have sourced from different parts of the world and so it would reflect in what was grown locally.  Another influence would be community – 100 years ago, immigrants from other countries brought their own seeds and roots with them from their home land and then continued to grow those varieties at their new place of settlement. For example, the Prairies have some very interesting types of watermelon and melons that thrive in their climate and yet originated in Ukraine or Russia. As time went on, these seed crops became identified with their new area of cultivation.


What kind of resources did we use to help build a historical garden at the Port Moody Museum?

The resources included seed catalogues from 60 to 100 years ago; included gardening reference books from the 1960’s and 1970’s; included TV series from the 1980’s that researched Victorian England farming practices (I would describe more of an inspirational TV series); and of course websites for heritage seed companies or heritage plant growers and/or seed suppliers.


We were able to source catalogues from local seed and garden suppliers to research the various types of seeds, and vegetables plants, fruits, shrubs, trees, and flowers that were being offered.  We had a 1923 general catalogue from Brown Bros & Co. Ltd; and a 1929 Bulb and Shrub Catalogue from Brown Bros & Co. Ltd.  In addition, we had a 1949 Brand’s Seeds Catalogue offered by James Brand & Co. Ltd.


One important resource was volunteers who would supply us with heritage or vintage vegetables and plants.  One volunteer has regularly brought us heritage vegetables to grow in the garden.  He supplied us with pea seeds and seed potatoes and heritage tomatoes.  He introduced us to a blue potato – Blue Russian – and grew it out in the garden.  Some of the tomatoes that he supplied were very interesting – we had small pear shaped tomatoes that were yellow when ripe; and we had others that were regular size but could be a purplish or mixed green/dark red colour when ripe.  One year, he brought us 7 different types of pea seeds with some of them having blue flowers.  Some of those pea seeds have been grown out and saved and it is interesting to see the different shape of the peas when dried for seed.  One is a very tiny pea seed, and when grown out is very bland to eat; it has what I would describe as a pea soup flavour without any sweetness to it.  It is probably a fodder pea as it has no sweet flavour to it at all.  We did not always know the variety name of the seed but it was interesting to grow the vegetables that he did supply.

Blue Russian Potatoes

Russian Blue










bland small pea









What kind of resources did we use to help build a historical garden at the Port Moody Museum (?

We used old seed catalogues.  Brown Brothers was owned and operated by Joseph Brown and Edward Brown.  To find out more about them, research was done at the Vancouver Public Library using the Vancouver Directory from 1905 to 1980.  In reading through the Directories, Brown Bros & Co started in 1905 and Joseph is listed as the president while Edward is listed as the manager. For a time they lived in the same house in East Vancouver, perhaps their parents home. They do mention in their catalogue their father and his experience in the gardening/seed business.

In the 1923 catalogue, they list two stores – one on Granville Street and one on Hastings Street East.  In addition, they had a greenhouse in Vancouver and a greenhouse in Hammond (an area near Maple Ridge) and a nursery in Kerrisdale.  In the 1929 catalogue, they offered a picture of their “new fields” on the Grandview Highway with the greenhouses in the background. They admonished the reader to “be proud to buy B.C. grown bulbs.”


It appears that Joseph died in the mid 1930’s, as the directory suddenly lists Joseph Brown Junior as the sole proprietor of Brown Bros Florists, while Ed Brown established his own business as Ed Brown Florist.  Joseph’s name disappears from the personal residence listing as well although his wife is still listed.  Both businesses continued to operate into the 1950’s, with Edward retiring in the mid 1950’s and an Audrey Slavin taking over the store located on Cambie Street.  By 1960, only Brown Bros Florists was in operation and still owned by Joseph Jr., but now managed by W.G Hagel.  By 1980 no Brown Bros Florists were in existence in Vancouver.

James Brand & Co Ltd first appears in the 1905 Vancouver Directory as well.  It was owned and operated by James Brand.  However by 1908, it was run by someone else and it appears that James Brand either died or left town.  There is no listing in the personal residence for him after 1907.  The business continued to operate using James Brand’s name but he does not appear in the business directory and there is no personal listing for him at all.  The firm lasted until the late 1950’s and then disappears.


The 1923 catalogue from Brown Bros has listings for vegetable seeds and vegetable plants; listings for flower seeds and plants, including annuals, biennials, perennials; an extensive listing for rose bushes; a long listing for fruit trees including apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, quinces, nectarines and walnuts.  They list small fruits such as gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries and they list many types of trees and shrubs for sale, including a rather exotic tree – the Monkey Puzzle Tree.  They had a selection of house plants as well.


The 1929 catalogue from Brown Bros was a smaller catalogue but offered every kind of flowering bulb:  Hyacinths, Tulips, Daffodils, Lily, Iris, plus many speciality bulbs.  There was also a section with an extensive listing of roses, plus other listings for climbing vines, ornamental conifers, and flowering shrubs.  There is also a section for trees and fruit trees and fruit bushes.  Finally, they had a page dedicated to cut flowers for delivery to customers.


The 1949 catalogue from Brand’s Seeds was an extensive seed and garden catalogue.  It offered seeds for many vegetables and flowers including annuals, biennials, and perennials.  It also offered many different supplies for gardeners including equipment, fertilizer and pest control.  They did not offer any plants or shrubs for sale.


Catalogues such as these are a great source of information since they give the museum gardener NAMES of varieties of any plant or shrub or tree being grown at that time.  By using the lists in these catalogues, we were able to trace some of the vegetables for the heritage and vintage part of our quest and because these were local catalogues, we could be assured that they were specific to this area of British Columbia.

It must be understood that the main market for these seed companies would be Vancouver City.  By the 1920’s Vancouver had a population of over 100,000 and it had many homes and even estates – for example in Shaughnessy Heights. At the same time, Port Moody was a small village with a population of less than 1000 and was still a few houses amongst the clear cut forest.  The demand for garden supplies and plantings would be different in Port Moody compared to Vancouver, however, they are helpful in giving us names of plants and trees and vegetables and fruits that would be available for use in any garden in the area.


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