A park for the people

June 2024

My first recollections of Waverley Park were of being bundled up for Remembrance Day services where hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects for the people we lost in conflicts around the world. We gathered in front of the cenotaph that was erected in 1925 by the Canadian Women’s Club of Port Arthur to commemorate those who died in World War One. The beauty of this lovely park must have provided some solace to the many who saw the horrors of war up close and were grateful to be back in the safe arms of Fort William and Port Arthur.

From its inauspicious beginnings as a dirt lot in Prince Arthur’s Landing, this gem of a park is now celebrating over 150 years of hosting memorable events, both big and small. Waverley Park became a designated parkland in 1871 and was formally opened in 1906.

The second-oldest municipal park in Ontario, it is situated in the heart of Thunder Bay’s “Old Town”, and is surrounded by five churches, Port Arthur Collegiate Institute (now Lakehead University School of Law), and Central School (now Magnus Theatre). Many of the homes in the area are designated as part of the Waverley Park Historical Conservation Area.

Over the years this park has brought people together to sit and reflect, to play and enjoy music, to throw frisbees or balls. In the early days of the park, it was a place to promenade – to dress up and meet friends -- but it was also a venue for sports. One of its earliest uses was as a cricket club. Just as pickleball players are forging new opportunities to play their sport in Thunder Bay today, the cricket players in 1880 were the ones who demanded better facilities. They raised $50 to make improvements and the park provided cricket players with a new field and a “perfect pitch”. They shared the park with other sports such as baseball, lacrosse, football and running. In the 1920’s the Waverley Lawn Bowling Club operated in the park. Private sports clubs shared the park with each other and the public.

Port Arthur was incorporated in 1884. Development was in full swing in this thriving community. Waverley Park had been established on federal land, but in 1907 it became the City of Port Arthur’s property. There was a stipulation in the patent that no buildings could be erected on it, except municipal buildings for the City of Port Arthur. The park remains today as a space for all because of the foresight of people who went before us to protect this space from development.

There have been some significant additions to the park over the years. Madge Hogarth donated a fountain to the city in 1965. The Hogarth Fountain came from England and is over 230 years old, making it one of the oldest structures in Thunder Bay. A bandshell was constructed in 1979 and reconstructed in 2018 with the help of The Coalition for Waverley Park, a group of engaged and passionate community members. This group continues today to work for enhancing the park so that both locals and visitors can continue to enjoy it in the years to come.

If you are looking for a lovely way to spend an hour or two, visit Waverley Park. While sitting on a bench, be grateful for the many folks, past and present, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes for this special place in our community. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses and watch the birds.

A tourist wrote about Waverley Park in 1932: “It is very beautiful in summer, with flower beds perfectly kept and it slopes upward to terraces that front the Elizabethan façade of the Collegiate, the whole creating a community centre that is a pride to citizens and a delight to visitors.” A quote from the Weekly Sentinel, July 7, 1891, also extolled the virtues of Waverley Park, saying, “The lavish hand of Nature has done so much for Port Arthur, that the art of man has only a trifle to do.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Nancy Angus is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Bayview. Contact her at nangus@shaw.ca

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