Letters in recent issues of The Carlington Summit from the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society (OBGS) promoted objectives which are inconsistent with both public interest and public policy. Accordingly, I would like to comment briefly on the realities involved. The excerpts quoted are from one or other of the botanical garden group's letters.
The proponents of the OBGS proposal “dream in colour”, and have allowed themselves considerable license with regard to the historical facts. For example, the 1886 Act which created the Canadian Experimental Farm System, of which Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm has always been the key one, did not as they say “include the establishment of the arboretum and a botanic garden”. It did mention forestry, and within a year of its ratification the plan for the Dominion Arboretum had been laid out. But not a botanic garden. The botanical aspect arose from the realization that, apart from helping them grow better products, farmers and their families needed flowers and shrubs to boost their spirits, together with the dedicated work of such plant breeders as Isabella Preston and Dr. Felicitas Svejda.
Nor has the “Minister (of Agriculture and Agri-Food) called for proposals for the long-term use and management of the non-research areas of the Farm.” He likely would consider them, but he is not on the record as having invited them.
It also is apparent that the botanical garden group, in saying that its plan “will improve the historical site designation as it includes a number of heritage programs that are not available at this time” simply does not understand the significance of this designation or what heritage is about!
Quite apart from its scenic charms, the Farm is a treasure-trove of plant development. Here, “Marquis” wheat and other commercial agricultural products were created, which made an enormous economic contribution to Canada's social and economic progress, as well as such floral beauties as the Preston Lilacs and the “Explorer” series of roses.
But most dreamers wake up. The issue here is not how good or how bad is the botanical garden group's proposal, but that they wish to implant it on the Central Experimental Farm, which is a National Historic Site and a Cultural Heritage Landscape and a unique, cherished public amenity to boot.
There is the Arboretum, splendidly situated for over a century beside the Rideau Canal - another national historic site - the beautiful scenery, the ornamental gardens, the ornamental hedges and the herbarium. Those features are there due to the Agriculture Canada people who worked on and administered The Farm for over a century, and to the Friends of the Farm who voluntarily have helped to maintain it for over thirteen years and who mobilized the drive for its designation as a National Historic Site. The Friends have during that period invested a huge amount of time and money, hard work and sweat of the brow in maintaining, enhancing, preserving and protecting the Farm for all Canadians and for its many visitors.
Thus, when the botanical garden group talks of itself as non-profit one must also ask what that group actually has done for the Farm and what - beyond promoting itself - is being done with the funds which it solicits and which “all . . . will flow back into running the garden, school programmes, evening class activities, research, etc.”. To date, it has not invested one cent nor one erg of energy in the Farm. Compare that with the record of the Friends - last year alone our Volunteers logged some 14,687 hours in the interest of the Farm, with a deemed value of some $256,000, in addition to significant financial investment in specific projects such as the restoration of the heritage rose garden, and our ongoing Donor Tree program which has added some 500 trees to the Dominion Arboretum.
The lengthy program of public consultations following the designation of the Farm in February, 1998 resulted in a number of recommendations for its future management. Probably the key result was the creation of the Central Experimental Farm Advisory Council, comprising representatives of key stakeholders and charged with evaluation and making recommendations to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on proposals for changes within the boundary of the Farm. Those wishing to learn more about the Council's role should consult the Central Experimental Farm website at: http://www.agr.ca/cef-fec/consultation/index.html. The botanical garden group's promotion of its proposal means very little if it is not able to satisfy the scrutiny of this Council.
Whether it is the pressure of a family crisis or the pressure of a job, people need to get away and relax sometimes. Some people do this by their faith, and others by going and meeting God in his creation out in the garden. Whether under pressure or not, one finds peace and tranquillity on the Central Experimental Farm, without the 20 - or is it 30? - million dollars of construction, parking lots, fencing and paid admission offered by the Ottawa botanical garden society.
Eric Moore, President.
Friends of the Central.
Building 72, Arboretum.
Central Experimental Farm.
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C6.
Tel (Off): 613-230-3276.