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Manitoba's Floral Emblem

by Irene Craig

Manitoba Pageant, April 1959, Volume 4, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The prairie crocus in its furry bonnet has many admirers.

Recently a retired American naval officer, Charles S. Alden, a resident of Winter Park, Florida, wrote to ask the Winnipeg Tribune whether his grandfather's memory is still honoured in Winnipeg by these spring flowers being placed beneath his portrait each year. The naval officer's grandfather, James Wickes Taylor, was the American Consul in Winnipeg for over twenty years.

The answer is yes, and the portrait he refers to is in the Winnipeg City Hall Council Chamber; furthermore, it is in the company of British kings and queens. The painting which cost the city $350.00 is hung above and behind the chair where His Worship the Mayor sits when he presides over the council meetings; it was painted in 1893. It is worth noting also that only one other American Consul's picture is hung anywhere else in a foreign council chamber in any part of the world.

After visiting Western Canada in the 1960s Mr. Taylor said he would come again. Meanwhile he was forever telling the people back home in the United States what a wonderful place Saskatchewan was, and what marvellous soil Canada had for growing things. Because of his persistent enthusiasm his friends dubbed him "Saskatchewan" Taylor, and the nickname stuck.

Later the American tourist did return. He arrived one November morning in 1870, and this time he came as Consul Taylor, representing the U.S.A. Incidentally, it had taken him ten days to travel from St. Paul, Minnesota and to sail down the Red River to Fort Garry. Today, in an airplane, we cover the distance in a few hours.

Consul Taylor loved the prairie crocus or anemone. If you look carefully at the painting of him in the City Hall you will see where the artist, V. A. Long, has placed a bowlful of these crocus blooms on the table beside him. Everyone in Winnipeg knew how much he was charmed by the little purple blossoms and everybody enjoyed the graceful compliment he paid the local ladies with his floral offerings every year in the Spring.

After his death April 28, 1893, at the age of seventy-three, a carefully guarded list of ladies' names was found among Consul Taylor's papers — 500 names in all. We shall never know where he found the time, this busy man, to call on 500 ladies; besides energy enough to journey all the way out to Bird's Hill to gather the blooms, before arranging and tying them into separate nosegays. We are reminded that it was not only his own pleasure in this unique project that was important; the daughters of the honoured ladies still speak of the many times they heard from their mothers how they enjoyed remembering the delight and flutter of excitement caused annually by these tributes.

The list was never published but the 500 names on the paper meant far more than a mere 500 little bouquets. This old-timer, who was buried in Utica, New York, certainly knew how to "say it with flowers." Anonymously, on the anniversary of his death, for many years a bowlful of crocus blossoms was placed beneath his portrait in the City Hall. Later, for a time, the practice lapsed a little, but recently someone resumed the custom.

The Prairie Crocus
Drawing by Emil A. Gillies

Many people believe it was "Saskatchewan" Taylor who started the prairie crocus on its way to being Manitoba's floral emblem, but be that as it may, the school children too had a hand in it. More and more flower talk was in the air, so much so that the schools voted informally on the floral emblem question. Their choice left no doubt in the matter. The children wanted the prairie crocus.

Dr. Stanley William McInnis, M.L.A. for Brandon City, backed them up. He believed: "It would be advantageous to the province of Manitoba to formally adopt some flower as an emblem." Others thought so too. Finally, the Winnipeg Telegram of February 21, 1906 reported that Dr. McInnis had presented a petition to the Legislature from the Natural History Society asking for an Act to establish a floral emblem for the province. Thus, in 1906 the Legislature decided that the prairie crocus would represent Manitoba, marking Manitoba as the first prairie province to adopt officially a floral emblem.

For years the prairie crocus has been a favourite with the artists. One often sees paintings of the little purple blossoms. You may have heard them referred to as the "gosling plant," or "wind flower."

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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