Historic Sites of Manitoba: Van Kirk Gardens (363 Broadway, Winnipeg)
In 1950, Ralph Harrison Van Kirk, a decorator with a factory at 385 Broadway in Winnipeg, began his hobby of turning the land that adjoined the east side of his building into a free public garden which would feature miniature reproductions of historic European buildings. Mr. Van Kirk 's business was producing window display decorations for businesses throughout North America and his designing skills lent themselves perfectly to the Gardens. This venture appears to be an extension of a hobby he had already honed in his home garden on Linwood Street in St. James.
In an article published in the 2 September 1933 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, the writer reports; "... where we saw one of the prettiest rock gardens it has been our good fortune to see about the city. The grounds have been treated In an informal manner, severe but exquisitely beautiful In its simplicity. Lawn In front and along the side of the home with a rock garden, waterfall, lily pool and courtyard ... combine to make these small grounds a haven of quiet and peaceful thought and rest.
Prominently situated at the northwest corner of Broadway and Carlton Street and unofficially also known as the “Fairy Gardens”, the Van Kirk Gardens were reported to attract up to 2,000 visitors a day during the busy summer months. The attraction's Wishing Well yielded an average of about $1,000 annually from coin-tossing patrons and all of those proceeds were donated to Winnipeg's Shriners Hospital.
In 1961, the City of Winnipeg doubled the taxes on Van Kirk's property and he warned that he would likely be forced to shut down the Gardens in the face of that increase. Having invested about $35,000 in developing the Garden and personally bearing about $2,000 in annual operating costs, he appealed to the City for assistance in keeping the free park and tourist attraction open. Apparently the City was unrelenting. An article in the 19 February 1964 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press reported on a City Council meeting where the fate of the Gardens were discussed. Apparently Mr. Van Kirk had given up.
No longer able to afford to meet the operating costs and taxes, Van Kirk had gifted the miniature buildings and plants and shrubs to the City of Winnipeg. His only stipulation was that the relocated gardens would retain the Van Kirk name. The offer was accepted by the Parks and Protection Committee with the plan to relocate them to Kildonan Park. The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for determining how to finance the ongoing upkeep of the gardens. By September 1964, in his Free Press column, journalist Gene Telpner reported that the Gardens were, indeed, being relocated to Kildonan Park.
An article in the Free Press, dated 9 February 1967, reported that the miniature garden buildings had been accepted by the City in 1965 but remained in storage. Around 1980, the buildings were temporarily put on display somewhere in Winnipeg. The present status of the collection is unknown.
The site is now occupied by a multi-storey office building.
Photos & Coordinates
We thank R. Vance Martel, Christopher Lloyd Jones, and Robert M. Ginter for providing additional information used here.
Page revised: 16 October 2022