Historically, gardens at railway stations played a key role when it came to encouraging settlement. Canadian Pacific Railway was the first to start this idea and it was continued for about 70 years afterwards.
Railway gardens were a cheap way to help motivate travelers to settle in Western Canada. These gardens were first built to convince pioneers to explore the vast areas of wilderness, but passengers were also taken aback by the beautiful garden beds that surrounded the stations. Railway gardens were also used to help influence settlers to buy land and start farming; because if the soil was fertile enough for beautiful flowers surely it would be good enough for their crops.
The gardens were not just there to welcome and bring new settlers, they were also there to help create a pleasant atmosphere for the families who lived above the stations. The station manager was the one who would normally develop and maintain the gardens, even though they would not get paid for this work.
In the early days of railway station gardens, plant nurseries were maintained, and seed catalogues were kept. The gardens slowly faded out due to the railway station managers beautifying their home gardens and growing crops of their own instead. With the trend of railway gardens slowly fading, railway companies offered yearly prizes for the best station garden in hopes to continue the beautification of railway stations. Since the stations were the center of communities the gardens remained an important part of local pride.
During World War 2 the gardens within communities and at railway stations were used to produce hearty vegetables to help with the increasing need for food. Around 1955, the gardens started being planted with shrubs and the uniqueness of each garden disappeared. Garden beds still exist at stations but do not compare to the ones from the past. As people started travelling by car more, the garden areas were replaced for parking spots.
Here at the Central BC Railway and Forestry Museum we attempt to re-create the prime era of railway station gardens by maintaining our several flower and garden beds.