Bowring Park turns 100

Andrew Robinson
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Mayor hopes new change rooms, skating rink in site’s future

A snow-covered hill in Bowring Park was filled with young children Sunday afternoon, with one after another sliding down it with obvious glee.

Greg and Denise McGuire take their 14-month-old son Ben along a trail leading to the tobogganing hill in Bowring Park Sunday. This year marks the 100th year for the popular St. John's park. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Weather conditions idyllic — assuming one was appropriately dressed for bitterly cold temperatures — for families who chose to come to the historic St. John’s park, which is now celebrating its centennial year.

Rebecca Griffin was at the park sliding with her family on Sunday. She also enjoys feeding the ducks and having fun on the swings once the snow melts away.

Her brother Nathan was blunt when asked what he likes about sliding at Bowring Park.

“It goes fast,” he said.

 Vickie Lilly and her family typically visit the park during the summer months to take advantage of the playground, swimming pool and splash pad. She said it was certainly a good day for sliding.

“This was the first time we’ve been here sliding in the winter time,” she noted.

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe can remember coming to the park as a boy to play tennis and go swimming in the Waterford River prior to the existence of a pool.

“The park was a lot smaller then than it is today,” he said. “One of (my) favourite places in the park was always the bungalow and the sundial in front of the bungalow.”

Before it became a park, that piece of land in the west end of St. John’s was used for farming.

The Bowring family purchased the land and offered it to the city in 1911 with the condition it be used as a recreational park. Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, declared it open on July 15, 1914. At that time, Newfoundland existed as a British Dominion.

Edgar Bowring commissioned a landscape architect from Montreal, Frederick Todd, to design the park and oversee its construction. Design work was ultimately handled by Rudolf H. Cochius, who lived and worked in the park for a five-year period beginning in 1912. Full construction of the park was not completed until 1921, at which point the Bowring formally transfered ownership of the land to the city.

There have been many additions to the park over the course of its history, including the Caribou monument to honour the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's involvement in the First World War, the swimming pool, and most recently the splash pad and an accessible playground.

“That has been such a hit with all the parents and the children,” said Gayna Rowe of the Bowring Park Foundation. “So many people come in here now and have their children’s birthday parties in the summer up there at the splash pad. It’s really nice to see.”

O’Keefe would one day like to see new change rooms at the park and another outdoor skating rink similar to The Loop in Bannerman Park.

Rowe said new bathroom facilities are definitely needed at the site, which is estimated to accommodate one million park visits annually.

A centennial committee is in place to organize special events to honour 100 years of Bowring Park. Nick Janes, a committee co-chair along with Ashley Power-Stack, said events similar to Sunday’s Winter Family Fun Day — sponsored by Verafin with free hot chocolate, snacks and duck food — will take place throughout the year.

The park will also host a special event on July 15 to recreate the ceremony that took place on that same date 100 years ago. Rowe said the local theatre company Spirit of Newfoundland will handle that production.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Bowring Park Foundation, Ashley Power-Stack

Geographic location: Bowring Park, Newfoundland, Waterford River Connaught Montreal

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Recent comments

  • Robert
    February 10, 2014 - 06:58

    "The Bowring family purchased the land"! Many of us grew up making treks to Bowring Brothers and Ayres as a department stores. But there must be several generations now that have little or no knowledge of just how important these retailers were to St. John's and indeed all of Newfoundland. It would be a very good project by the Telegram as part of the Bowring Park 100th to tell the history of these very fine retailers!

    • James
      February 10, 2014 - 10:44

      Now Robert - when you look back their fortunes where made off the backs of the common man. They were merchants and people owed them the shirts off their backs. They were also sealing fleet owners who through desperation of the common folk to put food on the table recruited many men to that life of complete misery with little regard for human safety on the ice front.