From the The Halifax Chronicle-Herald - Halifax, Nova Scotia

Monday, April 2, 2012

By Pat Lee

Group reveals Victorian gardens on McNabs

Professional arborists from HRM, NB Power and NSP pump up volunteer effort

In a bygone era, the Victorian gardens on McNabs Island were said to rival the Halifax Public Gardens.

The gardens were designed by Englishman Frederick Perrin of the Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce family, who bought the property on the island in Halifax Harbour in 1885.

His home overlooked a terraced lawn surrounded by exotic and native plantings, including purple-leaf European beech, several large horse chestnuts and a group of English hawthorns.

The garden also included Japanese maples, hemlocks, cedars, lilacs, roses, mock orange and Japanese barberry, among others.

Lo these many years later, the gardens have long grown over, hiding their former beauty in a tangled mess of foliage.

But for the first time in more than 50 years, a team of professional arborists spent a recent Saturday on the island cleaning up the gardens and other areas, pruning back old growth, taking down dead trees and cleaning up deadfall left by hurricane Juan.

"We got all this work done. It was amazing," said Faye Power, the former lightkeeper's daughter who lived on the island until she was 10. "It was such a shame to see none of this being tended."

Now a member of the Friends of McNabs Island, she was one of 17 volunteers who helped the 22 arborists clear up trimmed brush after the professionals had done their work, which often found them suspended high in the air.

The arborists came from around the region and are employed by a number of firms or utilities, including Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia Power and New Brunswick Power.

The volunteered expert labour was worth about $10,500. Although the island is a provincial park, much of the care and upkeep, including a new trails project, is undertaken and paid for by the Friends.

The society raised $60,000 to repair the gardens and put in a new trail system.

"If we don't do it, nothing gets done," said Power, whose father Colin Cleveland was the last lighthouse keeper on the island, retiring in 1957.

She said the gardens project is the baby of Cathy McCarthy, the tireless president of the organization.

"The Victorian gardens have been a pet project of Cathy's. She's been the driving force."

Power said McCathy, who could not be there that day, will be particularly happy the arborists, lead by Stan Kochanoff, were able to find a dwarf maple in the garden, crowded out by fir trees.

"I was saying to Stan, I know there's a maple here somewhere. I know it's her pet.' And we finally found it."

Power said the turnout of arborists was so good that they were able to tackle other projects, including pruning and cleaning up linden trees and a camperdown elm on the Conrad estate (Gladys Conrad was the sister of Bill Lynch, the fairgrounds king).

She said they also did trail-clearing work for future trail construction.

The work crews also cleared around the A.J. Davis Soda Pop Factory, which operated before and during Prohibition, producing soda pop as well as a special concoction called Pure McNab.

Volunteers are expected to be back on the island over the next several weeks to continue the cleanup. She said it's possible the arborists might be back another time, too.

The Friends of McNabs Island Society will hold its annual meeting on May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.