14. Lawrey Gardens—South Side of River

The following excerpts are from the book  “Early Days in Edworthy Park” pgs 25-29 used with permission from the Edworthy Park Heritage Society.

“Prior to the arrival of the C.P.R. in 1883, migration of pioneers into the Calgary district was almost exclusively from the south along the trade route from Ft. Benton, Montana. One of the few exceptions was the arrival in 1882 of John Lawrey from the west along the Bow Valley.

Born in 1843 in the English farming district of Cornwall and blessed with a green thumb, Lawray had by some means found himself in the Cariboo region of British Columbia during the days of the gold rush. Lawrey, on horseback, headed east from the Rockies across the land then leased from the Dominion Government to the Cochrane Ranche. With the availability of homestead land, this was Lawrey’s opportunity to put down roots and pursue his natural talent.

Lawrey had the option of settling virtually anywhere east of the Ranche lease. He opted for the fertile river bottom land sheltered by the cliff with its sandstone outcroppings at Shaganappi, four miles west of the North West Mounted Police Fort. This was an area that for centuries had been used by Indians as a campsite, and in several locations, for buffalo jumps.(33)

Lawrey acquired title to his land in part by a homestead grant from the Dominion Government and in part by purchase from the C.P.R. Although Lawrey arrived prior to the laying of the C.P.R. tracks at Shaganappi, he nevertheless had to acquire a portion of his land from the C.P.R. as it had been granted to the C.P.R. by the Dominion Government on Dec. 22, 1883.  By the time the railway arrived, he had established a flourishing market garden which barely met the demands of the Police Post and tiny settlement. In the annals of Calgary history, Lawrey was instrumental in making agriculture a bona fide industry within the district. He proved the value of the soil and climate which, only a few years before, had been dispelled by many as unsuitable for crop production.

He was the first pioneer to farm the Bow Valley west of Calgary, although, shortly before, John Glenn and Sam Livingston had pioneered farming innovations along the trade route south of Calgary. Lawrey, however, deserves equal credit for changing the area west of town from a free-wheeling frontier to a settlement and agricultural area. With the Bow River flowing beside the land Lawrey was cultivating, he did not need to use spring water and a warming reservoir like Tom Edworthy. Instead, Lawrey could use river water provided he could transport it over the banks of the river. He succeeded in doing this by building a picturesque windmill which, presumably, lifted the water by pumping it from the river, up approximately ten feet of river bank and onto his land. The windmill, which few people saw because there were no public roads onto Lawrey’s land, had his name on its vanes(35). Lawrey was probably one on the first settlers in the Bow River Valley to use a windmill.

Although the river enabled Lawrey to irrigate his land, it also created problems through the years. The Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company owned an island immediately to the east of Lowery Gardens. Whether the Company’s damming activities there were the cause of Lowery’s flooding problems is uncertain.

Today, of all the land in the immediate area once owned by Lawrey at the turn-of-the-century, only the “garden” area still bears his name. In 1953, the land was acquired by the Province as flood plain. In various documents Lawrey’s name was misspelled and so today the area is known as “Lowery” Gardens. The balance of the property, once encompassing all the land between 37th Street S.W. and the Shaganappi Point Golf Course, and between Bow Trail and the river, is now the residential community of Spruce Cliff.

As a result of rapid expansion and in order to control its urban development, in 1911 the City of Calgary hired Thomas H. Mawson, a world-renowned town planner. His Plan was a vision of Calgary based on the design of Vienna and other European cities. As part of his proposal, Mawson included the Shaganappi escarpment, Archers’ Island (east of Lowery Gardens) and Lawrey Gardens as natural areas. Mawson would have used a natural amphitheater on Lowery Gardens to stage summer theater productions. In addition, he proposed creating an ideal paddling lake at Lowery Gardens without destroying its beauty. He described Lowery Gardens as being exceptionally beautiful, a description which is still appropriate with its abundance of wildflowers and birds. (37) Unfortunately, World War I intervened and the Mawson Plan was abandoned.

Much like it was when Lawrey tilled the soil to feed the grandparents of today’s Calgarians, the site is enjoyed by hikers and cyclists. Few people are aware of its contribution to the City’s heritage. Still fewer are aware of a plebiscite in 1913 which, had it passed, would have implemented Mawson’s Plan to acquire and make Lowery Gardens the “Crowning Jewel” of the Calgary Park System. In part, the plebiscite proposed the acquisition of Lowery Gardens but this was defeated because of an exorbitant asking price.”

33. The word, Shaganappi, was a Cree word meaning “Rawhide”. City of Calgary, Op Cit., p.31

35. George Edworthy, ‘John Lawrey” in Evelyn Buckley, ed., Chaps and Chinooks”  Vol. 1, pp. 180-181

37. Thomas Mawson, City of Calgary Past, Present and Future, p 48.