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VanDusen Botanical Garden
Butchart Gardens | Best times to visit | Directions From Vancouver | History of
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Nitobe Memorial Garden
Park & Tilford
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

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History of Butchart Gardens

In 1888, near his birthplace, Owen Sound, Ontario, the former dry goods merchant, Robert Pim Butchart, began manufacturing Portland Cement. By the turn of the century he had become a highly successful pioneer in this burgeoning North American industry. Attracted to the West Coast of Canada by rich limestone deposits vital for cement production, he built a new factory at Tod Inlet, on Vancouver Island. There, in 1904, he and his family established their home.

As Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jennie, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit that resulted. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, the abandoned quarry bloomed as the spectacular Sunken Garden.

Mr. Butchart took much pride in his wife's remarkable work. A great hobbyist, he collected ornamental birds from all over the world. He enjoyed training pigeons at the site of the present Begonia Bower, and had many elaborate bird houses stationed throughout Jennie's beautiful gardens. By 1908, reflecting their world travels, the Butcharts had created a Japanese Garden on the sea-side of their home. Later an Italian Garden was created on the site of their former tennis court, and a fine Rose Garden replaced a large kitchen vegetable patch in 1929.

The renown of Mrs. Butchart's gardening quickly spread. By the 1920’s, more than fifty thousand people came each year to see her creation. In a gesture toward all their visitors, the hospitable Butcharts christened their estate "Benvenuto," the Italian word for "Welcome." To extend the welcome, flowering cherry trees along Benvenuto Avenue leading to The Gardens were purchased from Yokohama Nursery in Japan and installed from West Saanich Road to The Butchart Gardens' entrance.

Their house grew into a comfortable, luxurious showplace with a bowling alley, indoor salt-water swimming pool, panelled billiard room and - wonder of its age! - a self-playing Aeolian pipe organ (still played on Firework Saturdays). Today the residence contains the Dining Room Restaurant, offices, and rooms still used for family entertaining. From January 15 to March 15, a special re-creation of the family house is showcased.

The family tradition of acquiring objects when travelling has continued over the years. The Fountain of the Three Sturgeons and the bronze casting of the wild boar are both from Florence, Italy. They were purchased by Ian and Ann-Lee Ross in 1973. The fountain is a casting made from a much smaller fountain created by Professor Sirio Tofanari in 1958. Other works by him include the little donkey and the foal that stand close by the statue of the wild boar on the Piazza in front of the Butchart Residence. The boar is a rare bronze copy of a casting of the marble displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. This bronze known affectionally as "Tacca," in honour of Pietro Tacca, the artist who created the statue in 1620. His snout is finely burnished by thousands of visitors who give it an affectionate rub for good luck. Tacca is dedicated to all the children and animals who visit The Gardens.

The Butchart Gardens remains a family business and has grown to become a premier West Coast display garden, while maintaining the gracious traditions of the past. Today the Gardens has established an international reputation for its year round display of flowering plants.

Each year over 1,000,000 bedding plants in some 700 varieties are used throughout the Gardens to ensure uninterrupted bloom from March through October. Well over a million people visit each year, enjoying not only the floral beauty, but the entertainment and lighting displays presented each summer and Christmas.

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