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The Historical Significance of Communal Gardening in Calgary

Community gardening in Calgary can be traced back to an early initiative undertaken by the City Planning Commission, called the Calgary Vacant Lots Garden Club. The Commission itself was created to obtain data and information regarding town planning, to prepare and recommend a comprehensive scheme of city planning, and to make recommendations for the Town Planning Act and the Building Code.

Members of Calgary's City Planning Commission were influenced by Thomas Mawson, who was contracted to develop a plan for Calgary, and the Garden City Movement in North America, to examine the idea of creating gardens on vacant lots. The Calgary Horticultural Society and the Consumers League were invited to send delegates to the organizational meeting of the Vacant Lots Garden Club on March 2, 1914.

The Club's executive recognized that the cultivation of Calgary's vacant lots would benefit the city's poorer  families who could grow and harvest their own produce at reduced costs. The cultivation of vacant lots would also beautify the city as vegetables and flowers would replace weeds and rubbish. Empty lots were loaned to the Vacant Lots Garden Club by their owners and were under the Club's control until required for development purposes. The Club was also able to use vacant land owned by the City.

The membership fee was set at $1.00 per person. This money was then turned over to the City to cover ploughing costs. The Club received support from the City which provided office space and appointed an alderman annually to serve on the executive. Financial support was also provided by the City on a number of occasions.

From the time of its inception, the Vacant Lots Garden Club maintained a steady membership and flourished during the war years. Membership peaked in 1943 with 2,366 members using 3,229 vacant lots, each lot having an area of 3,000 square feet. Unfortunately, between 1943 and 1951, fewer and fewer vacant lots were available due to the increasing building construction in Calgary. The Vacant Lots Garden Club approached the Town Planning Commission at this time with a request that consideration be given to the provision of plots for community gardens in different parts of the city when preparing a Master Plan for Calgary. Although dissolved in 1952, the Calgary Vacant Lots Garden Club left the citizens of Calgary a gardening legacy that has evolved into the community gardens experience embraced by Calgarians today. 

Prepared By Carol Stokes, Archivist, City of Calgary Archives. 

 Bridgeland _historical _garde       
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The motto of the Vacant Lots Garden Club: "Make the waste places fruitful gardens."