The Halifax Public Gardens are more than a Victorian urban garden.
It’s a place where the story of people’s lives play out. Where children’s first steps are taken, graduates ponder their future and newlyweds record the start of their new lives together.
These Gardens have played a role in the lives of many generations of Haligonians throughout it’s 171 year history.
Today we celebrate one of these stories. A love story which began and blossomed at the Gardens.
Twenty year old Madeline Graves had recently moved to Halifax and was working and living close to the Gardens, looking after six-year-old Mary Lib Kaye. On a beautiful July afternoon, during her day off, Madeleine and a friend made their way to the Gardens to listen to a band and relax in the beautiful surroundings. The year was 1941 and the war had been going on for two long years.
Bedford Basin was the gathering spot for the ships which would travel across the Atlantic in convoy, escorted and protected by Armed Merchant Cruisers. A return journey took six weeks. The Battle of the Atlantic lasted 2073 days.
One of those escorts was tied up for 10 days and her crew was granted shore leave.
Madeline entered the Gardens through the Summer St. entrance and immediately caught site of the beautiful Victoria Jubilee fountain whose nymph was overlooking a group of sailors lounging on the grass.
Quite a sight, but not a place for two unescorted young women to linger in, so they moved on.
They wound their way around Griffin’s Pond and stopped to admire another fountain. This one had a lovely weeping tree beside it with contorted branches. Scattered around the pond were families with children, lovers walking hand in hand and even a busker juggling for money.
Roy from Grand Falls, Newfoundland was a crew member of the The HMS Montclare, one of the Armed Merchant Cruisers. After a six-week tension filled crossing he was looking forward to leaving the war behind him (even for a night) and enjoy some relaxation onshore. He and a few buddies headed down Lower Water St. on a warm evening. They made their way to the Halifax Public Gardens to join the crowds of people who were out enjoying a warm summer evening. Their mood was buoyant.
They entered the Gardens through the main gates after window shopping on Spring Garden Rd. They were ready to admire the scene at the Gardens but undoubtedly the girls got more attention than the flowers.
After hours of wandering around the girls were ready to take a load off their feet. They walked down the green tunnel formed by the elm trees along the Grand Aleé and decided to sit on a bench beside a towering elm tree facing Griffin’s pond. A couple of sailors were swaggering toward them talking and laughing, and one of them broke into song. Madeline didn’t realize she was staring until the singer smiled at her and said ‘Hello’.
Madeline and Roy were immediately drawn to each other. After introducing themselves and spending a short time bantering with each other and their friends, Roy suggested they take a walk in the Gardens. They sat by the bandstand, and told each other about themselves. An hour passed very quickly and Roy’s curfew was fast approaching so he offered to walk Madeline home. Arriving at Madeline’s house, Roy asked if they could meet the next day , same time, same place.
They met again the next evening by the large elm tree, and time flew by as they became immersed in the story of each other’s lives. They shared their hopes and fears and future plans as their feelings for each other blossomed. Unexpectedly, it would be many weeks before they would see each other again. On Roy’s return after another mission, he called Madeline fervently hoping that she wouldn’t be upset by his unannounced departure. Madeline was delighted to take up where they had left off.
They got to know each other like many couples during the war… through almost daily letters which arrived in batches and were savored during the times when there was no word. They met up whenever Roy was on leave at their special meeting place, the Halifax Public Gardens.
In mid October of 1941 on a moonlit night, Roy and Madeline where once again faced with having to say goodbye to each other. By now there was no doubt about their feelings for each other. They sat by the Victoria Jubilee fountain as their precious time drew to a close, and Roy asked Madeline to marry him.
Seventy years ago today, Roy and Madeline became man and wife in Madeline’s home town. Like many newlyweds during the war, they only spent two nights together before Roy had to return overseas. They were often separated.
Two days after Madeline gave birth to their first child, the bells started ringing and the sirens wailing to mark the end of the war. Roy would soon be coming home permanently. Now they could start their lives together.
Happy Anniversary Madeline and Roy. We wish you the very best and wish you could be at the Public Gardens to celebrate your platinum anniversary. Hopefully these photo’s will bring a bit of the Gardens to you.
Thank you to Madeline, Roy and particularly their first-born Rodger (a frequent visitor to the Gardens) for sharing this lovely story and some photo’s. Rodger wrote a short story entitled “Love Blooms” for his parents anniversary, and allowed me to base this photo tour on it.