a bite-sized podcast about Newfoundland

The History Of Bowring Park

Hello and welcome back to NewfoundPod, a bite sized podcast about Newfoundland. With the weather finally warming up here on the Avalon, I decided to talk to you today about the history of Bowring Park.

Benjamin Bowring was a watchmaker and jeweller in England. He’d heard about the English colony of Newfoundland and in 1811, he travelled here to see if it would be worth his while to set up a shop. He liked what he saw and began dealing with the local merchants, eventually setting up his own shop on Duckworth Street in St. John’s. His new shop’s first year in business was so successful he went back to England and came back with his young family.

He diversified his business, and expanded his line of wares, with the help of his wife Charlotte, to include clothing and stationary among other things. By 1823 he’d purchased 3 schooners to assist with his importing and exporting. In 1834, he left St. John’s to concentrate on the England side of his business and his son Charles was left in charge. Over the years they expanded their business model again to include the seal and cod fishery. They also became insurance brokers. They acquired many ships which they used not only in the fisheries but as a passenger and cargo service.

The late 1800s saw the Great Fire and the Bank Crash, neither of which really affected the Bowring business. In 1911, they celebrated 100 years in business in Newfoundland As part of those celebrations, they announced that they would use $50,000 to create a park for the residents of the city. They purchased a piece of farmland in the Waterford Valley area and work began. The park was officially opened on July 15, 1914 by Prince Arthur, who planted a tree near the main entrance.

Throughout the park there are some sculptures. Two were designed by Basil Gotta.

The Fighting Newfoundlander depicts a Newfoundland soldier about to throw a grenade and was unveiled in 1922.

The Caribou is a replica of a sculpture that was designed for Newfoundland Park in Beaumont Hamel which was unveiled on Memorial Day in 1928.

The park originally covered 50 acres of land, over the years the city has purchased neighbouring lots and the park is now over 200 acres.

Most of the park’s recent development has been handled by the Bowring Park Foundation, a charitable foundation established in 1995.

A tradition in the park has been to have trees planted by royalty and there are many trees that are over 100 years old. There is a conservatory, some people call it the greenhouse, that holds rare and exotic plants.

My personal favourite part of the park is the duck pond. The pond was man made and completed in 1913. It’s fed by South Brook River and Waterford River. Originally it was intended for boating, but it’s now the home of ducks, geese, other birds and of course, the royal swans. Six swans were given to the park by King George VI in 1946. Swans are…temperamental. I remember going to the park as a kid and I was terrified of them. They are huge, and they are bold. I had a bag of bread to feed them and one of them waddled up to me and took the bag and walked off. They scare me and at the same time I admire their sass.

Next to the pond is the beloved Peter Pan statue. Renowned sculptor Sir George Frampton was commissioned by Sir Edgar Bowring to create a statue that embodied the spirit and playfulness of childhood. The statue was unveiled in August 1925 at a Children’s Day event. The statue has a sad meaning behind it, it is a memorial to Sir Edgar’s 4 year old granddaughter Betty Munn, who drowned, along with her father, when the SS Florizel sank in 1918. Though it’s origins are sad, it is a celebration of childhood and it depicts Peter Pan playing his flute while animals like bunnies and mice, and fairies climb towards him.

This was a quick history of the park, there’s a ton of info on the official site for the park and elsewhere online. If you’re interested, I’ll have links in the show notes as well as tons of photos.

Thanks for listening today, you can find me at NewfoundPod.com where you’ll find links to past shows and my social media links. Talk to you soon!