One of Red Deer’s historic attractions is being brought back to life, and Mike Busby couldn’t be happier.
The Waskasoo Environmental Education Society took over the old Allen Bungalow in the 1980s and renovated it in the 90s.
But until recently, they were unaware of the significance of its former gardens that became part of the city’s landscape in the 1930s and 40s.
Last year, the effort began in earnest to revitalize the Busby Legacy Gardens.
“It’s pretty important,” said Busby, 43. “It’s nice to see them putting effort into it. It’s such a nice area, right on the river, and the last number of years the gardens and the property kind of deteriorated, and so it was disappointing to see that, considering it was such a prominent home for a long time in Red Deer.”
The house was originally built by Archibald Allen in 1917, but he never managed to complete it.
Edward Henry Busby originally came to Red Deer in 1926 after immigrating to Canada from New Zealand in 1917.
After originally buying a hotel in Kitscoty, Alta., the moved to Red Deer in 1926 and bought the Auditorium Hotel, which later beacme the Buffalo Hotel.
In 1931, he bought River Glen Farms, which included the bungalow and the surrounding land, and started up River Glen Dairy.
In 1938, Busby was injured in an accident with a horse, resulting the amputation of his leg and he died of illness in 1941. The property then fell to Gordon ‘Joe’ Busby who ran the dairy until he died of a heart attack in 1947, at age 38, and was later sold to R.V. McCullough.
Gordon Busby was Mike’s grandfather.
While the Busbys owned the land they completed the bungalow and created a beautiful garden that became renown in the area. It was an oasis within the city.
The McCulloughs turned the house into a bed and breakfast and the garden eventually faded into history.
After Waskasoo took over the property in 1984, they performed a sympathetic restoration of the house, which Mike’s father John, who lived in the house until he was 10, helped provide some background on.
A few years ago, the Red Deer Heritage Preservation Committee informed the society of the history of the garden, and the decision was made perform a restoration.
“The Busby family had a love for the place and for gardening and they had stunningly beautiful gardens at the house,” said Waskasoo executive director Jim Robertson.
But the gardens will not look exactly as they did 65 years ago, but they will be in the same style. The property has changed over the years and a budget has limited what can be done, but the idea is to create a well manicured Edwardian garden, much like what would have existed when the Busby’s owned the property.
Work began last fall.
The centerpiece of the garden will be a gazebo, donated by Rotary Club. The rest of the garden will be filled out mainly with perennials, bushes and shrubs that are low maintenance and would have been typical to the period.
“We wanted to get plants that bloom all season long — mainly June and July — but we wanted to extend the blooming season that would normally take place,” said landscaper Daryl Beck, owner of Creative Landscape and Designs. “We have very extensive foundation planting … that tries to unite and make the whole building flow together. It directs your eye and softens the lines of the house.”
Beck fully recognizes the importance of a project like this.
“I’m a bit of a history buff and I’ve been around Red Deer all my life,” he said. “I definitely feel a responsibility … I really consider it an honour and a privilege to get asked to do the job and I really want to make sure it works and you get a period feeling when you go in there.”
Work on the garden will not be completed this year, though it is already being reserved for weddings this summer. The job is about half way to completion and will likely take another couple of years. The work is slow considering most of the funds are having to be raised — they did receive a $10,000 grant from the preservation committee — while they are also hoping for people to come forward who are willing to help with some of the maintenance and planting and other labour.
The garden is an important part of the history of Red Deer and Waskasoo was looking for a way to recognize the contributions of the Busby family to the city and the property, naming the garden in their honour was a natural fit.
“We call it the Allen Bungalow because they were the original builders, the meeting room suite is the McCullough Room, because the McCulloughs were the last (to own it),” said Robertson. “But really it was the Busbys through much of the first half of the 20th century that made the place what it is.”
The Busbys themselves are looking at making their own contribution to the project.
For Mike Busby, the project is a poignant one. He grew up with stories about his dad and his aunts and uncles growing up and skating on the nearby Gaetz Lakes and life on the farm. His mother, Louise Busby, died of cancer in December. Though she never lived in the house, she knew full well the importance of the property to the family and them putting down roots in the city.
“My mother was very happy because she knew a lot of my relatives were essentially founders in the town …” he said. “The one name that never had been recognized that much had been the Busby name.”