[Note for your calendar: The 2023 Garden Tour is scheduled for Sunday, July 9th from 12 pm to 4 pm.]
Sisters Minnie and Sarah Stunden were active and forward-thinking women in Gananoque. Minnie (formally Mary), born in 1869, and Sarah, born in 1871, were the daughters of Jesse and Mary (Mitchell) Stunden. Jesse was a Customs officer in Gananoque, and the girls grew up on King Street West, before moving to a home on Victoria Avenue. As a young woman, Minnie became an elementary school teacher, but left teaching after 1901, possibly following her father’s death from cancer in July 1907.
Both sisters were involved in numerous local organizations, although Minnie was always the one most involved on the boards of various groups. Minnie was a director of the library board from at least 1910, and became the recording secretary for the Gananoque War Workers’ Society when it was formed in October 1918. In 1922, she became the Secretary Treasurer of the recently formed Gananoque Golf Club, while Sarah competed in golf club events.
Travel to visit friends and family in western Canada and the United States was another aspect of the lives of the Stunden sisters. For example, Minnie spent much of the winter of 1908 with her brother George in Winnipeg, MB, and, in 1911, travelled to the state of Georgia with Agnes (Mrs. W.V.) Bulloch, while Sarah spent the winter of 1924 with her brother George in Orlando, FL.
The date of the creation of Maplecroft Greenhouse on King Street West is unknown, though likely about 1910. In 1912, the sisters expanded their land holdings by purchasing Gideon Scott’s farm, located just east of the Thousand Islands Railway bridge. They planned to use it as a market garden.
At that time, it was relatively unusual for women to purchase property, and they would likely have been required to have sufficient cash to buy the property, as they would have been unable to get a bank loan without a male co-signer. Their ad in the Gananoque Reporter of March 1922 reveals that the greenhouse offered rose bushes, shrubs, vines, and flowers, as well as providing floral services in planting window boxes and baskets.
By the middle of the 1920s, the sisters also had a shop downtown, next to the Bank of Toronto at the south-west corner of Stone and King Streets, where they boasted an extensive selection of Christmas goods. They had a wide variety of plants, such as azaleas, primroses, and ferns; candies including Betty Brown chocolates; dolls, china, Christmas cards, and stamped linens for embroidery were all featured in their Christmas shop in 1925.
Given their interest in plants and growing flowers, it was only natural that the sisters would become involved in the Gananoque Horticultural society when it was formed on April 10, 1920. They were among the twenty-seven local citizens who attended the founding meeting at Town Hall, with Minnie taking on the position of First Vice-President. At this time, it was still unusual for a woman to have an executive role on a board where men were also serving.
Minnie was either First or Second Vice President for the first decade of the Society’s history, as well as chairing a number of committees. She was in charge of the committee that judged the Stone Street (later Linklater Public School) School gardens, and was a member of the exhibition committee under Principal John C. Linklater. She was also involved in choosing ‘premiums,’ bonuses offered to members who paid the $1.00 fee to join the Society.
The sisters contributed some notable flower arrangements to the annual Horticultural Society exhibitions. In 1922, visitors to the early September exhibition in the Dempster Block, on the northwest side of the King Street Bridge, were greeted by the Stunden sisters’ three metre by 60 cm design made up of 500 aster blooms in a Dresden plate pattern, and the word ‘Welcome’ created from red geraniums.
Their display of asters in 1924 included the new variety ‘Black Knight’, and competed with the display from Blinkbonnie Greenhouse, owned by their friend, Rebecca Edwards. When the first silver cup was awarded for the ‘Best Floral Exhibit’ in 1926, the Stunden sisters’ exhibit was beaten out only by a newcomer to the Society, Captain E. Arthur Rackham.
After 1930, the sisters’ involvement in community activities, including the Horticultural Society, decreased substantially. The Depression may have put them out of business, as there are no references to Maplewood Greenhouse during the 1930s. Sarah went to live in Toronto, and Minnie joined her there in about 1940. Minnie died in Toronto on May 31, 1943 and was buried in Willowbank Cemetery. Sarah survived Minnie by ten years, passing away in August 1953.
By Joan MacKinnon
Born in Ottawa, Joan MacKinnon is a long time genealogist and has been gardening since she was in her 20s. She combined these two interests in ‘Make Gananoque More Beautiful’ - A History of the Gananoque Horticultural Society, published in 2021. She has written books and articles on a wide range of topics, including Kingston and Toronto cabinetmakers and her own MacKinnon family history. After moving to Gananoque in 2010, she became involved in the Gananoque Horticultural Society, and began learning about the people who created it, forming the vibrant organization of today.
2023 July 9th Tour
The annual tours continue to this day and the event is very much supported by the community, who purchase tickets and attend the tour. The Garden Tour is an important fundraiser for the Society, which in turn uses the proceeds to continue their beautiful work in the community.
Each garden featured on the tour is as unique as their owner’s personality. Our gardens can range from very large, to very small, rock gardens, to Japanese style gardens, to container gardens and many more. Every garden is beautiful in its own way!
The 2023 Garden Tour is scheduled for Sunday, July 9th from 12 pm to 4 pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance from members of the Gan Horticultural Society or at the Thousand Islands Tourist Information Centre. The cost of a ticket is $15.00, with all proceeds going to the Gan Horticultural Society, to help them continue their work of beautifying the town.
by Elaine Davidson
Header photograph courtesy Gan Horticultural Society.
See also, Gananoque Horticultural Society celebrates 100 years | Gananoque Reporter, by Lorraine Payette, Jan 16, 2020.
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