Spring on a Central Park Settee in Halifax with a Bánh mì

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The weather was mild today so I took my bánh mì to the just opened Public Gardens and ate it next to the Boer War fountain while in the background they beat the last of the crap out of the CBC building. I was sitting on one of the freshly painted park benches so this seems like a good time to tell you my bench story.

Back in the early 1970s, when I was newly interested in cast iron and still had a young person’s eye, I wished that the folks in charge of the Public Gardens back in the 19th century had chosen highly decorative, iron, park benches, like this enchanting  squirrel model in Glasgow, Scotland.

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Instead they chose a very plain design with a cast iron frame and wooden slats.

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But also in the 70s I came upon an illustration from a 19th century hardware catalog that illustrated our bench design and called it “Central Park Pattern.”

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A couple of years ago I used the wonders of the internet to see if the design was really associated with Central Park in New York. Turns out it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who created the plans for Central Park and who is considered the father of landscape architecture in North America. Could be the most noteworthy park bench design of that century. A true classic!

Olmsted designed the benches to “define the edge of a landscape without drawing attention to themselves.”

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The shape of the legs and back referenced chairs from ancient Greece.

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So more mature me is now a huge fan of our Public Garden benches and rejoices in the brilliant choice made in the 19th century. This might be something for present day bench specifiers to ponder. Here are some new examples from our downtown. Which ones will we love a hundred years from now?

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Postscript

  • I’m uncertain when the Central Park pattern began to be used in the Public Gardens. They were front and centre in 1897 as a crowd waited for the unveiling of the Nymph fountain to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
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Waiting for Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the Governor General, to arrive are a large choir of school children (who sang a song entitled “Victoria”), a group of Mi’kmaq elders in traditional dress, and the Halifax Academy band.

  • And to insert myself into the narrative once again: a Public Gardens selfie in the fall of 1968, too self absorbed to recognize the subtlety of the bench design. Remember, I would have had to set up the camera, start the self timer and run over to the benches and put on my sullen face. Click.

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About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.

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