The Kingston Horticultural Society (KHS) is a venerable institution that has its roots in the mid 19th century. In order to understand the importance of Horticulture in the early decades following Confederation, we must remember that Victorian-era Canada was experiencing rapid growth – industrialization, urbanization and immigration, which created some appalling social conditions. Horticultural Societies, originally formed by the new “middle-classes”, played a very important role in much needed Social Reform, which was necessary to cope with many of the social ills that these changes brought about.
Horticultural Societies in Ontario were given official status by an Act of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario in 1897 which detailed the criteria which had to be met to be considered a society, and thereafter be eligible for an annual grant. In 1906 the individual horticultural societies were united under the umbrella organization – the Ontario Horticultural Association (OHA).
Kingston has had a horticultural society in one form or another since around 1856 – when the first show was held. The official “birthdate” of the current society is 1899, making it one of the oldest in Ontario. One of the original aims of horticultural societies was beautification, and during the early part of the 20th century, KHS members were very involved in beautifying the city, planting and maintaining many of the parks, libraries and other municipal properties until the work was taken over by the city administration. Over the years, KHS members have worked together on many projects, including the establishment and maintenance of a pollinator garden and rock garden, which are open to the public.
- The first president of a horticultural society in Kingston was Baron de Longueuil, the owner of Wolfe Island. He was president in 1856.
- An article appearing in the Daily British Whig dated 23 February 1899, states that Dr. R.T. Walkem announced a re-organization and naming of the Kingston Horticultural Society since the society of the Frontenac District was now defunct. On the evening previous to this article, Dr. Walkem was named the president, G. Nicol became the first vice-president and WH. McNee, the second vice-president. The society was starting out with a membership of about 70 as a result of canvassing by alderman J. Fortescue, who had worked hard to revive the society and was elected secretary.
- Originally, it was men who first formed and ran Horticultural Societies. The first female Treasurer of the KHS, Mrs. A.W. Mclean was appointed in 1918. The first female president of the OHA, Mary Yates, was not elected until 1921.
- The Botanical Society of Canada was founded in Kingston in 1860. It created a garden, which was one of the first botanical gardens in Canada (now defunct), on what is now part of the grounds of Queen’s University.
- In 1897 the membership fee prescribed by the Act was $1. Today’s membership is good value considering that $1 in 1897 is worth over $300 today.
- There were 153 members in 1910, and during the District Fair in the Fall of that year, there were 1009 entries in the exhibition.
- In 1931, the KHS flower show was advertised on the screen of the Capitol Theatre.
- In 1933 the ladies of the Society were fully in charge of the exhibits for the fall show.
- During both World Wars, Canadian’s grew Victory Gardens, not only to feed the nation and allies overseas, but also to free up transport to move strategic goods other than food.
- In 1967, KHS donated crabapple trees to celebrate Canada’s centenary. They were planted in front of the Provincial Courthouse and you can still enjoy their flowers in the spring today.