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Pages from North Battleford's fascinating history

Coronation and Gregory Parks
A colour photo from the past shows Gregory Park in its former spleandour.

About 100 yards south of the railway underpass and 75 yards to the west lies an old stone wall amidst maple and white spruce trees. It's tough to see if you're headed toward the bridge, but if you turn right on Territorial Drive, and look to your right, you can see it rather easily.

The wall is about 60 feet long, two and a half feet high and two feet thick. It's made of hewn stone and mortar, not just stones piled one on another. Whoever constructed this wall many decades ago was a skilled stonemason.

Sadly, in recent weeks, someone has stolen hundreds of pounds of stone from this historic structure.

Until recently, I thought this stone wall was left over from the old Coronation Park. In actual fact, the wall in question was part of Gregory Park, named after a former North Battleford mayor and MLA. Gregory Drive is also named after him. It predated Coronation Park.

The wall is a remnant of a long winding double (and in places, parallel) stone wall that wound its way down the valley east of King Hill and also up towards the North Battleford Ice Arena (now the location of the bowling alley).

In some places, the wall was much higher and massive. I have a wide-angle photograph of Gregory Park given to me by Fred Walker of the North West Historical Society that shows this. The stone walls were a make-work project for men on relief during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Gregory Park fell victim to vandals and neglect and finally ceased to exist. Over the years, the stone walls were destroyed

And, yes, there was indeed a Coronation Park. It was created and named by the City in honour of King George VI, the father of our present queen, Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the British throne in 1936. His coronation was on May 12, 1937. (We all learned in high school history, of course, that King George VI replaced his brother, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry an American socialite named Wallace Simpson. But I digress.)

According to long-time residents of the Battlefords who spent many enjoyable times in their childhood and youth at Coronation Park, the park sloped down from an area just south of the library (Allan Sapp Centre) and railway tracks - down the valley below the area where Saint Thomas College (now the Don Ross Centre) was built in 1950 - encompassing the present toboggan hill and the bush to the south, and past the sewage plant (which did not exist then) for some distance. There were no stone walls, save remnants from Gregory Park to the West and North.

Residents who have lived in the Battlefords all of their lives attest to the spectacular scenery of the park. Dave Conroy referred to the "absolute beauty" of the park where he spent hundreds of hours as a child.

Panos Antoniades, age 82, remembers with fondness the wonderful times at Coronation Park. Both gentlemen gave generously of their time to describe Coronation Park. A stream (with water from runoff and the steam generating plant situated on a rise just south and west of the seniors' high rise and the railway tracks) wound its way through the park. There were trails made of stone and cinder (no concrete), two rustic wooden bridges over the stream, park benches, gazebos and fire pits, and trees, plants, foliage and flowers of great variety.

Dave Conroy noted that the park was very much "a natural park." Imagine, if you will, that in the late thirties or early forties, in October, you are up by the library looking south. There is no Don Ross Centre, no double highway, no Territorial Drive West, no Railway Avenue East, no bridges. Instead, there is a sweeping, panoramic view of Coronation Park, King Hill (40 feet higher then) to the west, with the river valley washed in the reds and golds of autumn and the majestic North Saskatchewan river in the background.

By all accounts, Coronation Park was a magical place. Dorothy Blair, age 88, remembers going on a date to Coronation Park in 1942 with a young man who was training to be a fighter pilot with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. (A large thank you to Dorothy who toured the area with me to explain how the park was laid out.

Panos Antoniades described how teachers from the North Battleford Collegiate Institute (N.B.C.I.), Connaught School and King Street School would take their classes for outings to Coronation Park, and in June, for end of the school year class picnics.

Citizens of the Battlefords from all walks of life frequented the park. On hot Sunday afternoons, after church, families would relax in the shade by the murmuring stream. Businessmen and women, managers and junior employees alike from the city core up the hill often took their noon breaks to eat their lunches in the cool and pleasant surroundings before heading back into the hustle of city commerce. Children, of course, loved the park. It was a place to explore, to imagine, to be like the heroes of old for a time, and to test one's limits. Dave Conroy remembers a grove of trees called "Tarzan's Jungle" and swinging on a rope across the stream. Find me a preadolescent boy who wouldn't love to do that.

So what happened to Coronation Park? Pat Folan remembers being at Coronation Park in the early fifties. I don't know exactly when it ceased to exist, but its fate was no less ignoble than that of Gregory Park. In 1949-1950, permission was given to the builders of Saint Thomas College to dump thousands of tons of clay and dirt at the top southeast part of the park in order to create soccer fields. The steam power plant was demolished. Then, of course, the double highway from 11th Ave and 101st Street (part of which overlapped the West boundary of the park) was constructed to link with the first new bridge which was built in 1966. The railway underpass was rebuilt. Railway East (from the junction of Territorial Drive West and the twin highway), which runs east past the North end of the Don Ross Centre, cut through the north end of the park

The parks are gone and, with them, a piece of our history. Not many residents of the Battlefords know that Coronation Park even existed (only a few it seems, of advancing years, who actually spent time at the park). Fewer still know anything about Gregory Park and the stone walls.

I mentioned that someone had stolen hundreds of pounds of stone from what was left of the old Gregory Park wall. I brought this to the attention of the North Battleford Standing Committee on Parks, Recreation, Culture and Heritage Committee (of which I am a member) by letter a number of weeks ago, and also to the North West Historical Society (of which I am a member as well). The matter was discussed at subsequent meetings of both the City committee and the NWHS respectively with the former authorizing me to contact the RCMP. I personally delivered a letter to the North Battleford detachment's main office. I am happy to see that the theft was put on Crime Stoppers and that many people heard it. No results yet.

In my opinion, if we cannot recover the stone, a professional stonemason should be engaged to restore the wall to the state it was in before the theft. Then, an interpretive panel giving an overview of both Gregory and Coronation Parks should be placed near the old stone wall.

Next, we need to turn our attention to maintaining and preserving our city's architectural heritage. That will be no small task.

Dr. Richard Hiebert has been asked by the City of North Battleford's Parks, Recreation, Culture and HeritageCommittee to draft a policy framework on the identification, maintenance and preservation of the city's historical and heritage buildings and properties, which is to be presented to city council. Hiebert will be suggesting a committee composed of the president of the North West Historical Society and one other society member, the president of the Battlefords chapter of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society Inc., two history-minded citizens of North Battleford and two members of the City's Standing Committee on Parks, Recreation, Culture and Youth to advisecity council on the matter of historical properties. He may be reached at 445-5985 or [email protected].