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Elsie Reford's Paradise

For the week of Monday January 16, 2006

On January 22, 1872, Elsie Meighen Reford was born in Perth, Ontario. She established the Jardins de Métis that line the shores of the Métis and St. Lawrence rivers on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. In addition to introducing unique species to Canada, she perfected the art of gardening for 33 years.

Elsie Reford in the Long Walk, ca.1940
© Atelier Plein Soleil / Jardins de Métis

Elsie grew up in Montréal before studying in Paris and Dresden. She married Robert Wilson Reford on June 12, 1894. Strongly supportive of the importance of the role of women, she was active in Montréal society. Between 1900 and 1912, she was Director of the Montreal Maternity Hospital, and went on to become President of the Women’s Canadian Club until 1913. Forging ties with the French‑Canadian community, she helped organize events to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the foundation of Quebec City in 1908. During the First World War, she took part in the war effort as a translator.

Elsie discovered her passion for flowers in the greenhouse adjoining the house of her uncle George Stephen (Lord Mount Stephen), president of the Bank of Montreal and founder of Canadian Pacific in 1880. In the summer of 1902, George Stephen lent his favourite niece his salmon fishing lodge in Grand Métis. In 1918, she inherited it officially and expanded Villa Estevan, built in 1887, transforming it into a 37‑room resort residence.

Rock gardens in the Jardins de Métis
© Parks Canada / Nathalie Clerk / 1994

After a bout of appendicitis in 1926, her doctor suggested that she take up gardening as a more tranquil alternative to fishing. She began building the garden and supervising the work. The ecosystem’s climate was ideal for exceptional growth. Elsie boldly introduced new flowers into region. The seeds were imported by her husband, who was president of Robert Reford Company Ltd., a shipping company. Her most famous achievement was the introduction of the Himalayan blue poppy, previously unknown in North America.

She was in touch with the best Canadian horticulturists of the time, who shared their knowledge with her and helped her buy supplies. In addition to keeping a journal of her achievements, she published her experiments in various specialized publications and became a Canadian reference in the field. Elsie died on November 8, 1967, in Montréal.

The Jardins de Métis contain approximately 3,000 various species on more than 9 hectares of land arranged in an English style. The gardens enjoy a microclimate that lends itself to horticultural diversification unprecedented in Canada, for which they were designated a national historic site in 1995.

To learn more about the Jardins de Métis and how they evolved, visit the following Web site: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/metis/ .

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