Saturday, March 19, 2016

In Search of Local History: My Winter Walk-off Challenge

Every year Les of a Tidewater Gardener offers a challenge to bloggers who love photography.

Here's the challenge in a nutshell: On your own two feet, leave the house and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home. 

Sadly, last year I missed out on the winter walk-off, so with this year's challenge deadline looming, last Sunday we walked to the old greenhouse up the street.

Before I get to the challenge photos, a little history. The city of Brampton, where I live (the tiny village of Huttonville has been incorporated into the city of Brampton), was once known as the "Flower Town of Canada".

According to legend, Henry Dale, who worked along side his father selling vegetables door to door, helped expand the family business by presenting the lady of the house with a rose he grew himself.

Growing and selling market vegetables had been the way his father Edward made a new life for himself after emigrating from England in 1863, but for young Henry, growing roses was his true passion.

Henry began using the family greenhouses to experiment with methods for producing roses that were uniform in both size and color.

When his father retired, Henry shifted the business away from vegetable production to focus completely on growing flowers.

Before long, his "Canada rose" had an international reputation and the Dale greenhouses had expanded to reach eleven acres under glass.

For years the three hundred foot chimney of the greenhouse complex was the most prominent landmark in Brampton. Each day the company whistle could be heard clear across town, punctuating the start, middle and end of the work day.

Roses were not the company's only speciality. The complex of 140 greenhouses also produced orchids, carnations, lilies, hydrangeas and poinsettias.

Just look at those chrysanthemums!

The chrysanthemum on the left is taller than the men in this old picture. You just don't see flowers like that much anymore!

The Dale Estate flower business weathered the great depression and the Second World War, but in the 1960's and 70's the cost of modernizing the old greenhouses became a huge challenge.

Cheap import cut flowers and the rising fuel costs also took a toll forcing the company to scale back operations in the 70's and eventually close its doors in the 1980's.

Now, the greenhouses I am about to show you are not part of the former estate. The success of the Henry Dale's company lead to the establishment of other similar enterprises.

Based on the style of the adjoining house, I'd say these greenhouses dates from the 1970's or early 80's.They have been sitting empty for years. Local kids seem to have made a game of breaking the glass panes.

This leaning power pole always makes me puts me a bit on edge as I pass by!

The moment humans depart, plants reclaim what was once theirs!

'Round the back, there are piles of industrial waste. They have an odd, eerie beauty.

This chimney was part of the old boiler house.

The oil fired boiler must have heated the complex of greenhouses. 
Did the cost of fuel do this business in as well?

The biggest stock piles of stuff are hidden at the very back.

It's odd how a company that built a city can fall into ruin and be largely forgotten, isn't it?

If you would like to see other Winter Walk-off blog posts, please visit A Tidewater Gardener.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives for the use of the historical photographs in this post. Research on the Dale Estate Greenhouses was drawn from the Ontario Heritage Trust website.


  1. What interesting history about the city where you live, Jennifer!
    And I love these photographs.
    I am a true believer that even things so broken, can be so truly beautiful.
    It's all a matter of how you see them.
    It would be nice if someone could do something with those greenhouses though.
    It would be so nice to see them thrive again.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. I am accustomed to seeing such beautiful gardens in your posts, but this one is beautiful too. It's just a sad beauty, and exactly the kind of place I would be drawn to - camera in hand. I would blame cheap international air freight, and cheap overseas labor, especially in Columbia and Ecuador, for the decline in the North American cut flower trade. Fortunately there has been a small resurgence with people looking for local, seasonal flowers. Thank you for walking with me!

  3. A very interesting post. Thanks for entering Les's challenge so I could meet you.

  4. Wow, those are some powerful images. Thank you for sharing them!

  5. I love history and enjoyed this walk with you. We have a run down Mott's apple plant in our small town and it is overrun with plants. The factory is barely sticking up above all the overgrown vegetation. Great photos!

  6. What a different read to your previous post ...
    I love the history and images you've used, and it never ceases to amaze me that plants make their appearance no matter what happens to their surroundings.
    Unfortunately times change and we all have to do our best to change / evolve with them. Not always the easiest thing to do.

    Take Care

    All the best Jan

  7. This is such an interesting piece of history Jennifer. The photos of the past are wonderful. It always seems sad when a prosperous family business eventually dies out, but sometimes it's just that the next generation isn't interested and there's no one to carry on the business. Your photos of the abandoned greenhouses have such a melancholy air to them. Love the shot of the plants reclaiming the space. Great post!

  8. this is absolutely fascinating! And your photos certainly painted a vivid picture for us. Thank you for sharing this bit of your local history. PS: I love your tulip header -- talk about vivid :)

  9. Thanks for an interesting history of another part of the world I am not familiar with. Our parents probably bought flowers grown in these greenhouses. Those concrete cylinders remind me of one of my projects - there were radioactive cores stored in the basement of an empty building I was remodeling on an army base. (Low radioactivity thankfully.)

    1. Gosh, I hope the concrete cylinders in my photos aren't radioactive Ray!

  10. It always saddens me to see greenhouses abandoned. Here in SW Ontario, I'm surrounded by the same thing as farmers moved away from growing tobacco which needed to be started by seeds. Many of them have fallen into disrepair and are just sitting on the farms beside the side of the road.
    Your story about Brampton is fascinating. I never knew!

  11. My grandfather, Ernest Wright, was a stationery engineer and ran the boiler systems for the greenhouses. When I was little, he would take us to the greenhouses, walking through and inhaling the wonderful smells of plants and damp earth. There was a tunnel, maybe that ran under the highway, from one set of greenhouses to the other. They lived at the corner of hwy 10 and 7, and their house always had cut flowers. It was wonderful growing up there. Kim from b.c.

    1. How interesting! Thank you for sharing this little bit of family history.

  12. I enjoyed reading the history of Henry Dale's business! It's a shame it went under eventually, but I'm not surprised after seeing the highly efficient and mechanized system the Dutch have for selling flowers.

  13. There is an odd beauty in the way man made materials revert back to nature... the tones of rust and the textures of peeling and crumbling. And how ironically appropriate that the plants are reclaiming the greenhouses. Thank you for sharing these wonderfully evocative photos.

  14. Loved the history of the Dale business. My great grandmother Sybil Marriott had a large greenhouse flower business in Saskatoon at the turn of the last century so I really enjoyed your photos. Sad to see the images of the abandoned greenhouses ... BTW I found my way to your blog via Les's "Tidewater Gardener" blog and his "winter walk off" contest. Cheers from a former Ontarian. Sybil

  15. How sad. It's too bad someone hasn't come in to restore it.

  16. Beautiful but sad. It looks like it would make a wonderful market or nursery if it was restored.


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