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History of the Reader Rock Garden

Superintendent's  House - circa early 1920's - courtesy of the Reader family

This historic three-acre garden was created in 1913 by Calgary's third Parks superintendent, William Roland Reader, and has been recognized around the world. View the historical photos of Reader Rock Garden.

How it all began

The Reader Rock Garden was historically used as accompanying gardens for the private residence of Calgary's Superintendent of Parks and Cemeteries. The house was constructed in 1912, and the garden's creation began one year later.

The gardens were designed, as a naturalistic rockery in the typical arts and craft style of the time. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, horticulturists commonly collected alpine plants on their travels and created gardens that reflected their journeys. Reader actively engaged in this practice and during the 1920s, '30s and '40s the garden held more than 4,000 different plant species, making it one of the most significant gardens in Western Canada.

Both Reader and his plant collection were known internationally, and the quality of the plants and seeds were recognized by the most prestigious horticultural agencies in the world. While the garden was essentially completed by the end of the 1920s, Reader continued collecting and experimenting with plant material until his death in 1943. One year later, the garden was named in his honour and opened to the public as a City park. Though the garden underwent periods of neglect and revival between 1950 and 1990, both they and the superintendent's cottage were restored and re-opened to the public in 2006.

Layout of the original gardens

Reader's famous garden had five main areas:

  • The west garden featured two constructed pools, a stream, a small bridge and a bog garden.
  • The high rockery was structured around stone pathways and retaining walls, and the flower beds were filled with numerous varieties of alpine plants, flowering perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees.
  • The garden by the house offered a small gazebo and was surrounded by perennial beds.
  • The south slope separated the house from the cemetery and contained an abundance of trees, shrubs and shade-loving perennials.
  • The western slope was the final section to be developed and was an extension of the high rockery.

Visiting the garden

Reader Rock Garden is located at 325 25 Ave S.E. and are open from sunrise to sunset. Features include a cafe, washrooms and walkways.​