Alberta's Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres and Museums
Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site

Our Garden

The Historic Property

On May 29, 1909, Alexander Cameron Rutherford, purchased 0.5 hectares (1.3 acres) of land from Laurent Garneau. The triangular lot of land was the largest (lot 12*) in block 183 of River Lot Number 7. Construction of the house began with the basement excavation in the fall of 1909 and the Rutherford family moved into their completed home in February, 1911. Much of the surrounding landscape was farmland and bush. The University of Alberta was beginning to make a presence in the area with the completion of Alberta College South in 1910 (later to become Old St. Stephen’s College), and Athabasca Hall in 1911. Several other university buildings were under construction at this time.

River lot plan

Part of Plan 443X, Plan of a Subdivision of Part of River Lot No. 7, 1909. Land Titles Office, Edmonton.

The original property was outlined with spruce trees most likely transplanted from the nearby river valley forest. This spruce hedge buffered the property from harsh winter weather and also offered the family some privacy.

The grounds surrounding the house were designed with a garden terrace and a low stone wall that framed the front of the house. The stone wall was built with rocks from the Rutherford family’s first property in the Mill Creek area of South Edmonton. At the front and on the west side of the house, sizeable stone steps created a grand appearance. The terrace, steps and stone wall remain today, providing an impressive backdrop for the historic gardens.

As a visitor to Rutherford House, one would have approached the house from Saskatchewan Avenue (now Drive) using a graveled circular driveway called a carriage sweep. In the center of the carriage sweep, Mrs. Rutherford had a flower garden and a grove of trees. A gravel pathway to the east of the house led to the family’s vegetable garden, the back of the house, and a garage. The carriage sweep of the past is now represented by a circular sidewalk leading to the entrance of the house. The gravel pathway has been replaced by a sidewalk, and the vegetable garden has made way for a shaded picnic spot.

The Rutherford family home

Rutherford House, c. 1913. The side porch is not yet enclosed. Glenbow-Alberta Institute, NC-6-1028.

Passionate Gardeners

Both Mr. & Mrs. Rutherford were passionate gardeners. Mr. Rutherford spent many hours each year planting and tending to trees, shrubs, and hedges. The family planted six apple trees behind the house using seeds originating from stock from Kempville, Ontario. The pride and joy of the family was a double white lilac bush which Mrs. Rutherford started from seeds taken from her sister’s home in Ottawa, Ontario. The lilac tree grew indoors for several years until it had matured enough to be planted outdoors.

Mr. Rutherford’s greatest passion was tending to a large vegetable garden; cultivating potatoes, turnips, carrots, radishes, and lettuce for his family. Mr. Rutherford did much of the gardening work on his own, but he usually hired someone to plough up the garden space in preparation for spring planting. The Rutherford’s grandson, Eric McCuaig, recalls that his grandfather provided small garden plots and expert gardening advice for children in the neighbourhood, including Eric himself. During autumn clean up of the gardens, Mr. Rutherford could be found tending a bonfire of raked leaves, and chatting with his neighbours.

River lot plan

Alexander and Mattie Rutherford standing in the garden at Rutherford House, c. 1930.
Mrs. Hazel McCuaig Collection, Historic Sites and Museums, Alberta Culture.

Mrs. Rutherford enjoyed adding herbs grown in the garden to her cooking. She was famous for adding a sprig of scented leaf geranium to the top of her jam jars before she sealed them.

Hazel recalled her mother planting and enjoying traditional favourites such as phlox, stocks, nasturtiums, sweet peas, pansies, mignonette and purple iris, asters, ferns, roses, and lilacs.

Mrs. Rutherford decorated the house with freshly cut blossoms before she received guests. Flowers such as sweet peas, roses, asters, and lilacs were used in vases throughout the house, not only on special occasions, but at anytime during the growing season.

On the occasion of Hazel Rutherford and Stanley McCuaig’s wedding, the decorations for the day were noteworthy enough to make the local paper.

“The home was particularly attractively decorated with autumn leaves, sweet peas and roses.”

Family Fun and Community Connections

The Rutherford family and their many friends enjoyed the ornamental gardens and open lawn space that surrounded their home. The gardens were perfect for outdoor entertaining and Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford hosted formal social functions, family birthday parties, and picnics. The family also enjoyed the grounds for playing croquet and relaxing with the family dogs.

River lot plan

Hazel Rutherford and Bunty, c. 1912.
Mrs. Hazel McCuaig Collection, Historic Sites and Museums, Alberta Culture.

On May 9, 1912, the Rutherford’s hosted an event to honour the first University of Alberta graduating class. This event, Founder’s Day Tea, became a traditional part of the University of Alberta’s graduation celebration for the next 26 years. The number of graduates swelled from the original 25 students attending the tea in 1912, to over 300 in 1938.

The Chancellor’s Gardens

The gardens to the west of the house have been named The Chancellor’s Gardens. Alexander Cameron Rutherford is recognized as the father of the University of Alberta. During the first session of the 1906 Alberta Legislature, he introduced the University Bill to establish a non-denominational, co-educational university for the newly created province of Alberta. After stepping down as Premier in 1910, Mr. Rutherford accepted a position on the University Senate where he remained a member until 1927, at which time he was elected Chancellor of the University of Alberta. He served in this capacity for 14 years until his death in June 1941. These gardens are dedicated to A.C. Rutherford, and all University of Alberta Chancellors who have followed in his footsteps.

Plants Galore

The gardens and the surrounding landscape of Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site reflect the early 1900s in Edmonton and the personal preferences of both Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford. Some of the structural elements of the original gardens and a few of the plants still remain, while other elements have been recreated or replaced in keeping with the historical information available.

Peony Garden: Heritage Varieties

River lot plan

Variety Year of Intro Colour Blooming Time
Festiva Mazima 1851 Snow White Early
Livingstone 1879 Bright Pink Late
David Harum 1907 to 1920 Red Mid-season
La France 1901 Light Pink Very Late
Edulis Superba 1824 Mauve Pink Early
Karl Rosenfield 1908 Dark Red Mid-season
Sarah Bernhardt 1906 Mauve Pink Late


Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016