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The park, covering 6.5 acres, is unique and historically significant. The property was originally deeded in 1796 as a Crown Grant to Robert Hamilton. In 1820, the property was sold to William Hamilton Merritt, founder of the Welland Canal. After passing through the hands of several members of the Merritt family, W.H. Merritt Jr. purchased the site and named it Monte Bello, meaning beautiful mountain.
In 1887 the City of St. Catharines purchased the site and it became the first public park in the city. Frederick Law Olmstead, considered the founder of the landscape architecture, was commissioned to design the park. Olmstead had achieved wide acclaim as planner of New York’s Central Park, the grounds of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Parks System.
In 1888, a pavilion was built on the foundation of the original Merritt estate. In 1904, a covered circular bandstand modelled after the one built for the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo was constructed in the park by Edwin Nicholson, Builder of the Henley Grandstand in Port Dalhousie. The pavilion and bandstand have been designated as structures important under the Ontario Heritage Act. Other attractions include the original commemorative rose garden and ornamental fountain. This is the city’s largest rose collection with more than 1,300 bushes in 25 varieties. It is an area of enchanting beauty and a source of enjoyment for visitors to the park.
The park functions as a social and historical focal point within St. Catharines, and hosts many cultural and social activities.
Information from plaque:
Montebello Park, Picnic about 1910: "A view to the past"
Summertime, and livin' is easy... especially if you can spend time in St. Catharines' most historic park. Today's Montebello Park was once part of a much larger triangular property bounded by Ontario, Lake and Welland Streets that was owned by the Merritt family. William Hamilton Merritt Jr. intended to build his home on the part nearest to the intersection of Lake and Ontario Streets. However he died suddenly in 1860 and nothing more than the foundation of the house had been completed.
For more than two decades after young Mr. Merritt's death, the Merritts allowed city residents to use the lower part for recreation. One of the earliest recorded public events was a celebration of Confederation in 1867. In 1868, the Merritts subdivided their "triangular tract" for development and reserved the lower end of it, the 6 1/2 acres (26.3 hectare) bounded by Ontario, Midland, Queen and Lake Streets, as Montebello Gardens.
In 1887, the City purchased " Montebello Gardens" and it became the city's first park. When they undertook to design a proper park on the site, they commissioned noted American Landscape Architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. His layout for Montebello Park cost $ 127.24 at that time.
Fredrick Law Olmsted and Montebello Park
Fredrick Law Olmsted, the founder of Landscape Architecture in North America is considered by many to be one of the most important social visonaries of the nineteenth century. Olmsted was responsible for defining the urban park as we know it today. He is widely known for his designs of Central Park in New York City (1858), the Boston park system (1884), the Niagara Falls New York park system (1887), Deleware Park in Buffalo (1887) and Mont Royal in Montreal(1887), his only other Canadian commision prior to his work on Montebello Park.
The open space systems designed by Olmsted integrated the preservation of natural features with more formal landscape elements such as promenades, terraces and shelters creating a sense of beauty and enjoyment for the park user. The contrast between urban environment and the planned park generated many benefits, both phycical and mental to the park visitor. At a time when overcrowding and industrial growth were creating a harsh living enviroment in the city, the ideas of Olmsted were particular relevent. He devoted his practice to the improving of the daily lives of the city residents who could benefit from accessible open green spaces.
Olmsted's design for Montebello Park is typical of the style of park design identified with him. Open lawn areas surrounded by tall canopied trees, a system of walkways encouraging pedestrian circulation, the enhancement of natural topography through the sequencing of views and the planned location of shelters and seating areas all formed the basic building blocks of the Olmsted philosophy. A comparison of the montebello design and historical photos reveal that much of the Olmsted design for the park was actually constructed. The park's pavilion was added in 1888 (built on the foundations of the intended Merritt house), the bandstand in 1904 and the Rose Garden, donated by William Bartlett Burgoyne in 1913. The bandshell featuring its curved rooflines is similar to the one build at the Chicago World's Colunbian Exposition, also laid out by Olmsted.