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Greater Mississauga Area
Pages of Special Interest;
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scanned copy. Done on a non-word processor, called a typewriter, I believe.
Some of the spelling is original, even if it appears wrong. The name Elliott
has one t, even though it often in this text with two tt's. The figures
are left out at his time but as this is a City document a copy is in the
Central library, in the Canadiana Reading Room 615-3524 - code 971.3535.PHI
By Ken Phipps, LACAC student, September 1989
THE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
Edwin Kay was born in England in 1889. He died in Canada sixty-nine years later, on December 7, 1958.
Before he died, however, he served in France in World War I and spend two years as a prisoner of war. In 1922 he came to Canada to practice landscape architecture. Here he became president of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and Town Planners, president of the Men of Trees Society, a member of the board of management and trustee of Laughlen Lodge, a life-member of St George's Society, and a life-member and councillor of the International Federation of Landscape Architects .
As a landscape architect, Edwin Kay's projects included the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, the Massey estate at Port Hope, the Dyer Memorial at Huntsville, and a park in what was once a west-of-Yonge-Street triangular portion of Mt Pleasant Cemetery and is now the TTC's Davisville station and yards. He also designed the grounds of the Cawthra-Elliott estate.
In the 1920's a group of landscape architects used to meet in the garden of the Diet Kitchen Restaurant, on Bloor St in Toronto, and among those who attended these meetings was Edwin Kay. Nine members of this group became the founders of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and Town Planners (these last three words were eventually dropped) in 1934.
Humphrey Carver, who was among them then and is still an honourary member of the CSLA, said Edwin Kay had a small moustache, a black suit and a watch-chain hung across his waistcoat; Kay looked more like a businessman than the other more 'tweedy' members of the group. Humphrey also said "Edwin Kay belonged to the management side of landscape work and had the air of a practical man who knew how to get things done. Hence the watch-chain across his waistcoat. He was English and had worked for the Grubbs as a supervisor of landscape planting and construction; and then had gone on his own. One perceived that the relationship with the Grubbs was not altogether comfortable. "Kay did not speak at all about his early life and it is only hearsay that he had worked for some time on a large estate of European nobility. Perhaps some of the style rubbed off on him, for I see Edwin Kay promenading along Bloor Street in the sunshine, with a silver-knobbed cane and wearing a Panama hat--looking a bit like a European Count on the boardwalk at Monte Carlo.
"Kay developed connections with City Hall in Toronto where his sense of politics was effective; and he did some parks work for the City.
"Putting together a landscape job and keeping it in good order requires knowledge and skills. I'm sure Kay was good at these things, but he didn't share the aesthetic tastes of the rest of us" .
In "A short history of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects" Franc is Blue writes that "Borgstrom, Grubb and Kay were delegates to the Sixteen Artists' Society in 1945, this evolved into the Canadian Arts Council with a fee of $15.00; later, it became the Canadian Conference of the Arts.
"Edwin Kay... took a great interest in the International Peace garden, Quetico Park, and the Toronto Islands; he was violently opposed to the proposal that the $100,000 tunnel of the 1920's be re-opened and used for vehicular traffic to the island.
"In 1946, Culham and Kay appeared at Queen's Park, Toronto, to prevent the Professional Engineers' Society from including Town Planning in their field in a new bill in the Provincial House which had passed its first reading. The Secretary of the CSLA & TP wrote the Professional Engineers' Society's solicitor giving him a list of the Town Planning projects which were then being carried out, pointing out that the majority of these were being done by members of our Society, while no projects were being carried out by Engineers ....
"The International Federation of Landscape Architects was founded in 1948 at Jesus College, Cambridge, England. Mr Kay was voted $50.00 towards his expenses as our delegate to the first Congress held in London, England, in 1948 [and to subsequent congresses]" .
Edwin Kay wrote an article for "Landscape Architecture" about that first International Conference on Landscape Architecture, which had speakers from France, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, the USA and of course Canada. In it, he wrote about one of his greatest concerns; he said, "I do feel ... that the student of today does not receive an adequate training in plant ecology, and lacks generally the basic knowledge of the materials with which he has to work. It is one thing to know design, but design without proper execution is worthless.
"This has always been a strong point in the training of landscape architects in England; and in the old school, before the days of university training, when a student was articled, his first three years were spent in the field, actually doing construction under a good superintendent, or gaining knowledge of plant life in the nursery. After passing this test, he was then put under the guidance of a good designer, and his training, consisting of three more years, was then completed .... This type of training is vitally important, but is much neglected in the training of the present-day student" .
Edwin Kay was concerned enough about the execution and maintenance of the well-designed landscape that he wrote two separate articles twenty-one years apart in Canadian Homes & Gardens about the importance and methods of properly pruning deciduous shrubs. Both articles talk about what he calls the "lost art" of pruning  and attempt to re-educate the reader on the subject of that art; they lament the foolhardy Canadian pruning practices of either ignoring growth for years and then suddenly cutting every shrub in sight nearly down to its roots, or simply keeping all shrubs under control by regularly cutting all growth down to a common height. The articles stress that plants are individuals too; they make specific examples of certain members of a particular species, give general pruning rules for particular types of shrubs, and point out that pruning "controls form, quality and quantity of flower, and above all prolongs the life and usefulness of a shrub by many years" .
This was the concern Edwin Kay was most vocal about, and many landscape architects feel the same way today. Edwin Kay wanted the traditional English training methods brought back; he believed the old school should replace the new school because it was better. He felt "that great things are expected of landscape architects in the rebuilding of a new world"  and was dedicated to ensuring that this rebuilding be done right. The numerous projects he completed are the best examples of what he would have considered landscaping done right. They are gardens of conservative elegance, and always site-specific. His designs complement or attempt to improve upon what natural landscaping existed before he arrived. Humphrey Carver said that Edwin Kay might have said, "A garden in good order is a delight. So mow the grass, trim the hedges, sweep the paths, to make contrast with the wild parts" . Like WL Somerville, Kay believed a well-designed home was one that had a landscape and a house which not only did not compete for attention but were aesthetically dependent on each other. Kay was a landscape architect perfectly prepared to create the 'outdoor living room' (and according to the dictates of English tradition) that Somerville liked to see in a backyard.
Exactly how well Somerville's and Kay's designs interacted is something, unhappily, we may never know. The execution of Kay's plans for the grounds of the Cawthra-Elliott estate was perhaps once visually stunning, but today a gigantic intuitive leap is required to even begin to see it. Any reconstruction of that original landscaping would at this point have to be based entirely on such a leap, as Kay's original plans have not yet been unearthed. Their burial place may soon be discovered, but at the moment we can only guess at what those plans were by looking at Kay's other accomplishments.
Kay and Somerville created in the
Cawthra-Elliott estate (in accord with the wishes of Grace Cawthra-Elliott)
a design of intended lasting significance. Whether Grace arrived at her
choice of designers through instinct or luck or careful study, it seems
that choice was a good one. Even the estate's crumbling faded beauty is
arresting. To look at it now is to see glimpses of a spirit that once had
more substance, and longs to be restored.
THE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT - List of Figures;
1. Edwin Kay at the First International Conference on-Landscape Architecture in London England, August 1948 - p. 102
2. Kay's advertisements in Canadian Homes and Gardens. Here, in the Oct. 1930 issue - p. 103
3. In the March 1926 issue - p. 103
4. In the Oct. 1928 issue - p. 104
5. Canadian Homes and Gardens also showcased Kay's work in a more direct way. Here, Mr. and Mrs. F.M. Connell's residence in Oriole, Ont., in the Sept. 1940 issue - p.. 105
6. Mr. and Mrs. F.D. Reid's rose garden in the Nov. 1940 issue - p. 106
7. Kay designed the Dyer Memorial, northeast of Huntsville, Ont. Here, directly in front of the main feature, on Aug. 14 1989 - p. 107
8. Approaching the memorial - p. 107
9, 10, 11. The memorial and surrounding grounds - p. 108
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