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ABOUT NELSON: A walk in the park, with ghosts, memories and gratitude

Donna Macdonald writes about the history of Lakeside Park’s concession stand and trees
There’s a special history behind the choice of trees at Lakeside Park. Two Black Walnut trees, which are native to Eastern Canada, are seen here on the left and centre. Photo: Greg Utzig

by Donna Macdonald

During my first visit to Nelson in 1972, my friend and local tour guide Marty Horswill took me to Canada Day at Lakeside Park. I was already smitten with Nelson, but that was the clincher.

I loved the community feel, the smiling friendly faces, the music and entertainment. But it was the setting that won my heart and still warms it every time I’m there. Elephant Mountain’s rugged green slopes, the sparkling lake, the sandy beach with its clear and, yes, cold water. A few steps up is the tree-shaded park with open green space for tossing a Frisbee or having a picnic, benches for relaxing along the lakeshore promenade, and flower beds heaped with colour and novelty.

During a recent stroll around Lakeside, I could sense some ghosts – the caretaker’s house, the swimming pool, the tree nursery, the faded checkerboard, children’s handprints on John McKinnon sculptures, and the old greenhouses where I bought surplus plants that still thrive in my garden.

The old ice-cream-and-hot-dog concession stand is another ghost. It met its end in 1998, doomed by roof leaks and rodent infestations. But replacing it was, need I say, controversial. In 1997 city council approved a full-service restaurant with dining and dancing, and a capacity of 120 people. I loved the idea, but not the location. A month later, a petition with 1,500 names and a City Hall protest of 150 people persuaded council to set that idea on a cold grill.

Some people wanted a return to a minimalist hamburger stand, but the majority supported something classier. As Mayor Gary Exner said: “We’re not going to do it chintzy … We’re going to put a class outfit down there.” For once, the mayor and I agreed.

Robert Inwood’s tasteful design for the new concession and the Rose Garden operators’ embellishments exceeded those standards. The concession serves us well, with food, beauty and good company.

Then there’s the popular playground, and the Rotary Shelter that’s hosted many celebrations, memorials, and Canada Day BBQ’s. The labyrinth, also controversial at the time, still draws people (and Canada geese apparently) to walk its centring circles.

Above all these activities arch the trees, many of them rare and far from home. I recall a fuzzy, photocopied map that named all the species but it’s out-of-date. Many trees considered dangerous have been removed and/or replaced (more ghosts). So I reached out to Peter Steffler, a city arborist, for his help.

Here are some of Peter’s favourite trees. Walking from the bathhouse toward the boat launch, the first two majestic trees you’ll see are Black Walnuts. Hailing from Eastern Canada and the U.S., their straight trunks soar to great heights, making them two of the largest specimens in the Kootenays. Woodworkers drool at Black Walnut’s straight stems and beautiful wood.

Next you pass a gnarly maple, and then comes the Rock Elm, a single tree with two trunks melded together. Possibly the largest specimen in B.C., it’s also an easterner, likely coming here courtesy of the Blaylock Mansion collection. Its strong wood fibres were used for piano frames and hockey sticks.

The last tree on the promenade is the exotic Ginkgo with its distinctive fan-shaped leaves. Ginkgos, the oldest living trees species in the world, predated the dinosaurs. They are survivors, slowly adapting to their environment, urban or rural.

Don’t miss the London Plane trees near the playground. Their mottled bark, enormous limbs and ball-like dangling fruits are impressive and might kindle the urge to climb. But don’t!

Lakeside Park is a constantly evolving gift, a community treasure. Give it some love next time you’re there; maybe hug a tree. I’ll see you on the promenade.

Donna Macdonald has lived in Nelson since 1972, and is the author of Surviving City Hall, a memoir of her 19 years on Nelson City Council. Her column appears monthly.