The Memorial Park is a tribute to Robert L. Cotton, a local businessman whose contributions toward rural beautification included the former Bunbury Nursery, Strathgartney Park, and similar areas at Eldon and Brudenell, all located on Prince Edward Island. On the 2nd June, 1998, the Town of Stratford obtained legal ownership of the 17-acre Bunbury Nursery property from the P.E.I. Provincial Government.
The wish of Robert L. Cotton, via the Cotton Trust, was for the “park” to develop as a “passive public recreation area”. Under the guidance of the Park Focus Group, this approach is being accomplished through a Park Master Plan. Development items, such as a walking trail, wild flower and herb garden, arboretum, and bird feeders/station, have been “constructed” throughout the park and the potential exists for future attractions.
Dr. Robert L. Cotton
Alice Gertrude Cotton
Excerpt from the Cotton Park Discussion Paper on the future……
In 1946, Island businessman and philanthropist Robert L. Cotton took action on his view that a lack of care and unavailability of quality planting stock was causing the province’s natural beauty to slip away. Working with the government of the day, he established a Trust for $100,000 to construct and operate a provincial nursery.
Like all good ideas, the nursery blossomed and became a major source of planting material for decades. Under the leadership of manager Robert Snazelle, the Cotton Trust Memorial Nursery developed a reputation for quality plants and sound horticultural advice. Keith Brehaut carried on that tradition when he took over as manager and is still known as a man with answers to almost any horticultural question.
The nursery closed its doors in 1996, to the dismay of many Islanders who had grown
accustomed to both the products and advice. In 1998, the Town of Stratford obtained ownership of the former nursery from the provincial government. In a fitting tribute to the man known as the Father of Provincial Parks, the 17.4 acre (7 hectare) property was renamed The Robert L. Cotton Memorial Park.
It was deemed to be a passive recreation area and specific activities, natural areas and locations of related buildings were outlined in a Park Master Plan. A planning exercise was carried out in 1999 to help guide the future of the property, and this Discussion Paper and subsequent public meetings will update that guidance
In an area that is becoming increasingly urbanized, the park offers a beautiful view even for
those just driving by on their way to or from work. It is also a place where the public can go for
walks along the trails and wildlife can live and be viewed. The southern part of the property is
closer to a botanical garden than a natural area, as a large percentage of the plants are imported from other locales. Many of these are quite rare in the province. The northern section contains reminders of when the property was a provincial nursery, including some blocks of hardwoods and a white spruce plantation. Stumps throughout the park have been transformed into imaginative carvings.
The trail, especially along the western side of the property, is one of the most lovely in the province. Walking under those large trees and having such a great view of the Hillsborough River is a wonderful experience. While short, the trail is a great resource to have in the heart of a growing community
The park houses the Cotton Centre, where the Mayflower Seniors’ Club and the Youth Can-Do group host a wide range of activities. Both of these organizations have added greatly to the use and appreciation of the park. In addition, the Stratford Public Library is located near the entrance to the park and though small, it is very well used by the people in the community.
Possibilities for the Cotton Park:
All parks and recreational areas require maintenance, something that the Town of Stratford has
already made efforts to improve at the Cotton Park. Each new planting, whether a butterfly
garden, herb garden or hedge, increases the work of the Town’s maintenance staff. With the
wide variety of plantings carried out over decades comes the need for increased expertise and
labour in order to keep the plants looking their best. In order to gather ideas from a wide variety of residents, we have reviewed the report of the 1999 Focus Group. We have also held a meeting with a small group of Stratford residents known to have an interest in the park and some of the Town’s maintenance staff. Some of the ideas that came up at that meeting and through subsequent conversations and site visits include:
1. Create a “Friends of the Cotton Park” committee. Once people are excited by possibilities,
they often want to be able to lend a hand. This could involve volunteers helping with gardening, carrying out workshops, leading school tours, coordinating public events, creating signage or benches – the opportunities would be endless. Volunteers can do more than just carry out physical or administrative tasks. They can also change behaviour patterns so that it becomes unacceptable to damage trees or litter.
2. Improve the area around the pond for wildlife. An avid birder suggested that less mowing
around the pond would be good for wildlife, and that small shrubs such as spirea and rhodora
could be planted along parts of the water’s edge. Very little wildlife uses the pond because there is just not enough cover. Erecting nest boxes for birds such as tree swallows would increase the wildlife population around the pond and make the park a destination for those visitors interested in viewing birds.
3. Plant a formal Victorian garden that would attract more visitors, including tourists, to the
park. The idea would be to start with something small and be able to build on that success.
Halifax Public Gardens are an excellent example of a Victorian Garden done on a grand scale.
According to the Public Gardens’ website, “The aim of the urban Victorian garden was to
display a great variety of plants in a confined space. Confined, that is, by the standards of
aristocratic country estates or the great landscape gardens of the eighteenth century. The Halifax Public Gardens, filled with a wide variety of species, large and small, from near and far, has more than achieved this aim.”
4. Build an outdoor theatre stage for the Youth Can-Do group, as well as others, to hold outdoor plays. This would be constructed in a sheltered area that would create its own amphitheatre-like conditions and be ideal for a variety of productions aimed at small audiences.
5. Create a labyrinth for meditative walks. A local gardening enthusiast suggested that a
labrynth would be a good addition to the park. Labyrinths are walkways that can either be
hedged, outlined on the ground with stones or just mown with a lawnmower and can be used as
meditation and prayer tools. Many people around the world have been using them as healing
6. Establish more wild areas within the park. Less mowing in certain areas towards the northern
section of the park would both lower greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon within the
woody plants and the soil. It would also create more areas for restoring our native Acadian
forest and could include planting rare species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. These would be
low maintenance areas that would help the Town of Stratford’s greening process.
7. Create and maintain attractive and informative signage. While always facing the twin hurdles
of initial cost and subsequent maintenance, proper signage can help people have a more
enjoyable experience at the park.
8. Inventory the plants on site and create a plant map for visitors. Over the years, a wide variety of horticultural plants were added to the site, and the combination is quite unique in the province. Yet many were planted so long ago that they are taken for granted. This inventory could be a major part of the overall work of drawing people to the park for a variety of reasons.
9. Establish a community garden for Stratford residents. More and more residents do not have
sufficient space to grow their own fruits, vegetables and flowers and this could be another way to encourage more people to use the park for a variety of compatible purposes.
Some questions for residents of Stratford:
1. What physical changes, if any, would you like to see made at the Robert L. Cotton Memorial
2. What additional activities or special events would you like to see take place at the Robert L.
Cotton Memorial Park?
3. Would you be willing to help out at the park and if so, what roles could you see yourself
being involved in?
4. How can we facilitate the formation of the “Friends of Cotton Park” and help attract members interested in improving the park?