Antique photo of Pagoda Bridge covered in snow.
Four stories of Peterborough's newest heritage site.
Brett Throop  - 
December 30, 2021

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Good morning, it’s Brett Throop from Peterborough Currents. For this week’s newsletter, I’ve got something a bit different for you: some memories of Peterborough’s newest heritage site, Jackson Park.

Council voted to give the beloved park heritage designation earlier this month. As several councillors waxed poetic about what it means to them, I was reminded of my own favourite memory of the place – and I decided to hunt down a few others to bring you. 

A decade ago, one of my Trent professors, Mark Dickinson, held seminars right in his own living room. From there, we would often walk to nearby Jackson Park.

That winter, we studied the poetry of Robert Bringhurst. His work often includes many voices speaking at once – not unlike how the unharmonized calls of birds, frogs, crickets and other beings share the same airspace in an ecosystem like Jackson Park.

One day, Mark had half of our seminar group climb up on the Parkhill Road overpass, while the rest of us stood in the park below. Then we shouted different lines from the poem New World Suite Number Three at each other, while the traffic and the creek roared in the background. It was a glorious racket.

Jackson Park has had a hold over Kathryn Langley for 65 years. At age 12, its towering evergreens were transformed into Sherwood Forest, as her YWCA day camp troop hiked along Jackson Creek dressed as Robin Hood’s merry band of thieves. That was in 1956 – and Kathryn has been returning to the park ever since. 

At 19, she found herself in charge of a “rambunctious” class as a new teacher at Queen Elizabeth Public School, on Barnardo Avenue. When her students needed to burn off some energy, she would tell them to stand up, and they would walk 20 minutes to Jackson Park. “You didn’t need permission forms, so we would just go off on a hike,” she told me. She revelled in watching her students’ wonder at the old-growth trees, plants and creepy crawlies that call the park home. 

In the 1980s, Langley and her husband bought a house on a quiet street off Parkhill Road West, in order to be close to the park. They still live there today. From the front window, she can see a small trail that leads right to Jackson Creek. Now, Langley’s six grandchildren traipse up and down that trail, off to their own adventures under the cedars, white pines and hemlocks. All six are staying with Langley over the holidays this year. “I can guarantee that they will spend part of every day in Jackson Park…[they] just absolutely love it”. 

When Robert G. Clarke was growing up, the Jackson Park forest echoed with the sound of train whistles. What is now the section of the Trans Canada Trail that jogs along Jackson Creek was once an active rail line. Clarke remembers riding a CNR train through the park in the 1950s, on his way to Manilla, Ontario. 

Before Clarke’s time, another lost sound would have rung out through the trees: the clang of trolleys rolling up to the park’s Monaghan Street entrance. For a few decades in the early 1900’s, streetcars plied a route from downtown to the park gates at the top of Monaghan Street.

An antique photo of a streetcar with pine trees in the background. Two men lean out of the doors.
A streetcar at the turnaround point at Monaghan Road and Parkhill Road (known as Smith Street at the time), circa early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of Robert G. Clarke via Trent Valley Archives)

This history captured Clarke’s attention as he worked on an as yet unfinished book about the history of cinemas and movie-going in Peterborough. “I’ve been fascinated by how motion pictures, in their infancy, were screened at Jackson Park ‘under the pine trees,’” Clarke wrote in an email. “Thousands and thousands of people turned out in the evenings to watch the short, flickering, silent motion pictures and hear concert band music.” Many arrived at those open air screenings, in the summers of 1905 to 1908, by streetcar.

You can read an excerpt from Clarke’s book here and about the history of the Jackson Park streetcar line here.

Mark Woolley remembers a time when you could go on a Sunday drive through Jackson Park. “It was the late 1960s and you could enter off Fairbairn St., drive the road along the east side of the pond, thump over the railway line [now the Trans Canada Trail] and across the concrete bridge, then up the long curving hill and out through the Monaghan gates.” 

But Woolley preferred exploring the park on foot: “It was a wild playground – with a slightly dangerous-sized creek for a younger boy. The crayfish and frogs excited the instinct to catch (and release); rocks called to be piled into diversions; a mysterious woods with dark shadows to test your courage and green plants to freshen the air. The road became a toboggan run, the pond a toy sailboat regatta facility, the trails a place to test your bicycle skills.” 

Later, as a teen Woolley was a member of the 9th Parkhill Scout troop, which met in the park.

“Today I still take solace and recreation in this cherished park. It has appeared as a totem in a spirit journey; I have cleaned it; I explore and learn from it; I cycle the length of it; I walk the woods, ski the path and I still splash in the creek,” he wrote in an email. “Things have disappeared, decayed, eroded and yet the pagoda bridge has been maintained. My nearly 60-year relationship with park and creek continues as the land, water and lives therein persist and change.”


In local news: A nearly $8 billion settlement agreement between the federal government and First Nations over boil water advisories has been approved by the courts, according to CBC. Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung called the decision “monumental.” Curve Lake was one of three First Nations that led two class-action lawsuits against the federal government over long-term drinking water advisories. Chief Whetung says her community has had “undrinkable” water since before she was born, in 1985, according to the Peterborough Examiner. 

Photo of Brett Throop

Thanks for reading.

We’re taking a short break next week and we’ll talk to you again soon in the new year. Happy holidays!

Brett Throop
Reporter, Peterborough Currents

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