The Tower and Gardens
Even though his name is not as familiar as those of our founding fathers featured in the video Rooted in Stone, Peter McEwen was a man who helped shape the Parry Sound we live in today. He left us a legacy worth cherishing and protecting: Tower Hill Park and Garden.
When Peter McEwen was appointed District Forester of the Ontario Forestry Branch in Parry Sound in 1922, the town looked very different than it does today. The lumber boom was over, the white pines felled, milled, and shipped away. Even though the town was a pretty barren looking place, forest fire detection and suppression were the responsibility of Mr. McEwen. After the Great Fire of 1916 which took the lives of 223 people and destroyed half a million acres of forest, the provincial government assumed responsibility for forest fire protection. By 1927, a network of 27 fire lookout towers across the District was completed.
The fire observation tower that was built in Parry Sound was unique not only for the fact that it was located in the heart of a settlement but also for its design. Unlike the other towers, it was designed to serve as a public observation tower as well as a fire look-out tower. Peter McEwen rationalized its price tag of $1,175 (double that of the others) in a letter to his superiors with the words:
Being a tourist town, we naturally want to attract tourists to this tower in order to get them interested in Forest Protection, and to do this have a stairway built in the tower and they are allowed to climb to the observers cabin. "
Over the short term of his tenure as District Forester (1927 to 1934) Peter McEwen worked slowly and steadily under the radar at creating his garden.
In 1929 he convinced the towns PUC to split the cost of a water line under the guise of protecting the plantation form fire. In 1930 he spent $600 to build a 16 by 30 ft bungalow with a kitchen and living room even though he had convinced the Forestry Branch a few years earlier to spend extra money on the tower, since the tower man could live in town and not need accommodations at the tower. He designed the cabin himself taking great care to have the building harmonize with the grounds. At the time, it was much more attractive than the accommodation provided for most tower men.
For more information about the Heritage Garden visit http://towerhillheritagegarden.org/author/towerhillheritagegarden/