Protecting history in the new Mary Clayton Park

Yvette d'Entremont
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Elaine Blackburn wasn't sure who Mary Clayton was either, but certainly enjoys bringing her dog Maggie to the park for walks everyday. (Jenny Gillis)

What's in a name? A great deal of history, as it turns out.

On Aug. 28, HRM's newest park was officially opened to the public.

Mary Clayton Memorial Park is described by volunteers who spearheaded the project as a "quiet little oasis in the heart of a busy commercial and residential neighbourhood."

The small park at 274 Willett St. includes park benches, a nature trail and an interpretive sign explaining Mary Clayton's contribution to Halifax and the Clayton Park area.

Mary Clayton's name had faded into the mists of time and was virtually unknown to all but avid local historians and researchers until a group of volunteers found themselves in need of a park name.

Leigh Hawkes and Bob Candy are co-chairs of the Committee to Preserve the Willett Street Reserve. Residents opposed to a plan to build the Lacewood Transit Terminal on Willett Street formed the committee in 2010.

"I was quite familiar with the greenbelt area... I can look right at it from my home, and the idea of turning it into a Metro Transit terminal and not leaving it a reserve area did not go down well with us," recalls Hawkes.

Following a series of public meetings, lobbying, and a submitted petition, Chebucto Community Council in June 2012 unanimously overturned the decision to relocate the transit terminal to the Willett Street site.

Last October, the Committee to Preserve the Willett Street Reserve was tasked with finding a suitable park name.

After some digging, they stumbled upon information about Mary Clayton in a book by Sharon and Wayne Ingalls called ‘Sweet Suburb, A History of Prince's Lodge, Birch Cove & Rockingham.'

Born in England, Mary immigrated to Canada with her husband George and their seven children in 1863. George died one year after the family's arrival in Canada, leaving Mary, 45, a widow with seven young children.

But Mary was a woman ahead of her time. The second-hand clothing operation she established in her home with sons William and Edward grew into a thriving business called Clayton & Sons.

The company's five-storey factory, on the site where Scotia Square now sits, was the largest clothing manufacturer east of Montreal, employing between 400 and 500 people. In its heyday, Clayton & Sons was the country's largest clothing factory located under one roof.

"Mary Clayton was very courageous for her time. To establish a business of that magnitude for a female in her time was unheard of," Hawkes says. "We needed a name that would stand the test of time for our park and it quickly became obvious to us that she was the perfect fit."

Is there any connection to Clayton Developments and Clayton Park? It turns out there is.

An excerpt from that book ‘Halifax Street Names, An Illustrated Guide,' by Shelagh MacKenzie, notes that Mary Clayton's sons William and Edward (who helped start the company) purchased a large tract of land along the Bedford Highway next to Fairview Cove.

"Part of this land was later sold by Louise Clayton to become the Clayton Park development," the excerpt reads.

ydentremont@hfxnews.ca

 

Organizations: Willett Street Reserve, Lacewood Transit Terminal, Metro Transit terminal Chebucto Community Council

Geographic location: Clayton Park, Willett Street, Canada England Montreal

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