International Peace Garden celebrates 90-year anniversary

Tucked away in a sparsely populated stretch of prairie along the world’s longest undefended border, the International Peace Garden has, for 90 years, quietly celebrated the friendship between Canada and the United States.

The openness between the two countries is clear here.

A small creek marks the border, and people walk freely over it and back again as they stroll among gardens, ponds and monuments.

It’s quiet enough to hear the gentle buzzing of bees among the flowers, some of which are laid out in the form of the Maple Leaf or the Stars and Stripes.

It’s a pastoral setting, aimed largely at thoughtful reflection.

Colourful flowers in a park setting.
The International Peace Garden’s flowering plants soak up the Prairie sunshine on Monday. (Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press)

“Peace is something we should always aim for, and what better way to contemplate it and share it with people than in a garden,” said Tim Chapman, the garden’s chief executive officer.

Established in 1932, the garden was conceived by Dr. Henry Moore of Islington, Ont., and was widely expected to be located in that province. But the National Association of Gardeners decided that it should be close to the geographical centre of North America — Rugby, N.D.

A stream and pond are shown in a lush, green park.
A small creek marks the border between Canada and the U.S. in the International Peace Garden. (Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press)

It lies in the Turtle Mountains, a lush area of gentle hills a 20-minute drive from the closest small communities on either side of the border.

Surrounded by forests and lakes, it has 80,000 flowering annual and perennial plants, many visible in a sweeping vista from a platform above a fountain.

A cairn at the entrance, put in place between the world wars, pledges the two countries to not take up arms against each other. It is flanked by Canadian and U.S. flags.

There is a “friendship rock,” originally from England, which sits directly on the 49th parallel. There is a clock tower that chimes every 15 minutes, momentarily breaking the quiet. And there is a small conference centre with inspirational quotes etched on limestone walls.

Several rusted iron beams -- remnants from the collapsed World Trade Center -- sit in a park setting.
Girders from the destroyed World Trade Center at the International Peace Garden are, in part, a tribute to the co-operation between Canada and the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. (Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press)

Of a more recent time, one display shows damaged girders from the World Trade Center targeted in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. The girders are, in part, a tribute to the co-operation between Canada and the U.S. in the wake of the attack.

“Being here at the garden, it helps people contemplate, you know, if there isn’t greater dialogue and thoughts of co-operation and peace, unfortunately some really bad things can happen in the world,” Chapman said.

Plans for the 90th anniversary celebrations include a weekend of historical exhibits and cultural performances on July 30 and 31, along with a 1930s-themed dinner.

Exiting the gardens is a reminder of contemporary reality. Canadians and Americans don’t need to formally enter the other country to visit the gardens but, on the way back, must return through their respective border checkpoints, located nearby on either side of the exit.

Bright orange, yellow and red flowers are shown in a park setting.
Formal gardens are part of the contemplative atmosphere of the International Peach Garden that straddles the U.S.-Canada border close to the geographic centre of North America. (Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press)

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