Brampton's Dale Estate

Unveiling of the provincial plaque to commemorate Brampton’s Dale Estate

Thomas H.B. Symons, C.C., O.Ont, FRSC, LL.D., D.Litt., D.U., D.Cn.L., FRGS, KSS – Chairman, Ontario Heritage Trust

As Chair of the Ontario Heritage Trust, and as a proud descendant of Peel County, I am delighted to be here this morning to join in this special commemoration of the Dale Estate.

Beth has provided some background on the Ontario Heritage Trust, but I would like to take a few minutes to further describe our work.

The Trust is responsible for identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting cultural and natural heritage across the province. This important work is accomplished through the conservation of cultural and natural heritage properties, archaeological artifacts and historical collections.

But, as you heard from Beth, the Trust is about much more than preservation: As an active centre for heritage information and education, the Trust develops and delivers programs that engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the recognition and celebration of our province’s rich and diverse heritage.

With more than 1,200 provincial plaques erected across Ontario, the Trust reminds and informs us about our past, and helps us to understand it, to connect with it in the present, and to carry it into the future.

In Peel Region, there are 15 of these familiar blue and gold plaques. The stories they tell include – to name just a few:

  • The Peel County Courthouse (on which the Trust holds a conservation easement)
  • The Founding of Brampton
  • The internationally renowned painter J.W.L. Forster
  • And others that recognize and celebrate notable people, places and events

In 2007, I had the tremendous honour of unveiling a plaque to the historian of Peel County, Dr. William Perkins Bull, my grandfather. I hasten to explain that I was not Chairman of the Trust when the decision to honour him with a plaque was made. I merely unveiled it.

The plaque we unveil today commemorates the Dale Estate and its importance to the development of Brampton – “the Flower Town of Canada.” The story of the Dale Estate is extraordinary and yet also familiar.

The unparalleled international success of the business was unique, but the storyline – one of emigration to a new land, hard work, family and community cooperation, innovation, and the eventual establishment of not just a thriving business but a broader community – this storyline is representative of the path taken by so many of our ancestors.

It is also the path that continues to be taken today by new Canadians all across the country.

In 1863, Edward Dale and his young family arrived in Brampton from England, where Edward had struggled through hard economic times as a market gardener. He hoped that Canada would provide a better life and was drawn to Brampton, perhaps having heard that the surrounding Peel Plain contained some of the richest farmland in Canada.

I would like to take a moment here to note that Brampton has a tremendously rich agricultural and rural heritage. Green fields protection remains both a key priority and an ongoing challenge, against the backdrop of an expanding urban boundary.

Over the past decade, Council, heritage planning staff and the Brampton Heritage Board have banded together to identify, evaluate and conserve farmsteads and cultural heritage landscapes.

The city has adopted a range of heritage conservation tools to protect these resources. Although there have been losses, great strides have been made, too – and this important work continues.

When the Dales arrived, Brampton was a village well on its way to becoming a town. Just 25 years earlier, the settlement had a mere 100 inhabitants. But, by 1863, that number had grown to 1,200. Through its newly established telegraph office and Grand Trunk Railway station, Brampton was connecting to Toronto and to communities and markets throughout the province and the continent.

During their first six years in Brampton, the Dales rented land and Edward worked to establish a market gardening operation. Soon, Edward’s eldest son, Harry, was working alongside him.

The two men sold their vegetables door to door and their business grew in step with the burgeoning town. Before long, the business expanded well beyond Brampton’s borders, as Dale vegetables were being transported by rail to the Toronto market.

In 1869, the Dales purchased their first plot of land – three and one-quarter acres at the northeast corner of Main and Vodden streets – and they expanded their vegetable production to include celery, radishes and lettuce. These required hothouse production, and so the Dales constructed their first greenhouse.

In the 1870s, Harry developed an interest in roses and was experimenting with techniques that produced robust and beautiful roses with uniform size and colour.

Legend has it that, while peddling vegetables door to door, the handsome young Harry Dale would present the lady of the house with a rose. Not surprisingly, business was very good.

Edward retired in 1882 and Harry took over the business, concentrating primarily on flower production. Harry had an absolute passion for roses and, owing to his energy, innovation and vision, rose production expanded exponentially.

In the 1890s, the business had become so large that Harry could no longer manage both the growing operations and the company’s finances. A gentleman named T.W. Duggan was hired to manage the finances and he proved every bit as devoted to the business as Harry.

Between 1896 and 1900, the Dale greenhouse complex expanded from almost 20,000 square metres (65,000 square feet) under glass across eight greenhouses to more than 45,000 square metres, 150,000 square feet or 11 acres under glass across 20 greenhouses, and the company was renowned internationally for its Canada Rose.

Unfortunately, Harry Dale died unexpectedly in 1900, leaving behind the largest greenhouse operation in North America. Much loved and much mourned, his friends and family took solace in the fact that his dream had been realized.

He had produced some of the world’s finest roses, and his devotion and ingenuity were legendary. The estate had become so renowned by the turn of the 20th century that it received a much publicized visit in 1901 from the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George the V and Queen Mary.

After Harry’s death, the directorship of the company passed to T.W. Duggan and the Dale Estate continued to expand its operations and to develop new and wonderful varieties of roses. At the start of the First World War, the Dale Estate was one of the largest greenhouse flower businesses in the world.

During the 1920s, the Dale Estate’s cut flower output rose to almost half of the Canadian total. It employed upward of 350 people – making it the largest employer in Brampton – and it sold 30 different varieties of flowers, including 18 types of award-winning roses.

The success of the Dale Estate had inspired other flower growing businesses and, by the 1920s, there were many other greenhouse operators in Brampton – though Dale’s was still by far the largest. Brampton was well on its way to becoming the “Flower Town of Canada.”

The Dale business managed to survive the worst years of the Great Depression. In fact, in one particular year, when jobs were scarce and many people were left in need, more than 1,000 names appeared on the Dale Estate books – making the company an extremely important employer during difficult times.

In 1934, the company introduced their famous “autographed rose” technique whereby one leaf on each of their very finest roses was perforated with the name “Dale.” The Dale autographed rose became world renowned, winning major prizes at numerous international flower shows.

In the decades that followed, the Dale Estate continued to produce flowers of great quality and quantity. Roses were their specialty. But they also produced orchids, carnations, daffodils, lilies, snapdragons, hydrangeas and poinsettias – to name just a few from their vast bouquet. In 1956, the company reached its peak with an annual production of 20 million blooms cut – half of which were roses. The Dale Estate was making an enormous contribution to the art and science of floriculture.

The 1960s and 1970s, however, were difficult years for the flower industry in Brampton as the costs of modernizing and maintaining greenhouses became a major challenge. With rising fuel costs and changing consumer tastes, the Dale Estate was forced to scale back operations until the company finally closed its doors in 1980.

For generations, the Dale chimney, at 300 feet, was the most prominent landmark in Brampton. The company whistle could be heard clear across town, punctuating the start, middle and end of the town’s workday. The vast greenhouses, of which there were eventually 140, stretched on both sides of Main Street, taking up much of the northern part of the town.

The company’s international success was an inspiration to other local businesses. Its innovations were emulated by growers throughout the world; and its flowers brought life and colour to countless households across Ontario, Canada and beyond for more than a century. The Dale Estate’s signature product, the rose, became a symbol of the city itself and, today, the rose remains a symbol of Brampton’s dedicated workforce, its growth and innovation, and its rich and colourful heritage.

Thank you.