Old St. Andrews



Horticulture and Viniculture at Covenhoven



By 1905 the Island had been laid out in extensive parterres of shrubbery and flowers around the house itself and along the roadway to the house. "With that courtliness which has ever characterized him," wrote Mr. Armstrong of the Beacon, Sir William has always permitted the visitors to St. Andrews to share with him the beauties of his estate—hence no drive is considered complete unless it has included a visit to Minister's Island. The "procession of the flowers"—which someone has aptly termed the enchanting stretches of flowers which border the roadway on either hand—is worth going many miles to see. One beautiful flower after another joins the "procession" as you drive along until the senses become intoxicated with their colorings and fragrant perfumes. Almost every flower that blooms in the temperate zone has its representative in this lovely procession. Besides being a successful floriculturist, Sir William has met with great success as a horticulturist, his gardens being among the finest in the lower provinces."

In 1909 a driveway was laid out around the entire Island. For the most part it skirted the outer fringes, with green spaces added at little vistas where travellers might stop and rest. The roadway passed through shady groves of maples, beeches, birches and spruce, some with trunks as large as barrels and wide-spreading branches neatly trimmed. Miles of rocks that had been dug up in the laying out of the roads were now piled up in walls alongside, while those too large for this work were sent down to the shore as a kind of extempore sea-wall. Little lakes for ducks and geese were created. Most of this work was in the northern section of the Island.

In 1908 Van Horne launched into viniculture by constructing the first of two large vineries next to his gardener's cottage. It was 178 x 22 feet, one of the largest of its kind in Canada. The foundations went down in the fall of that year, and by spring the building was complete. By March, while the fields were still brown, visitors to the new hothouse could see numerous varieties of imported grapes already well advanced, including Hampton Court, Alexander Muscat, Gross Coma, Black Alicant, Black Hamburg, Lady Down Seedling, Madison Field Court, Miss Pince and Miss Pierce, as well as native grapes. Another vinery, equal in size to the first, and connected to it at right angles, went up in the following summer.

By 1911 the Van Horne greenhouses were cultivating not only grapes and cucumbers but also peach, pear, nectarine (the first to be seen in the area), plum and cherry trees. Put together, the horticultural, dairy and livestock operations of the Island constituted for the Van Hornes an extensive and high-end supermarket for their own personal use.

While summering at Minister's Island the family had its own large garden, the produce of the vineries, a large hennery, turkey run, fresh milk, and its own cheese and butter. But since the farm didn't close in the winter, but was worked year-round by staff that lived on-site, it was able to send a steady stream of foodstuffs to Montreal through all twelve months of the year. In the fall it was the produce of the vineries and gardens; in the winter it was mainly meat and dairy, and whatever root vegetables were stored in the cellars. The big Tamworth bacon pigs—some weighing over 500 lbs.—were much prized by the Van Hornes. Each winter anywhere from 15 to 20 of them were brought into town to O'Neill's market to be slaughtered and cured for shipment. The Van Hornes kept a large household staff, both on Minister's Island and in Montreal, and they were also lavish entertainers. Whatever banquets were held for visiting dignitaries, such as the British Medical Association on one occasion, were supplied largely with victuals from Minister's Island.