As part of the ongoing restoration process at Banting House National Historic Site of Canada, we are starting to plan the landscaping at the front of the house for the spring season. Last year the porch was renovated to help increase the authentic look and feel of the building. The next step is to tackle the gardens.
So how are we going about this? We started by looking for photographs of Banting House from the 1920’s. There are a few in the Leonard Family Fonds, held at Western University, that show the house during the First World War. The Detroit Free Press also published a photo along with an article about Banting’s work in 1923. Between these two sources, we have created a “best guess” as to what the landscape outside of Banting House looked like in 1920-21.
Instead of having bushes at the side and front of the house, the photos appear to show just grass. The basement windows on the side of the house are completely visible and so is the latticework on the porch. By taking out the bushes, Banting House would not only be working towards restoring the grounds to how they looked during Banting’s time here, but it would also help to protect the windows and latticework from the damage that plants can potentially cause.
But why is it important to try to restore the landscaping? Aren’t plants just plants? Creating a more authentic-looking site is a great way to provide a better experience for visitors to the museum. The building and landscaping are the first things people see when they come to Banting House, and if they are as historically accurate as possible, it helps to set the scene for the rest of their visit and the way that they remember Banting House and its messages later on.
An addition was put on the building in 1987 and the driveway has been shifted to incorporate the Sir Frederick G. Banting Square into the site. This means that we cannot completely restore the façade of the building and its landscape, but we can make sure that the plants that are put in front of the house are as accurate as possible to the time when Banting lived here. Even if we can’t replicate the way to house looked in the past exactly, every little detail helps to increase the authenticity of the site.
Trying to discover what the front gardens at Banting House looked like in the 1920s has shown me just how much information can come out of a photograph. Not only do you get a sense of what the house used to look like, you can also see what has or hasn’t changed over time. Photos only let us see a snapshot in time, and so we can’t be sure that the pictures we are basing our landscaping off of are entirely accurate. However, they are the best representations of the past that we have found so far for the outside of the house and give us a starting point for redeveloping the landscape around Banting House.
This post was written by Taryn Dewar, Graduate Research Assistant at Banting House NHSC. Taryn is a Masters candidate in Public History at Western University.