Oakes Garden Theatre
This spectacular garden is the entranceway to Queen Victoria Park, the key central area of Niagara Parks that showcases the Falls. Located at the foot of Clifton Hill, this is the perfect spot for a superb panoramic view of the American and Horseshoe Falls. Concerts and special events are held here throughout the summer.
Constructed in 1936, designers capitalized on the contours of the landscape to create a curved pergola overlooking a central amphitheatre. Rock gardens, lily ponds and shrub borders have been created around formalized gardens, with attractive ornamental iron gates and Queenston limestone around the perimeter.
Check out our Virtual Tours for a sneak peek!
History of Oakes Garden Theatre & Rainbow Gardens
From 1833 until 1932, the present day Oakes Garden Theatre was the site of the once famous Clifton Hotels. Both hotels, at different times, were destroyed by fire. Named in honor of the late Sir Harry Oakes, a Parks Commissioner who purchased the site and then gave the land to The Niagara Parks Commission in exchange for another plot of land, Oakes Garden Theatre construction began in 1935, with the formal opening taking place on September 18, 1937.
Oakes Garden Theatre is a highly decorative Beaux Arts landscape, including classical and picturesque elements, with the central point a grass Greco-Roman amphitheatre surrounded by a limestone staircase, and features fountains, urns, statuary and sculptured bas-relief panels and medallions. It is historically significant, as “very few examples of landscape architectural design of this age or complexity exist in Ontario or Canada.” (P. Berketo, NPC Study, 2000)
Oakes Garden Theatre “is fan-shaped, with the stage so placed that the panorama of the Falls forms a natural backdrop, while at the rear there is a curved pergola connecting two open pavilions, one oriented on the axis of the Horseshoe Falls, the other on that of the American Falls.” (NPC Annual Report, 1944) Behind the pergola, is a beautiful and serene Japanese-style garden with a lily pond and wishing bridge, which is often used as a back-drop for wedding and other photographs.
Designed by Howard Dunington-Grubb, who has been called the father of Canadian landscape architecture, and assisted by J.V. Stensson and architect William Somerville, Oakes Garden Theatre displays specifically outlined spaces, utilizing architecture and sculpture, to provide remarkable views and vistas.
Formal gardens using carpet bedding - a Victorian practice of forming beds of low-growing plants of the same height in geometric patterns - are laid out and interspersed with flagstone walkways and expanses of grass. The unique design takes advantage of the various levels on the site.
Florence Wyle, Frances Loring and Elizabeth Wyn Wood, all significant Canadian sculptors from Toronto, were commissioned to design the fountains and bas-relief sculptures within the garden. Their works are neo-classical, which treasures beauty, and due to the subject matter of indigenous plants and animals, are considered uniquely Canadian.
Surrounded by an ornamental stone wall, this surprising garden provides visitors with a feeling of fantasy and escape.
Initially, the theatre was used for band and choir concerts. More recently, it has been used for corporate receptions, movie screenings and live broadcasts of internationally televised programs.
Following the construction of the present Rainbow Bridge, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission partnered with The Niagara Parks Commission in 1941 to create Rainbow Gardens as a link between the bridge and Oakes Garden Theatre and as an entrance to Canada and Queen Victoria Park. It was designed by the same team who designed Oakes Garden Theatre. “These gardens are equally as formal but have details typical of the Art Deco and Moderne period.” (P. Berketo, NPC Study, 2000)
Oakes Garden Theatre (Beaux Arts) and Rainbow Gardens (Art Deco) are two separate yet inter-penetrating spaces with areas of each interdependent on the other. Both gardens showcase early twentieth century Canadian art, architecture and landscape architecture.