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Milner Gardens

January 31st, 2019
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Named one of the ten best public gardens in Canada by National Geographic, Milner Gardens is a 28-hectare heritage estate of woodlands and gardens in Qualicum Beach. The old seaside residence there is now a charming teahouse in which tea is served in rooms with traditional decor. Today, the Gardens are connected to Vancouver Island University, but they have an illustrious history linking them to British royalty.

 

Tha lands were purchased by Horatio “Ray” Milner in 1937 as a quiet retreat from his busy life in Alberta. Milner was a renowned philanthropist and successful businessman who had an illustrious career, serving in WWI and later going on to become the director and chair of multiple companies. He received many distinctions, including being made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1969, as well as receiving honorary doctorates from three universities. At the time he bought the estate at Qualicum he was married to his first wife, Rina, who sadly passed away in 1952.

 

When Milner remarried, his new wife Veronica hailed from the British aristocracy. The widow of Desmond Fitzgerald, the 28th Knight of Glin, County Limerick, in Ireland, Veronica was also a relative of Winston Churchill––the British Prime Minister was her mother’s cousin. Like Churchill, Veronica was a relative of Diana, Princess of Wales, and so the Qualicum estate hosted royal visits: to Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1986, and to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip the following year, in 1987.

 

It was Veronica who would go on to craft the extensive gardens at the estate and later gift the lands to Vancouver Island University, transforming the private estate into public woodlands and gardens. Veronica nicknamed the estate “Long Distance,” due to the distance she and her husband were required to travel from Alberta to get there and also to the incessant phone calls that Mr. Milner received while they stayed there. Collecting unique trees and shrubs when she travelled abroad with her husband on his business trips, Veronica utterly transformed the landscape of the estate. A consummate artist, she painted botanical-themed oil paintings that hung on the walls of the home. Her artistic eye and extensive horticultural knowledge allowed her to design the gardens with unique elegance.

 

Not only was Veronica Milner knowledgeable about horticulture, but she was also actively involved in numerous horticultural societies. These groups included the Founding Committee of the VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver, the University of Alberta Devonian Botanical Garden, and the Royal Horticultural Society, the last of which aimed “to promote the study of woody plants and shrubs, and to conserve and protect those that are rare and endangered.”

 

In 1996, two years before Veronica Milner’s death, she passed on the estate at “Long Distance” to Vancouver Island University. Re-named “Milner Gardens” in honour of Veronica and Ray Milner, the gardens, woodlands, and heritage buildings are now cared for and maintained by the university.

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