One of the most beautiful and scenic gardens in Western Ontario is located on theSaugeen First Nation Reserve , just north of Southampton on Hwy 21.
Stone stairways and walkways, terraced gardens and an outdoor amphitheatre constructed of locally quarried stone overlook the Saugeen River quietly snaking its way in the distance. The word "Friendship" outlined in large white letters on a grassy area below the gardens underlines the focus of this quiet and tranquil park. A nature path winds its way down to the river's edge.
History has its place here, too. On the far shore of the Saugeen, the bones of warriors lie on the ancient battlefield known as "The Mound of Skulls". The church is the site of the signing of an Indian treaty. The footpath running alongside the amphitheatre was used by long-ago hunters to travel from the hilltop to the traditional river hunting grounds. Close to today's parking lot lies an ancient burial ground.
Maintained by the people of the Reserve, the gardens and amphitheatre were a labour of love by Reverend Earl Stotesbury. Reverend Stotesbury was assigned to the Reserve's Wesley United Church which had been without a minister for almost 50 years. His goal was to create a place to foster greater understanding and friendship between natives and non-natives.
Twenty acres of the 100-acre park are developed. Just under a million tons of limestone form the walkways and stairs--all purchased or scrounged in the area by Reverend Stotesbury and transported to the amphitheatre site using various forms of transportation. The centrepiece for one of the gardens used to adorn the archway of the Saugeen Indian School (1893) as its headstone. The design of the English Rose and the Canadian Maple Leaf reflects both the British and Canadian influence of the time. Twenty-eight drainage systems hold back the clay riverbank.
Construction began in 1972 and was completed in 10 years. Fifteen hundred people can be seated in the amphitheatre.
The Saugeen First Nations Amphitheatre is visited by thousands of visitors each year and has become a popular spot for outdoor wedding ceremonies. It is a continued source of great pride for the band members of the Reserve.
To reach the Amphitheatre, follow Hwy 21 onto the Saugeen First Nation Reserve until you see the wooden sign at the entrance to the parking lot. There is no admission fee.