This is the only known photograph of Downs’ Zoological Gardens. In the foreground is Downs himself as proprietor; he is perched on a decorative bridge spanning a brook that would have cut straight through the property on its way to the sea. There are several children posing in the background, and it is possible that the sitting figure is Downs’ daughter. The photo offers a glimpse of the property in which, most likely, a young forest is reclaiming a field (only a century earlier, there would have been an old growth Acadian forest— an ecosystem with roots ten thousand years old.).
Moose antlers are left by the structure— a prized souvenir of the 19th century Halifax sportsman— and to the left of the building is an ornamental bridge reaching and disappearing into the trees, where the majority of the animal enclosures would have been arranged.
The building itself commands attention; this was the aviary. It was home to the exotic birds (keeping them warm), the proprietor’s taxidermy work, cages holding the birds of prey, and an aquarium (with regional fresh water fish, turtles, and salamanders). In fact a small stream flowed through the building, creating a natural (albeit indoor) space for those resident animals originating from the numerous lakes in the area. The building was also a greenhouse and a pseudo natural history museum; in addition, it held a viewing platform where visitors could gaze over the enterprise to the hills and ocean beyond.
This structure was known (and is remembered) as “The Glass House”, particularly notable as nobody lived there; instead it was home to the captive eagles, falcons, owls, and other stilled birds mounted on severed branches, or displayed in brass cages. Constructed out of wood and glass, there is a certain airiness to the structure, a fragility. Ultimately, the building was vulnerable— perhaps due to moisture of the brook running through it, or perhaps due to the questionable ability of its materials to withstand the elements. Over the years, the building crumpled and disintegrated into the earth. In 1908, Major-General Campbell Hardy (also an artist, naturalist, and a dear friend of Andrew Downs), wrote:
Today, several stones from the foundation remain scattered about. The caretaker of the property recalls picking raspberries from bushes that grew up and around them when she was a child. I should note that she has kindly toured me through the grounds as they are today, and I have now spent many hours inside this inner city haven, considering what may have been.
After careful thought and consultation, I believe the glass house would have stood here:
I can almost place Downs’ perch over the brook, and I have learned that an old stream runs underground at the top of the hill, once enclosed in the glass house, and now buried under the road.