In the year 1867, Andrew Downs traveled from Halifax to Paris, where he helped to install the Nova Scotian display at the World Exhibition. Later that year, Halifax’s local newspaper, The Acadian Recorder, announced the seasonal opening of Downs’ Zoological Gardens, remarking on June 12th, 1867 that:
“We presume that during his visit to Paris, friend Downs gained some valuable ideas relating to the general management of his beautiful grounds, of which no doubt, his visitors will receive the benefit.”
With this in mind, I decided to make my way to Paris, to visit the Menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes, hoping to learn more about possible influences on Downs’ zoological design.
Beginning in the Cabinet D’Histore, I learned that these zoological gardens are some of the earliest in the world, opening to the public in 1794. They stemmed from the Jardin des Plantes, originally a site of healing, established in 1631 to cultivate medicinal herbs for the king. A model of the original Jardin des Plantes et Animaux was particularly informative, and I considered it intently.
The miniature version of the zoo had an air of fantasy, with rounded animal abodes wrapped in rustic ornamentation. Intricate branches seemed to be embedded into some of the structures— elements of the natural world encased in the hand-made. I wondered what architecture would remain from that era, in the present menagerie.
I was startled to find that almost all of the original 18th century huts were still occupied by animals of the menagerie today. Some of the structures that Andrew Downs would have observed when he visited the zoological gardens during his 1867 trip are presented below.
To compare these images with the only photograph of Downs’ enterprise, one does see a resemblance along the walkway to the Glass House.
I’ll continue to examine these photographs, as I try to determine how Downs crafted his own gardens.