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A Garden We Love: Knox Memorial Garden and Farrow Cloister's untold story

Knox Memorial Garden and Farrow Cloister | Geoff Godard
Knox Memorial Garden and Farrow Cloister | Geoff Godard

There is an oasis of quiet and beauty in Downtown Oakville beside Knox Presbyterian Church.

This lovely enclave of ironwork lattices and benches framed by vines, shrubs and flowers evokes the tranquil space of a medieval cloister, whose central court was planted with flowers, herbs or trees to symbolize the paradise of Eden or the heavenly Jerusalem

Created in 1993, it’s named Knox Memorial Garden and Farrow Cloister, the latter dedicated to the memory of Arnold (Arn) Farrow.

Knox’s website and fixtures within the garden describe more fully its genesis. Which led us to wonder, who was this man to whom the Cloister is dedicated? George and Carol Gordon, members of the Church, introduced us to a fellow member, George Farrow, Arnold’s son, who answered our questions. 

Arnold was born in Fergus in 1908, youngest of eight, third generation of an English family that emigrated to Upper Canada in the 1820s. In 1910, the Farrows moved from Milton to Oakville, eventually to a house near Forsyth and Lakeshore. 

Geoff Godard
Geoff Godard

Arnold died in 1987. What a tumultuous time to be alive! He was born five years after Orville Wright flew his Flyer at Kitty Hawk, the first manned, controlled, heavier-than-air machine, all of 120 feet. A calamitous world war and a second even more calamitous one followed a worldwide depression.

But those clouds cleared, and when Arnold was in his early sixties, he witnessed humans standing on the surface of the moon. By the time he died, the personal computer was proliferating our world. 

He grew up in a family surrounded by music. A natural musician, he played instruments as varied as piano, trumpet and banjo. His favourite was banjo, on which he played and sang all the songs people loved.

As a professional, he played with Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, including at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in the years that band was a fixture of New York City’s New Year’s celebration. 

He was a golfer. In his twenties, he was pro at a long-ago golf course near Milton, whose name is lost. Pros in those days were also general factotums of the course, and he became an accomplished gardener.

This led to an appointment at RayDor, the estate of Ray Dorfman, who had made a fortune in mining in the early part of the century. The RayDor estate is now Fairway Hills and the Glen Abbey Golf Club (it was briefly owned by the Jesuits in the 1950s – hence “Glen Abbey”).

Geoff Godard
Geoff Godard

Arnold joined the Oakville Golf Club in the 1930s and, as recently as 1984, won a tournament there with the lowest gross score (for the edification of non-golfers, an impressive achievement at any age).

He married Elda May about 1929, and they raised three sons. His main focus was music and his faith. As an active member of the Knox congregation, he led the choir and, with his charismatic nature, held many governance positions in the congregation, including Sunday School Superintendent. 

Eldest son Milt was born in 1931. Milt was an Ontario Land Surveyor before he entered government. As Assistant Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, he was known as "The Fixer" for his ability to get things done. He and his wife also actively established and supported orphanages around the world. Milt died last year.

Equally remarkable twin brothers were born in 1934. George, eldest by an hour, became an architect in Oakville and elsewhere. He designed and developed many Oakville landmarks, notably the library and swimming pool at Centennial Square and The Tannery townhouses on Forsyth, which preserved the structure of one of Oakville’s oldest buildings (more on this landmark in our Spring issue.)

Approaching 90, George remains a lively and devoted member of the Knox congregation. Grant, his younger brother, a renowned urologist, pioneered many surgical procedures, including Toronto General Hospital’s first successful human kidney transplant. Grant passed away in 2019.

Entrance to Knox Presbyterian Church at Lakeshore Road East and Dunn Street | Geoff Godard
Entrance to Knox Presbyterian Church at Lakeshore Road East and Dunn Street | Geoff Godard

George’s son Tye, also an architect, designed the Knox Memorial Garden and Cloister. Tye started his career at his father’s firm and now heads Farrow Partners, recognized worldwide for its innovative use of neuroarchitecture, in which structure (form) is particularly focussed on enhancing quality of life (function), a concept especially applicable to health care. He and his firm design multi-billion dollar hospital projects around the world.

Many members of Knox Presbyterian Church will remember Arn Farrow and know his legacy. For the rest of us, the name Arnold Farrow etched in granite on a plaque was but a name.

Now we all know what he achieved during his time here on earth, a man who gave much to our town in his lifetime and through his remarkable family much to our country and the world. 

When you are in Downtown Oakville, look for Knox Presbyterian Church on the southeast corner of Dunn and Lakeshore and take the time to step into this serene, magical place. Pause a while and reflect on a life well lived, the legacy Arn left and how fortunate we are to have had such a man decide Oakville was home.