Edwin Skapts

Year of Investiture:

As a farm boy born near Ezere in Latvia, Edwin Skapsts was a member of a local 4H youth club whose mission was to encourage youth to grow something productive, anything from the sunflowers Edwin grew as a child, to the little nursery for apple trees he cultivated later. Growing crops so inspired Skapsts that he attended horticultural school in Riga, Latvia.

In 1944, when the chaos of war prevented any convocation, he found work with the City of Riga Parks Department. But Skapsts felt the pull of the Americas and left for Montreal, spurred by stories of a fledgeling Latvian theatre in the city and dreams of becoming an actor. He arrived in 1948, part of the wave of brilliant Europeans who would transform their new cities. 

By 1950, Skapsts fortuitously met with the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds director, William Bowie. Skapsts tells the story in the EVOQ video about his life.  Bowie provided an introductory card to formally present “Edwin Skapsts, Park Designer” to the City of Montreal. There, he was given a 3-hour challenge to “design a park” – and immediately hired. He would later become head of the city’s landscape architectural team.

When the City of Montreal Parks Department was formed in 1955 under Warner Goshorn, Skapsts worked with team members who were dedicated CSLA advocates, including Fellows Andre Lafontaine and Raymond Gascon.   

Notably, in the fall of 1959, Skapsts was charged with the re-design of the city’s iconic Place d’Armes.  “In the mid-1950s the area was all paved in asphalt...  It contained the monument of de Maisonneuve, the under-ground toilets and one old tree that had remained there from the public garden of the late 1840s,” he said.

By the spring of 1961, the project was ready.  Skapsts had raised the centre of the square to create a user-friendly area that served the public well for some 50 years. (In a nod to its important history, the square’s most recent restoration (2011) maintained and restored its historic fleur-de-lis paving stones and its drinking fountain.)

Skapsts served the CSLA in many capacities. He was in charge of the IFLA Exhibition committee in 1968, then as President from 1970-72, he worked with Jack Walter and Clive Justice to restructure the CSLA into a national federation of provincial associations.

During retirement, he rediscovered his thespian side, sang, and focused on preserving his language and traditions, and researching his family genealogy.

This short bio includes information from Memoirs of Pioneer Landscape Architects, Edwin Skapsts, Episode 2, by EVOQ Landscape Architecture studio

Image Sources

1. Still from "Memoirs of Pioneer Landscape Architects": Skapsts holding drawing of his 1961 restoration of the Place d’Armes


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