In the pre-contact era, Aboriginal trails passed alongside Trout Lake, located about a half-kilometer south of the garden. At this time the area was a peat bog surrounded by hemlock forest.
The first land purchases in Cedar Cottage were in 1871, when Joe Mannion bought land, at what is now Gladstone and Kingsway, to build the Gladstone Inn - a stop on the stagecoach route from Gastown to New Westminster. The other purchase was made by Jonathan Miller, Vancouver's first postmaster. In 1886 Arthur Wilson purchased 14 hectares of land from Miller, at what is now Kingsway and Knight, and two years later started the Cedar Cottage Nursery.
Development started in earnest in 1891 with the creation of the BCER interurban line connecting Vancouver to New Westminster . The stop at 18th and Commercial Street attracted businesses, and a small town grew up around it. The town centre boasted a movie theatre, Lord Selkirk School, a Bank of Hamilton and a small roller coaster which was part of ‘White City’, an amusement park that ran from 1901 until 1913.