In 1990 a small group of Central Saanich residents who were passionate about promoting high quality local food production and wholesome lifestyle on the Saanich Peninsula started to meet to exchange ideas. They knew that local farmers were not getting enough money for their produce nor did they have sufficient market exposure. This was a threat to the continuation of local agriculture and “country” influenced lifestyle which so many citizens value. Along with farmers, there were local artists and crafters reporting that they also needed more exposure and market outlets.
The group met regularly at each others homes and discussed what could be done. Many ideas were considered such as; driving produce to Victoria, encouraging the big stores to have a ‘local’ section, enhancing and developing new roadside stands. The ‘farmer’s market’ idea became the most popular, and it was supported by a professional agricultural marketer which the group recruited as a consultant.
After agreeing that the “country market” was a good idea the group appointed a committee to review all aspects of market needs. It quickly became apparent that the first priority was to find a suitable site with positive ambience, exposure, parking, water and power. The original Saanich Fairgrounds on East Saanich Road in Saanichton which had been in operation for over a hundred years, was the country market’s first home. Just prior to the market starting the site was sold for residential development. During the early stages of the new development, the new owner allowed the country market to use a portion of the Fairgrounds directly in front of the current old log Pioneer Museum.
The original group developed a vision for the market. They wanted it to feel “down home”- welcoming, inclusive, cozy, earthy and relaxing. It was to be a place where people could gather every Saturday morning to socialize, see, smell, touch and enjoy the flowers, fruits, vegetables, arts and crafts produced in their local neighborhoods. The group used “word of mouth” to promote the market. They phoned many growers, family and friends to come to the market. They advertised in the papers and put up many signs. In 1993, the group met to form a nonprofit society called The Peninsula Country Market Society. This ensured an entity to carry out business and to secure liability insurances.
The initial market rules were as follows: 1) produce was to be locally grown from the south end of the Island (then extended the area was to include all of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) 2).Arts and crafts were largely to be made at home or in the area. 3) All vendors paid a weekly fee. 4) The market supplied tables and umbrellas for most of the vendors to create a consistent, county-like appearance. After a time the vendors started providing their own tables, tents and umbrellas being careful to maintain a country theme.
The first market had an official opening with ribbon cutting by the Mayor of Central Saanich. There was celebration with music, coffee and cookies. To this day the market continues every Saturday from nine to one starting in mid-June to Thanksgiving Day. We have conducted hundreds of markets and sold millions of dollars in goods and produce.
The market has had some challenges such as changes in locations and volunteer burnout. It was very difficult carrying the tables and gear to a new locations each Saturday and keeping abreast of the advertising and location notifications. However, consumers, vendors, volunteers and society executive kept showing up in spite of the obstacles and barriers. It seems like various boards and regulators have come to know and trust the Peninsula Country Market Society and they can see the benefits for the farmers and community because we have been consistent, stable and have provided a great service to the community.
About thirteen years ago the market moved to a permanent home on the Saanich Fairgrounds on Stelly’s Cross Road under the large Douglas -fir trees. The Peninsula Country Market Society is very grateful to the Saanich Fair Society Board and their staff for their continuous help and understanding.
During the 1990’s the Society expanded activities at the market. Farmers and the 4H brought animals for children to view and pet. We started a music committee and continue to have performers every week. We teamed up with the 4H club who do the weekly set-up and take-down and run the food trailer. For a few years we had ‘cow pattie bingo’ and art displays.
The market has teamed-up with and supports the South Island Direct Farm Marketing Association, The 4H, The Peninsula Volunteer Association, The Saanich Fair and Brentwood Days.
The main statement from consumers and vendors is
‘We love this market, it’s so peaceful and we are fortunate to be able to walk on the grass, talk with friends and buy most of our weekly produce – don’t ever let it go’
The people responsible for starting the market and who persevered through the early years are: John Smith, Jan Garnet, Rob Toumi and Family, Ken and Marg Travis, Bob and Janice Maxwell, Fran Ertle, Bob Thompson and Heather Biasio, Pamela Fox, Andrew Yeoman, Graham and Jill Cox, Patrick Boulger, Diane McNay, the late Jim Crawford, Peggy and Murray Matheson, Sharon McPherson, Mike Fleming, Joan Fleming, Pat Zandihart and the 4H, Connie Braun, Robin Herlinveaux, Elaine Hobday and many others. It was their dedication and perseverance that allowed the market to form and continue.
That same spirit continues today as new members take their place running the society.