Grande opening of the Victoria Public Market – why you need to be there.

Victoria has a colorful and wildly uneven history of farmers and public markets – In fact, there is a pretty comprehensive journal from local historian and journalist Ross Crockford over here. It is a great read and I will borrow a bit from that article here – and the bulk of the sentiment.

Some thoughts in point form. Which I will expand upon…

  • Victoria’s downtown needs a year round farmers market
  • Why hasn’t there been a year round market all along?
  • Even in the 21st Century we need to think about food security
  • Buying from the chains is not always cheaper or better for the community
  • By all means continue to support satellite, weekend markets and local businesses.

Why a market? So Victoria has the Moss Street market – one of the most notable and recognizable markets in the Victoria area – and it is well traveled – their website is over here – and for a small neighborhood market, it has stood the test of time. The MSM has been open 14 years or so now – and that (to date) is somewhat more stable than initial iterations of the first Victoria Public Market (which according to Ross Crockford) only lasted a few months.

…the owners blamed its failure on public indifference, and competition from Chinese farmers who peddled vegetables door-to-door. In 1878, white farmers successfully petitioned the city to build another indoor market, but the construction was so shoddy that the farmers stayed away.

At the time, Victoria was still something of a wild west and by some of the descriptions from historical references, much of the bureaucracy around the city administering a market was very much like it is today for most business people – difficult.

Even in the late 1800’s many farmers and producers sold their wares directly to retailers, negating the need for a public gathering place for food, services and entertainment.

Moving forward to the 20th Century, Victoria’s market struggled with progress but was re-energized by the
advent of World War (both of them) with issues of food security and patriotism being bandied about.
In the 50’s the final nails in the coffin of the Victoria Public Market was the arrival of chain stores, indifference to what was considered a quaint method of food gathering and a general neglect of the infrastructure.

As Ross Crockford points out in his historic observations, the downtown cores layout of real estate was coveted and public markets seemed contrary to progress – particularly with the advent of the automobile and decline of the street car as the predominant mode of transportation.

Why now? So why haven’t we (as Victoria residents) seen a surviving market through the years? Many European and American cities have had farmers markets that are upwards of a hundred (or in the case of Europe) hundreds and hundreds of years old.
Simple. Victoria never had a downtown population. Until more recently. I can remember scooting around Victoria in the mid seventies (as a young teen) noting that there were no Apartments in the downtown core – and many of the upper “flats” that used to exist in historic buildings on Government, Yates, Pandora and Fisgard avenues (for example) were boarded up or left fallow because of fire regulations.

In 2013, there are condos sprouting up in every corner of the city AND there are no downtown grocery stores (apart from the somewhat distant Yates Market at Quadra and Yates [which serves the area well thank you very much…]).

In the late 50’s and and until the mid sixties, downtown Victoria had an Eaton’s food floor and a Safeway (near the corner of Fort and Douglas) serving the needs of James Bay and Fairfield residents. I can remember as a young child in the 60’s popping into the Eaton’s Food Fair for some groceries (it was a real deal full service grocery then – much like the Woodward’s Food experience at Town and Country) and then hitting the soda fountain nearby for a Coke float. Additionally, the downtown had numerous general stores, like David Spencer Limited (commonly known as Spencer’s) who operated a department store chain – with a location in Victoria that lasted up until demolition to make way for the Eaton Center in the mid-eighties.

Anyway – staying on topic!

Food Security Anyone that says that we needn’t worry about our Island food supply has an agenda that it is not in the best interests of our local communities and neighborhoods. It was an issue in the 20th Century and it is an issue now. Why sell off our farm land for development while at the same time increasing our demand on an imported food supply? We are only one Earthquake or calamity away from pinching off a staggering dependency on food that is trucked and flown in on a scale that should give us pause.

According to food journalist, Don Genova, we produce around 6% of the food stuffs that we consume on Vancouver Island. And when you consider how arable this region is and how much we can actually grow if we put our minds (and shovels) to it… well, it’s shocking.

Chef, farmer and educator, Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm is one of our Island food professionals leading and raising awareness of Island food trends and the need to be cognizant of our fragile food supply – His educational curriculum and food learning program is a great example of how one person (and friends) can educate a lot of people about regional and local food production… and the fun of foraging!

One of my favorite rants on subject (of Island grown food management) was the practice of a very large Island grown food chain that was shipping Island grown produce to Vancouver for sorting… before it shipped it back to the Island… the excuse being “Our Island storage facilities are not big enough…” Give me a break. And people wonder why locally produced fruits and vegetables cost so much at the chains. To their credit, I think they have built a warehouse on Vancouver Island for sorting and storage of Island produce.

Want to contrast food pricing with the Chains? Try this exercise: Head out to one of the small satellite markets or farm vendors like the Root Cellar on McKenzie and Blenkinsop – and tell me their prices are not refreshingly cheaper than Thrifty Foods or Safeway.

Why support local? Why buy local? Creates jobs. Creates an incentive to produce locally. Instills a sense of community. Brings people together. And I am not just talking about farmers – but bakers, brewers, crafts people of all kinds. In a city the size of Victoria, you would think we would have dozens of great bakeries – we don’t but that could change if we stop buying unhealthy factory produced breads from afar.

I should stress that if you live in a neighborhood (or within a km or two of a neighborhood) that features cafes, bakers, brewers or meat markets – by all means support those ahead of your regional or local market! The idea is not to take away business – but to get people to walk to their markets or local businesses and artisans – to mingle and learn and be part of the community.
Historically, markets were built to serve an urban population – As stated, Victoria has not had an urban population (with the necessary density to support a full time public market) until the 21st Century. The time is now.

So we seem to be on the right track. In the last ten years I have seen the arrival of better choices locally, a raised awareness of the importance of a stable local food supply and a passion for “getting it done locally” that simple did not exist in the latter part of the 20th Century. We have come a ways – but we have further to go.

Let’s keep doing what we are doing Victoria has markets, day markets, summer markets, street markets and night markets. We are in the right track. By all means, keep supporting these initiatives – seek them out. Support them.

And by all means come out to the grande opening of the new Victoria Public Market this Saturday and Sunday!
I will be there – and so should you! Here is the link for finding your way to the Victoria Public Market opening on Saturday –

Victoria has a colorful and wildly uneven history of farmers and public markets – In fact, there is a pretty comprehensive journal from local historian and journalist Ross Crockford over here. It is a great read and I will borrow a bit from that article here – and the bulk of the sentiment. Some thoughts…