Looking Back in Time: A Saanich Fair Retrospective
Updated: Sep 14
When the calendar nears the end of August, we, like so many residents of the South Island, begin to turn our minds to the Labour Day weekend. Not only does it mark the end of summer and a return to work and school, but it also brings with it Western Canada's Oldest Continuous Agricultural Fair. Every summer for the past decade, Saanich Pioneer Society volunteers have worked hard to put together a display inspired by whatever the agricultural theme might be that particular year. Although the Saanich Fair has been interrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we couldn't let 2020 pass by without finding some way to honour this long-standing tradition.
We've submitted a number of displays to the Fair over the years, (click on the photo and use the arrows to scroll through):
Sometimes we even won prizes for them! Our country kitchen was especially popular.
Here is our Seeds, Breeds, and People on the Peninsula exhibit from 2017:
Prizes were given out in the 1-day 1886 Fair (October 1) for all of the following crops:
"Wild" blackberries are everywhere around Victoria. They have not always been here. Our true wild blackberries are small, on slender vines and ripen in early summer.
Plant hunters found these hardy blackberry plants in Armenia and northern Iran in the 1830s and called them Himalaya blackberries.
In the 1880s these blackberries were spread around the world, slowly at first through plant order catalogues, then probably by cuttings to friends and then naturally by seed when birds and animals ate them.
Himalaya Blackberries are vigorous, hardy, deep-rooted, armed with thorns, invasive, sometimes a nuisance
Hop Farming on the Peninsula
Beer brewing began in Victoria in the 1850s. Victoria brewers began offering generous prizes for local hop farmers. Soon farmers on the Saanich Peninsula were growing hops with great success.
Some of the most notable growers were Isaac Cloake, Daniel Moses, William Towner, Henry Wain, John Downey and Rufus Horth.
Hop farming was a success for 30 years. In 1870 they were growing some 1000 pounds per acre. Hop crops decreased in the 1890s with an infestation of hop louse and a world depression.
July 4, 1865 - Island Hops --- Mr. Isaac Cloake, of North Saanich, within five minutes’ walk of Harry Wain’s place, has two and a half acres of hops, planted last March, now standing about ten feet high; he is an old hop grower from Sussex, and states that he never saw anything to equal it at home. The crop he estimates will pay infinitely better than any other production. Next year he intends to have ten acres under cultivation. In the course of a few years we shall, beyond doubt, became large exporters of this article to California and the adjacent countries, as the soil and climate of Vancouver Island are better adapted to hop growing than those of any other country on the coast.
- from the Daily Colonist
William Towner arrived in North Saanich in 1864 bringing hop plants with him. At first he worked with Isaac Cloake but soon formed a partnership with Victoria brewer Arthur Bunster, of the Colonial Brewery, one of six breweries in Victoria.
In the 1870s he had large drying kilns, or oast houses, built. Mr. Towner was successful and soon supplied other Victoria brewers and sold elsewhere as well. One shipment in 1880 to San Francisco brought $5000. He also grew cereal crops, had an apple orchard and raised sheep. By 1912 hop growing had declined and he turned to his other crops.
Isaac Cloake and A.C. Anderson
Isaac Cloake bought 100 acres in 1867 just east of the A.C. Anderson property, later owned by Rufus Horth, who also grew hops. Mr. Cloake grew wheat and barley as well as hops.
He went into partnership with Anderson who would graft seedling fruit stock with good varieties from his own trees and from Victoria trees. Together they produced some “very fine fruit…apples included” according to Anderson. Cloake and Anderson produced the first orchard in Saanich wholly from stocks grown and grafted in the district.
Chevalier Barley (to malt for beer brewing)
In 1820, Rev. Chevalier became aware of a different strain of barley in his field and was able to grow an acre of the barley in 1826. Chevalier barley dominated the English and world crops for malting for over 60 years. After WWI, hybrid types became popular. Now heritage malts are popular again.
Crisp Chevalier is characterized by warm, cracker and biscuit aroma with a full flavour. Compared to many other modern barleys, its aroma and flavour are quite pronounced.
Mangold wortzel (Field beet)
Mangelwurzel is primarily used for cattle, pigs and other stock feed, although it can be eaten by humans – especially when young. It is considered a crop for cool-temperate climates. Both leaves and roots may be eaten. Leaves can be lightly steamed for salads or lightly boiled as a vegetable if treated like English spinach. The roots are prepared boiled like potato for serving mashed, diced or in sweet curries. Grown in well-dug, well-composted soil and watered regularly, the roots become tender, juicy and flavourful. Animals eat it raw and are known to thrive upon it; both its leaves and roots provide a nutritious food.
These pigs are now a rare breed. The first Berkshires were exported to North America in 1823, then to later to Australia and New Zealand.
Berkshire pork, prized for juiciness, flavour and tenderness, is pink-hued and heavily marbled. Its high fat content makes it suitable for long cooking and high-temperature cooking. As with all coloured pig breeds, the Berkshires declined in popularity after World War II when the demand increased for leaner bacon from white-skinned pigs.
Poland China Swine
Poland China pig breeds have extremely calm dispositions. They are outstanding feeders and they gain well under good care and conditions. They are naturally reliable, durable, have a strong structure and they can adapt to nearly any surroundings.
Originally from the island of Jersey, these smallish light-brown cows are good milk producers with high butterfat content, easy to keep for feed and pasturage, calve easily and are good natured. Jersey bulls are notoriously bad tempered.
Shorthorn, also called Durham - a beef cattle breed
The Shorthorn was developed in the late 1700s from local cattle of Durham County in the north of England. It is characterized by short horns, blocky conformation and colour ranging from red, red with white markings, white, or roan.
Shorthorns are found in almost every country of the world. It is one of the more popular breeds in the British Isles. They have been widely used for up-grading native and unimproved cattle. Within the breed, special strains have been developed, notably the Milking or Dairy Shorthorn, raised for both milk and beef production, and the Polled Shorthorn, a hornless variety.