Saanich Cottage Garden Societies in the WWI era

The second annual exhibition of the Cottage Gardener’s Society of Ward Seven was held yesterday at the Tillicum School. Mr. F.A. Pauline, M.P.P. opened the exhibition with a short address, in which he emphasized the value of increased production and the desirability of promoting firmer community friendship.

The Daily Colonist, September 7 1919
Alice Mary and Ellen Elizabeth Girling in flower garden in front of family home at Swan Lake, photograph by Annie Girling. Caption reads “You can just see the Dorothy Perkins [rose] on the house and L & M have been picking your Shasta daisies”. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

In the 1910s, the Municipality of Saanich’s population boomed as housing developments were built just north of the City of Victoria. People moved out of the city to larger lots with room for gardens. At the same time, World War One began. By 1917, the war had been dragging on for three years and there was an impending food shortage for the people of Europe, and crucially, the Allied troops. The Government of Canada promoted “Increased Production” campaigns so that Canadians would eat the food that they grew, freeing up farm produce to be exported to Europe. Saanich’s popular Cottage Garden Societies were formed in response to this situation. In supporting the war from the Home Front, Saanich residents learned how to grow their own vegetables, had fun showing off their gardens and produce for prizes, and most of all, made friends.

The story of Saanich Cottage Garden Societies from 1917-1920 is told through contemporary accounts in local newspapers and records of Saanich Council meetings. The story is illustrated with photographs by Annie Girling, whose family had a garden at Swan Lake. Annie Girling’s over 900 images have been digitized by the Saanich Archives and provide a valuable snapshot of what Saanich residents were growing in their home gardens during World War One.

Part One – Suburban Saanich Gardeners

In 1909, Victoria Daily Times ran a series of articles extolling the virtues of “suburban” South Saanich

There is abundant vacant land in South Saanich — improved land, slashed land, timbered land — all waiting the hand of the coming orchardist to blossom into a great a beautiful garden.

Suburban South Saanich, Victoria Daily Times July 31 1909

Most of our gardeners were white-collar or skilled workers who owned their own homes in the new “suburban” developments just north of the City of Victoria boundary. Circa 1909 onward, there was a land development boom in Saanich. Former farmland was subdivided. Some of the new developments were Cloverdale Estate, Gorge View Park and Garden City.

All the streets in the “Garden City” subdivision had flower names.
Map of Saanich “suburbs” 1915 shows their proximity to the city by tram and train. Popular subdivisions of the time are marked: Pink – Garden City, Yellow – Gorge View Park, Blue – Cloverdale Estate. Photo credit: Saanich Archives
“Garden City” subdivision was being marketted in the Victoria Daily Times on March 25 1911
A Saanich Cottage Garden with a rustic fence in “suburban” Saanich. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Delicacies for the table gain double zest when they are home grown.”

Suburban South Saanich, Victoria Daily Times June 4 1909

The attractions of “Suburban Saanich” were larger lots, lower taxes and their connection to the city centre (where these gardeners worked) by graded roads, train or B.C. Electric tram. Developers, with the help of the local newspapers, promoted the new areas as convenient to the city but with the benefits of the countryside.

Here is a good example — In Spring 1909, a writer for the Victoria Daily Times paid a visit to the residence of Mr. R.S. Thompson on the shores of the Victoria Arm: “Its site is a gentle slope overlooking the waters of the Arm…It is in the country but hourly is reminded of its proximity to the city. It is surrounded by fields, but the gong of the street car and the signal of the Gorge ferry proclaim its close relation to all things urban. Surrounding the plot is a three-acre plot laid out to practical as well as artistic advantage. Strawberries and every kind of small fruit flourish in their exposure to the southern sun. Space is reserved beneath ancient trees for lawns and flowers. Within its enclosure at the rear is a thriving colony of fowls. Delicacies for the table gain double zest when they are home grown.”

Some of the “suburban” gardeners were the Girling family of Ralph Street at Swan Lake, who left behind a substantial home in Woolwich, London in 1912. The Girlings moved into a large shack while they cleared their land, later building a cottage, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens. Mr. G.G. Girling was road superintendent for the Municipality of Saanich, and during World War One, five of the Girling boys were on military service.

A Girling family portrait in the garden at Ralph Street, Swan Lake. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Other Saanich gardeners were Tom and Maude Hall, teachers from County Durham, England, who settled on Vancouver Island in 1913. Their first home was “Queen’s Grove” in Colquitz. During WWI, Tom was on overseas service and Maude was busy with the Women’s Institute, the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Red Cross but still found time for her garden.

Maude Hall in her garden at “Queen’s Grove”, Loenholm Road Saanich, 1918. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

By using garden show prize lists and city directories, we can learn more about other members of the garden societies.

Ward Two – President was William Carey, a B.C. government forest ranger and municipal councillor. Some members were Percy Abel, grocer; William O. Flight, motorman B.C.E.R.; Mrs. Tapscott, wife of Rev. Fred. T. Tapscott, Saanich Baptist Church; Mrs. J. Yates, wife of soldier on active service

Ward Four – President was Anton Henderson, farmer and municipal councillor. The Secretary was Maude Hall. Two active gardeners were Preston Coates, teacher at Oaklands School and his sister Kathleen Coates, teacher at Burnside School, who lived on Violet near Marigold.

Ward Seven – President was Harold Diggon, printing business owner and municipal councillor. Another President was Major Hibben, a local militia man and proprietor of the well-known T.N. Hibben Book and Stationery. The Secretary was Mrs. Mary Huddlestone, mother of three school aged children. She came from Cumbria, England to B.C. in 1913. Some members were: the Huddlestones’ boarder Thomas Knight, a clerk at the Dominion Government Savings Bank; Robert E. Collins, a teacher at Sir James Douglas School; Albert Lloyd, a chimney sweep, and William Tomes, proprietor of Interurban Shoe.

Part Two – Let us help to win the war by the food we can produce!