Saanich Cottage Garden Societies

Increased Production and Firmer Community Friendship

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”. Credit: Saanich Archives

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

In the 1910s, the Municipality of Saanich’s population boomed as housing developments were built just north of the City of Victoria. People were moved out of the city to places with large lots and room for gardens. At the same time, the Great War started. 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 was promoting “Greater / Increased Production” campaigns so that people should only be eating food that they grew. All food of farmers would be exported overseas. Thus Saanich began to support cottage gardeners. 

This project is an overview of Saanich Cottage Garden Societies 1917-1920 and relies on contemporary accounts in local newspapers and records of local Saanich Council meetings.

What is a Cottage Garden? Originally, the purpose of the cottage garden was to provide food. It contained livestock, herbs, fruits and vegetables. Flowers were an optional extra and tended to be ones that had some practical value, such as seasoning food or repelling bugs. The cottager’s small plot did not allow for any wasted space, so the garden was abundantly packed, but well tended. Source: (accessed June 7 2021)

What was the purpose of Cottage Garden Societies?

  • For community members to learn about food growing and to compete for prizes.
  • An underlying purpose was community building, working together for common good.

This project is illustrated with photos by Annie Girling, whose family gardened at Swan Lake. Annie Girling’s over 900 photographs have been digitized by the Saanich Archives and provide a valuable snapshot into what people were raising in their home gardens in the WWI period. Here is a link to an online exhibit of Annie Girling’s photos.

Next – Part One – Meet the gardeners