Saanich Cottage Garden Societies in the WWI era

Part Four – The Competitions!

E.W. White’s Annual Report 1917, Department of Agriculture

Best Kept Cottage Garden

Assuming stray dogs and cows didn’t get into your garden…. you might have a chance for the “Best Kept Garden Prize” sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, who offered $35 grants for prize money. There was “keen interest” in the competitions. Garden judge Assistant Horticulturalist E.W. White said: “These competitions do a great deal to stimulate interest and better care in the lines in which they are held.” 

Eligible best kept gardens were of any size not under one thousand square feet. Gardens were judged three times during the year. Points were awarded as follows: Quality and value of the crop – 20 points, Assortment and range of season’s variety – 20 points, Industry, enterprise and skill – 20 points, Cleanness and neatness – 20 points.

In Spring 1917, the newly formed Ward Two Cottage Garden Society decided to have a best garden competition. There were twenty-four entries. The Daily Colonist, September 2 1917 reported “so great has been the interest and so keen the rivalry that the judges, who have now made the final inspection, say they will have difficulty in making awards, as the standard attained by competitors was excellent.” Third prize ($5) went to Mrs. Martha Rudd (widow) of Burnside Road. Second Prize ($10) went to John E. Page, of Saanich Road, a plater at Albion Stove Works. First prize ($20) went to Mr. Harry Andrews of Falmouth Road, janitor at the Parliament Buildings, who “won through pluck and sticking to it.”

Garden Shows

The highlight of the gardening year was the annual show / exhibit, planned several months in advance. Here’s how Ward Seven planned their first exhibit:

On May 28 1918, the Cottage Garden Association for Ward Seven, Saanich, met at Tillicum School last night with a full attendance of members. Mr. White was elected convener of the committee to take this matter in charge. It was decided to ask Wm. Carey of Ward Two, to give a talk on the conduct of such exhibits, he having some experience along this line last year. A very urgent invitation is extended to all people having gardens in Ward Seven to send in their names to Mrs. Huddlestone, secretary of the Association, so that notification may be sent them as to the date of Mr. Carey’s meeting, as it is the object to make the exhibition as big a success as possible. (Victoria Daily Times May 29 1918)

Notice of the 1917 Cottage Gardeners’ Society of Ward Two Exhibit

With the enterprise characteristic of the residents of Ward Seven, Saanich, a horticultural show was opened today in Tillicum School under the auspices of the Cottage Gardeners’ Society. Anticipating the show for some time, keen rivalry has been existing among members of the society, and an excellent entry was made in all of the classes.

Victoria Daily Times September 7 1918
Ward 2September 7 1917St. Mark’s HallF.A. Pauline, M.P.P.
President J.C. Richards of the Ward Two Association
Ward 7September 7 1918Tillicum SchoolDr. Tolmie M.P.
F.A. Pauline M.P.P.  
Ward 4September 11 1918Hall at Garden CityF.A. Pauline M.P.P.
Trustee G. McGregor, of the Saanich School Board
Rev. D.M. Perley  
Ward 2September 21 1918St. Mark’s HallReeve Jones
Ward 7September 6 1919Tillicum SchoolF.A. Pauline, M.P.P.
Ward 4September 10 1919Strawberry Vale Hall 
Ward 7September 11 1920Tillicum SchoolMr. F.A. Pauline
M.P.P. Reeve Watson

Local Politicians and stirring speeches

Now it was the day of the show! The local politicians were on hand to officially open the show and to remind everyone of the purpose behind the Cottage Garden societies. At the 1918 Ward Seven show “Dr. S.F. Tolmie, M.P., who performed the opening ceremony…remarked that an effort of that nature was particularly worthy of commendation in wartime…It was largely due to the work of cultivating the soil on a small scale that the Allies, after four years of war, had not yet felt the pinch of food shortage.” (Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918)

“Dr. Tolmie was introduced by Councillor Diggon, who said that he was delighted to see such a display. In his opinion the holding of such exhibits was a splendid advertisement of the possibilities of Saanich soil…He felt that the war economy had done a good thing for Saanich if it had done nothing more than to bring home to the residents in the districts the wonderful fertility of their own soils.” (The Daily Colonist September 8 1918)

Potted plants, musical selections and ice cream!

The garden shows were an aesthetic social experience for exhibitors and visitors. Here is an account of the first Ward Two garden show in 1917. “A display of ferns, potted plants and white carnations by Brown & Wilkinson, local nurserymen, greatly enhanced the general effect, occupying a place immediately in front of the platform.” While the exhibitors and visitors were making the rounds, they were accompanied by musical selections on piano and violin-cello. A dance was held in the evening. Thirsty visitors could always rely on a cup of tea and “…Mr. McAlister of the Royal Dairy, who provided the ice cream free of cost for the occasion, won the grateful thanks of the tea organizers and patrons alike.” (The Daily Colonist September 11 1917) Sale of refreshments were the main fundraiser for the shows. The total takings of the Ward Two show in 1917 were $84.10, most of which came through the sale of tea and ice cream, though the admission fees alone amounted to $22.75 [Admission fees of $22.75 means at 10 cents for admission, 227 people attended]

The range of exhibits

“A tour of the exhibition on Saturday afternoon showed that the main efforts of the exhibitors had been put to the production of foodstuffs, and while the flower display was beautiful, the quality of the entries in the vegetable classes was the strong point of the show.”

“The exhibits [of the 1918 Ward Seven show] were arranged in seven sections, making a comprehensive list of exhibitors who were on hand early this morning, staging their exhibits to the best advantage. Provision was made for the exhibition of vegetables, flowers, fruit, poultry, rabbits, dairy produce, war time cookery and sundries and amateur photography.” (The Daily Colonist September 10 1918)

At the Ward Four Show in September 1918, “the late flowers that graced the tables were a delight; the excellence of the vegetables and fruits showed that this little corner of Saanich was a garden of fertility, while the work done by the women in the canning, baking and needlework sections told a tale of great industry. The children’s work was very good and the manual training exhibit attracted much attention.” (Victoria Daily Times September 13 1918)

“Best cake, eggless, butterless, milkless”

Saanich residents were helping to win the war by growing their own, and also by engaging in “war-time” cookery. Members of the Ward Seven Cottage Garden Society may also have been members of the Tillicum Women’s Institute, where in August 1918: “Pamphlets recently issued by the Canada Food Board, including “Can, Dry and Store for Victory” and “Wartime Recipes”, the latter prepared by Miss Lexa Denne, instructor of domestic science at the Normal School here, will be distributed to members at the meeting.” (The Daily Colonist August 7 1918)

With an eye to war-time conditions and economy, two novel features were included in section six, where there was competition for a prize for the best cake, eggless, butterless and milkless and for the “best pair of boy’s pants made from father’s”. (Victoria Daily Times September 7 1918)

“Much interest was taken in the display of cakes made without the use of eggs, butter and milk, and a common expression heard around the table was “well, I didn’t know it could be done.” Similar remarks were made regarding some wonderfully light and dainty potato flour cakes, and there were many requests for the receipts [recipes] which produced such exhibits.” (The Daily Colonist September 10 1918) “Mrs. Knight was declared the winner from several entries among which the general excellence made it hard for the judges to decide. There was also a good entry for the best cake made with potato flour, in which Mrs. C.W. Newbury won a prize donated by Fletcher Brothers.” (Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918)

Some of the extensive prize list of the 1918 Ward Seven Cottage Garden Show

The Tillicum Women’s Institute worked hand in hand with the Cottage Gardeners.

Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918

As an example of community friendship, the garden shows were helped by local women’ and girls’ groups. At the 1917 Ward Two Cottage Garden Show: “Much of the success of the Red Cross at this show is credited to the Misses Tolmie, who had general charge of the arrangements, and to the work of the Girl Allies, a bevy of bright and smiling faces, garbed in the white uniform and flowing headdress of the Red Cross nurse, being always at hand to suggest the purchase of candy, flowers or tea by the visitor to the show.” (The Daily Colonist September 11 1917) Meanwhile at the Ward Four show in 1918, “the Girls’ Club at Marigold sold many dainty hand-made articles and realized a nice sum for the Red Cross. They were assisted in this worthy undertaking of collecting money by Mrs. Duce’s “Peter” (a fundraising dog) who seemed quite at home amongst the children”. (Victoria Daily Times September 13 1918) At the Ward Seven show in 1918, “the Tillicum Women’s Institute helped the members make the event a success by joining hands in the entertainment portion of the programme and supplying tea to the workers and visitors.” (Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918)

A Red Cross garden party at the Roger’s Farm, Agnes Street, 1915. The girl in front with the red cross on her dress is probably a Girl Ally. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Prizes totalling $200 were awarded to the various exhibitors …

The Daily Colonist September 14 1920

Corporate sponsorship was important to the prize list – many prominent people and local businesses donated cash prizes or products. Here’s a list of sponsors at the 1918 Ward Seven Exhibition:

  • Brown’s Victoria Nursery
  • David Spencer, Esq.
  • Diggon Printing Co. – paper
  • Fletcher Bros. (music store)
  • Gordon Drysdale (dry goods)
  • Joshua Kingham (coal merchant and insurance agent)
  • Kirk & Co. – ½ ton coal
  • Judge Eberts, former Saanich M.P.P.
  • Nag Paint Co. – Roofing composition
  • Pendray’s – $2 of soap
  • Poultry Pigeons & Petstock Journal of the West
  • Rockside Poultry Farm
  • Simon Leiser (grocers)
  • W.J. Savory – Best collection of vegetables grown by Savory’s Seeds
  • Mrs. Scrivener
  • Victoria Feed Co.
  • Victoria Fuel Co. – ½ ton coal
  • Victoria Furniture Co.
  • Victoria Rice Mills

Immediately after the concert many of the exhibits will be sold by auction.

The Daily Colonist September 6 1919

At the end of the shows, the produce was auctioned off. The Daily Colonist reported on September 11 1917: “Most of the produce which was shown at the Cottage Garden Exhibition last Saturday was afterwards donated to the Cloverdale Red Cross, and the auction which was held late in the evening netted $26 for the funds, the bidding on the prize-winning items being particularly good.” At the Ward Seven show in 1918: “Mr. Roberts auctioneered off the goods which the exhibitors did not take home for the Red Cross, including two bantams donated by Mr. Clegg.” (Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918). When the War was over, Ward Seven gave funds to the community: “an auction sale of fruits and vegetables in the show will be held at the close, proceeds going to the Saanich Health Centre.” (The Daily Colonist September 5 1920)

F.A. Pauline M.P.P. “urged the audience to still ‘carry on’ in the Greater Production line.”

Victoria Daily Times September 13 1918

Fall came and the gardening year was over for now. The Ward Seven Cottage Garden Society had a successful first year in 1918 and were ready to carry on…The Society was momentarily curbed by the “Flu Ban” on public gatherings in October and November.

But soon it was party time! “The masquerade held last Wednesday evening [December 6] in Marshall’s Hall, the Gorge, under the auspices of Ward Seven Cottage Gardeners’ Society, was a pleasing success, the hall being well filled with gaily dressed masqueraders and everyone enjoying the dance programme to the fullest extent.” Next, the Garden Society decided to hold a military 500 card party (a popular war-time game) on Friday December 27 and a dance on New Year’s Eve. “The object of these amusements, it was stated, is to create an active interest among people in Ward Seven, especially in their annual show at Tillicum School. This year the event was a great success yet the committee feels it is not large enough to carry on the work which is expanding so rapidly.” (The Daily Colonist December 15 1918) By Spring 1919, the Ward Seven Society had even more active interest and let people know that “…This year there are membership cards for anyone keen to assist in making the show a success.” (The Daily Colonist March 4 1919)  

The Victoria Daily Times May 8 1920 reported: “The Cottage Garden movement in Saanich is making good progress in the urban wards of Saanich, and several successful shows are promised this fall. Most of the associations are organised for the season, and garden and lot cultivation is proceeding steadily.” On March 18 1920, Saanich Council decided to make a grant of $100 per ward, subject to the approval of the councillor, for cottage garden associations, toward the cost of the Fall exhibitions. In 1920, the Ward Seven Cottage Garden Society had its “best show in its history…held in the basement of the Tillicum School. A splendid array of exhibits was on view and was highly praised by Mr. F.A. Pauline, M.P.P. for Saanich, who opened the display, especially the children’s section.” (The Daily Colonist September 14 1920)

Individual Saanich Ward garden shows continued into the 1920s, though there was less money available. By 1926, the ward shows had amalgamated on June 22 1926 the Victoria Daily Times reported: “Councillor W. Graham, of Saanich, president, has already started getting things ready for the tenth annual exhibition of the Cottage Gardener’s Society, to be held in St. Mark’s Hall, Boleskine Road, on September 4…”

This project was an enjoyable opportunity to look through Saanich Archives’ 900 high-quality photographs by Anne Alice (“Annie”) Girling, who trained in photography in England before she emigrated with her family to Swan Lake, Saanich in October 1912. Annie’s landscape and portraiture of her family and their local area give a beautiful snapshot of life in early 1900s rural Saanich. Thank you to Saanich Archives for making images available and for locating references to the cottage garden societies in Saanich Municipal Council records.

I have also explored the story of Saanich school gardens from 1913- 1921