Saanich School Gardens – Prizes and Patriotism

A group of Gordon Head school children at the Saanich Fair, 1919. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Saanich school children were kept engaged in gardening through the possibility to win prizes at local garden shows and the annual North and South Saanich Agricultural Society’s Fall Fair (a.k.a. “Saanich Fair) at Saanichton.

Judging the School Gardens

Gardens were judged two times a year: in early June and in early September. A score card was used and the gardens were scored on a percentage basis. The school garden diary and financial statement was also considered. Here is what the judges marked:

Care in making, planting and arrangement of plots, 20 points

Thinning, training and regularity in row, 10 points

Cultivation (mulching), 15 points

Freedom from woods, grass, etc., 15 points

Freedom from insect pests and diseases, 10 points

Amount and quality of bloom in flower plots, or amount and quality of crop in vegetable plots, 20 points

Neatness of paths, labels and stakes etc., 10 points

Note – only 20 points were awarded for amount and quality of produce. The main focus appears to be on how much work the children did to keep their gardens neat and tidy, emphasizing the underlying goal of school gardening was more about “citizenship values.”

At the discretion of the judge, a bonus of ten per cent was divided into five per cent for absence of irrigation facilities, and five per cent for sod ground or other adverse conditions. In 1918, there was very close competition between Keating and Cedar Hill Schools. Here is how the judges decided: “The widely diverse conditions under which these two schools were working are extreme. The new site of the school garden at Keating – the one on which most of the school exhibit was raised – was only prepared early last Spring, and not a pail of water was used on it, while Cedar Hill possessed the advantages of both old mellow ground and irrigation. There would have been little chance for the winner of Mrs. Butchart’s silver cup without necessary adjustments in the score card provided for by the bonus, nor would Cedar Hill have received due credit on the inspection of the garden alone.” (Victoria Daily Times October 8 1918)

Mrs. Butchart’s Silver Cup for Best School Garden

In 1917, Mrs. R.P. Butchart of “Benvenuto”, Tod Inlet, donated a special prize for best school gardens in Saanich. The cup went the school which was awarded the first position in the school garden exhibit at the Saanich Fair.

Here are the Butchart Cup Prize Winners:

  • 1917 – Prospect School
  • 1918 – Keating
  • 1919 – Saanichton
  • 1920 – North Dairy

“Proudly displayed in the centre of the North Dairy School exhibit was the silver cup presented some years ago by Mrs. Butchart…It was easily apparent to any visitor the fair that the North Dairy School was entitled to its possession this year, as they had many points to the good in respect of range, quality, arrangement and all other respects. The display was quite wonderful, and included parsnips, carrots, onions, squash, cabbage, seeds of various grasses and flowers, pressed flowers and insects, and last but not least, apples. Not many of the school gardens of Vancouver Island have been under cultivation a sufficient length of time to produce apples.” (The Daily Colonist September 16 1920)

Best collection of vegetables grown on school plots in Saanich Municipality

Schools who didn’t win “best garden” were still successful with their collections of school garden vegetables. “Particularly interesting are the collections from the gardens of the Prospect Lake, Saanichton, Keating, West Saanich and North Dairy Schools.” (Victoria Daily Times October 5 1918)

FirstGordon Head  Cedar HillSaanichton  
SecondProspect Lake  Craigflower  Keating
ThirdSaanichton and
West Saanich  Craigflower

The one cucumber in the whole exhibit of both adults and children was from a school garden.

The Daily Colonist July 4 1918

School children also had the opportunity to compete in local garden shows. On June 29 1918, the Tillicum Women’s Institute held a Garden Show at Tillicum School, with a main focus on manual training and children’s gardening. “The home garden exhibits and school garden exhibits were placed upon the desks; the school work, mounted upon green paper, was attached to the walls, and altogether this room presented the appearance of a gay flower garden…the exhibits from the school gardens, although not numerous owing to the season of the year, were of the first quality. The one cucumber in the whole exhibit of both adults and children was from a school garden.” (The Daily Colonist July 4 1918) In September 1918, the Ward Two Cottage Gardeners held their annual exhibition at St. Mark’s Hall, Boleskine Road. The prize for “collection of vegetables grown by any boy or girl or group of children in charge of a school garden plot in any of the Saanich schools” was won by Craigflower School. 

“Helping the King to crush the Kaiser”

…The gardens generally were very successful, teachers and pupils having the added incentive of “greater production”

School Inspector for Saanich W.H.M. May’s report on the school year ending June 30 1918

As the War dragged on, Greater / Increased Production became vitally important. Troops needed to be fed, and there was fear of starvation in Europe (especially by 1918). The City of Victoria was converting vacant lots into gardens, and Municipality of Saanich was supporting Ward Cottage Garden Societies. The emphasis was on local food production (grow your own at home so food doesn’t have to be imported and food from the farmers can be exported overseas). People were also encouraged to have livestock at home (mainly chickens and goats and some mentions of pigs). These gardens promoted what F.A. Pauline, Saanich Member of the Provincial Parliament, called “the twin goals of patriotism and production.”

Schools in British Columbia played an important part in the Patriotism and Production campaign. Patrick A. Dunae writes: “During the First World War, [J.W. Gibson] served as Provincial Organizer of the Wartime Food Conservation Committee. He also organized a number of projects, including the “Patriotism and Production” schools campaign, a scheme designed to raise funds for the war effort.” (The Homeroom)

“at that time, the First World War, we had what they called a Victory Garden, and each of the pupils had a little patch and we all grew our own vegetables.” 

Eileen Cox (nee Stubbs) who attended McKenzie Avenue School, Saanich Oral History Interviews, Saanich Archives

On November 30 1916, J.W. Gibson wrote: “It is hoped that during the coming year it is hoped that still greater things will be accomplished along the lines of practical patriotism. We want particularly that the pupils themselves should produce something of commercial value, something especially in the line of foodstuffs, which after all may presently come to be the nation’s greatest need.” In 1917, Gibson wrote in  “…special effort was made to increase production as a patriotic enterprise” and in 1918 wrote “As the food question was of such great importance, it soon became a live topic in a great many schools.” 

Image from the Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia

During the war the [West Saanich School] garden helped support the Red Cross as did a pig raised at the school.

The Daily Colonist May 25 1919

The Saanich students sold their produce to parents and community members and during the war, raised funds for patriotic causes. Here’s what the children at the Victoria Model School (in Ward 1, Mount Tolmie, Saanich) did:

1918 Report of the Director of Elementary Agricultural Education, J.W. Gibson, Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province of British Columbia
Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province of British Columbia

Gordon Head school children sold flowers: “A large bed of violets, which since earliest Spring have been laden with blossoms, shows that the gardens here have found a source of profit as well as of pleasure. City people eagerly bought the sweet flowers little hands had gathered early mornings or after school tasks were over.” (Maria Lawson, School Gardening in Saanich, The Daily Colonist May 11 1919)

Saanich municipal records, dated December 1918, show how much the schools made in the sale of produce.

Photo credit: Saanich Archives

After the war-time fundraising had ended, schools could still sell produce. This note appears in the Municipality of Saanich school accounts, December 1919: “School gardens produce being amount of sale of school gardens produce to be used subject to sanction of the Board for the purchase of something to the benefit to each school according to amount received from such school.”

See this mention of West Saanich School: “The produce of the long rows of peas, beans, corn and other vegetables will be sold at the Brentwood Hotel….This year Miss Bissett and her pupils hope to buy a school microscope, and perhaps add to the piano fund  (Among the Country Schoolchildren of Saanich, The Daily Colonist May 25 1919)

Forty-Eighth Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province of British Columbia

Next – Chapter Four – Spring 1919 – Spring 1921