Saanich School Gardens – Growing seeds for the future

Seed production has been emphasized in the school gardens as being particularly suited to the conditions prevailing in Saanich.”

H.E. Hallwright, 1918-1919 Report on Elementary Agricultural Education

The school garden program may have officially ended in 1921, but Saanich school children didn’t stop growing. Instead, Saanich schools focussed on seed production.

Back in February 1918, then-District Agricultural Supervisor H.E. Hallwright wanted Saanich schools to grow seeds. “Mr. Hallwright stated that in his opinion seed production is the logical aim for farmers in Saanich, the high prices received for high-grade seed, such as the district is capable of, being in his opinion a point well worth attention by the farmers.” (The Daily Colonist February 12 1918) The Saanich School Board intended to “give all the aid possible to the schools in promoting this seed production as it is felt that success will not only make the school gardens self-sustaining but will also teach many of the farmers of Saanich some points which are at present unknown to them.”

A special feature was seed production. The results obtained with Golden Bantam corn and cantaloupe were striking.

H.E. Hallwright later reported in his 1918 report: “A special feature of the work in all school gardens was the emphasis laid on seed production. Some schools – Keating in particular – did excellent work in this branch of intensive agriculture. The results obtained with Golden Bantam corn and cantaloupe were striking and very satisfactory.” At the 1918 Saanich Fair, a prize was awarded for “A collection of 18 sorts of garden vegetable and flower seeds to consist of twelve sorts vegetable and six sorts flower.” First prize: McKenzie Avenue, Second prize: Keating, Third prize: Gordon Head.

The boys and girls of Saanich have responded to this home-project with enthusiasm.

H.E. Hallwright on home seed production

H.E. Hallwright reported that in the 1920-1921 school year “the chief work carried on there consisted in home-project work in seed production…Systematic instruction in the method of raising seed and in arranging exhibits for the Saanichton Fair has been carried out. Prizes consisting of gold, silver and bronze medals for first, second and third prizes and a garden-cultivator for fourth have been awarded for the winners in the seed-growing contest, and a good exhibit was assured.” (Images from the Fiftieth Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia)

Starting in 1919, Saanich students also competed in the strenuous contest for the new “Rotary Cup for Seed Production and Citizenship”. These were the purposes of the contest:

“This competition has been instituted to stimulate seed production in Greater Victoria by arousing the interest of the public generally through the efforts of the children, and incidentally by training the children in the principles underlying this branch of agriculture, by which they may become fit and capable to undertake the work on a commercial scale when they leave school, or to help practical seed growers who are already established in the delicate operation which seed production involves.” (The Daily Colonist September 30 1919)

“To stimulate a spirit of good citizenship, which is nothing more than the art of being good neighbours. As this capacity for pulling together is so absolutely essential for the establishment of seed production as one of the Island’s primary industries, it was the intention of the Rotary Club committee to combine these two objects in one united goal.” (Victoria Daily Times October 2 1920)

The contest judges were Professor Lionel Stevenson of the Dominion Experimental Farm, who examined the seeds, and Bertha Winn, child psychologist, who read the school children’s essays on citizenship.

“So far the Saanich schools have not been challenged in the championship for seed production in Greater Victoria.”

H.E. Hallwright, 1920

In 1919, four schools competed, all from Saanich: Cedar Hill, Craigflower, Gordon Head and Keating. In 1920, weather conditions limited school entries. “It is understood that several other schools, including Craigflower, who tied with Gordon Head for the championship last year, had intended to exhibit, but owing to the backward spring and the continued rains since the opening of school, they decided not to enter. One school, Strawberry Vale, submitted the essays alone, which showed by the high marks they made that the children are alive to the situation.” (The Daily Colonist October 2 1920)

The last news reference to the Rotary Cup is in 1928, when Keating School won the district competition. Individual prizes were also given to school children – and now Mrs. Butchart was giving a cup. Sydney Barnes of Lake Hill, Saanich won the Mrs. Butchart Cup for the second year. And here below is another prize winner, young Jack Whitehead of Prospect Lake with his wheelbarrow. The back of this photo says “The Victoria Rotary Club sponsored a contest wherein the best garden made by the school children received a gold medal.”

Thank you to Saanich Archives for sharing Saanich School Board accounts for the 1910s, which contained hand written mentions of money spent on school gardens and money made by selling school garden produce.

Saanich school children were growing at the same time as their parents were growing their own in the back garden. Read more about the war-time progress of the Saanich Cottage Garden Societies and see what produce, fruit and livestock were being raised in Saanich.

I first became interested in the school garden movement in British Columbia while researching the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s war-time activities to improve their school grounds. Read The Story of the Gordon Head Athletic Club 1916-1922.