Learning to Grow: Saanich School Gardens 1913-1921

District Supervisor of Agricultural Education

Then a professor Hallwright used to come round the schools and give us instruction in gardening. For a few years we had little garden plots and I got the prize for best school garden. Westward Ho! Still have the book and have read it several times.  

Kenneth Jennings, student at Cedar Hill school c. 1917-1918

In August 1917, Saanich resident Horatio Ellington “Ray” Hallwright was appointed by the Department of Education to be District Supervisor of Agricultural Education for Victoria and Saanich. Hallwright approached the Saanich School Board with an idea to prepare the grounds of all the schools so they would be ready for garden instruction in the coming school year. He mainly wanted to focus on “dry farming”, conserving soil moisture where there was no irrigation – as we’ve seen this was a real issue facing school gardens like Keatings and Gordon Head where there was no municipal water. But when the Board tried to get money from the Saanich Council to support Hallwright’s new garden initiatives, the Council was vehemently against it. The report on the discussion made quite a detailed news item in the newspapers.

Saanich council last night refused a request from the Board of School Trustees for a grant of $500 to be expended in putting the grounds of the various schools in shape for next Summer, when it was the intention of the newly appointed superintendent of agricultural instruction to teach the children what could be done by dry farming in the district.

The Daily Colonist October 3 1917

These are the issues that came up during the Council discussion, reported in The Daily Colonist October 3 1917 and Victoria Daily Times October 3 1917:

Councillor Diggon, businessman and parent to a school child, represented Ward Seven, the most populated “suburban” ward where Tillicum School had recently been opened: “His district held cement and plank sidewalks to the schools in far greater favor than having the mud which surrounds the schools scraped up at an expense to the district of possibly $80, and he was against the grant.”

Councillor Carey, president of the Ward Two Cottage Garden Association, “thought the supervisor was under the impression the impression that the children of Saanich lived in flats. As a matter of fact, the children attending Tolmie School came from homes having the finest cottage gardens around Victoria.”

Councillor Tanner, who was president of the South Saanich Fruit Growers’ Association, said: “The more you help the preliminary efforts, the less will be done in practical work.”

Reeve Borden, a Lake Hill farmer, “thought these new-fangled ideas were not going to be popular if the work was done for the pupils. He would like to be able to farm that way, if he could get someone to do the work, he would have a fine time sitting back and bossing the job. He thought that the work should be done by the pupils. It was good for them to learn just what was meant by sub-soiling, just what sort of backache came from digging a double trench, and then they would look after the gardens to see that some result came from all the labour. He was against spending money on work the pupils ought to do themselves.”

Councillor Jones stated he had heard of one teacher who had spent $15 on seed potatoes and the yield would be practically nothing.

Reeve Borden – “She will get her experience. That is worth something.”

Victoria Daily Times October 3 1917

Councillor Somers, a successful Gordon Head fruit grower, said “the fault with Saanich school gardens was not that the soil was unsuitable, or the conditions unsatisfactory, but that immediately the summer vacation came around the gardens were neglected and the whole thing became a waste. Nobody seemed responsible, and if the whole revenue of Saanich was spent upon them for part of the year, they could not be expected to look well when neglected for the remainder of the season.”

Municipal Clerk Cowper explained that this year the school gardens had been a failure, and that, in the opinion of the new supervisor, the time was not ripe for irrigation, on the other hand dry farming could be practiced with success in the district if a grant for putting the ground into proper shape was made, without which the school board may as well throw up gardening at schools. Last year was the first attempt, and better arrangements for looking after the gardens during the summer holidays would doubtless be made.

Saanich Council declined the appropriation for school gardening funds. Not long after, the discussion continued through letters to the editor of the Victoria Daily Times. It seemed that District Supervisor H.E. Hallwright had written a letter, then commented on by Ward One Councillor, businessman Charles B. Jones.

Letter to the Editor of the Victoria Daily Times, published October 11 1917

A few days later “Moderation” wrote in – Letter to the Editor of the Victoria Daily Times, published October 16 1917

Hallwright again appealed to the Saanich School Board to get money for the school gardens. The Daily Colonist on November 13 1917 reported: “Mr. H.E. Hallwright again urged the Board to take action in regard to certain of the school gardens, claiming in the course of a long letter that unless something was done now, he would be unable to get satisfactory results until 1919. Owing to the lack of funds until the new year the Board felt that they could do nothing and the matter will stand over until the new Board takes office.”

Note — the antipathy towards Hallwright’s schemes was also found in other British Columbia communities. Patrick A. Dunae writes: “The Elementary Agricultural Education Branch initiated several innovative programmes. However, Gibson encountered scepticism and indifference among parents, teachers, and school trustees, many of whom thought his missionary zeal for “rural values” was at odds with the realities of an increasingly urban industrial society.” (The Homeroom) In 1920, this scepticism and indifference would appear again in a much more virulent form.

Saanich School Garden Accounts

Despite the initial disinterest by Saanich Council, by the end of 1917, the Municipality was giving money to gardens at twelve schools, as municipal accounts show. (The higher amount seems to indicate they really developed their garden that year).

Municipal Accounts 1918 shows amount for “gardens” for Gordon Head and Keating schools.
Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Cedar Hill School  $52.35$48.82$81.14
Craigflower  $53$88.49$88.28
Gordon Head  $58.20$40.04$34.06
Keatings  $38.84$52.34$60.02
McKenzie Avenue  $81.64$94.21$87.62
North Dairy  $67.45$57.29$65.21
Prospect Lake  $50.41$14.99$23.77
Royal Oak  $30.10$76.68$40.86
Saanichton  $48.16$35.23$52.92
Strawberry Vale  $30.05$76.07$55.44
Tolmie  $42.77$192.52$54.84
West Saanich  $33.15$80.84$39.80

Everything in Apple Pie Order

“The success of the Saanich school-gardens during the past year is in large measure due to the untiring energy of Mr. H.E. Hallwright, District Supervisor of Agricultural Instruction, who devoted his entire summer to personal supervision of the gardens. Mr. Hallwright’s great devotion to rural-school interests has done much towards winning the support and co-operation of both teachers and parents throughout the district.” Director or Elementary Agricultural Education J.W. Gibson

Despite the problems in Fall 1917, the school year ended with positive reports about school gardens in Saanich in Spring/Summer 1918. School Inspector W.H.M. May observed: “With the appointment of an instructor in agriculture for the Victoria High School, whose duties also include the supervision of school grounds in Saanich, this branch is being better organized and the work taken up with greater enthusiasm then formerly.” (Report on the school year ending June 30 1918)

Here is an example of how District Supervisor Hallwright helped North Dairy School with their garden in 1918:

“…there is no land in the oak-shaded grounds which could be spared for a garden…so borrowing a low-lying but rich corner of ground across the road, Miss Berton with Miss Offerhaus and the older boys and girls went to work last year. By Mr. Hallwright’s advice, their first task was to lay in a drain pipe to carry off the surplus water. This year, owing to the late rains, a corner of the ground, which needs a spur to serve it, is still wet. A plentiful supply of lime, will, however, sweeten the ground and the space will make a good Winter garden. Meanwhile, the whole school is breaking up hard clods, cleaning paths, and digging up the tall grass around the fences, while the early crops of lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, carrots, beets and peas are growing. By the time the cauliflowers, tomatoes and pumpkins are ready to transplant and weeding must begin, everything will be in apple-pie order. (Maria Lawson The Daily Colonist May 11 1919)

North Dairy School garden, Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province of British Columbia

“Trustees Pleased by Garden School Work”

In November 1917, Hallwright had been criticized. A year later, Saanich School trustees were pleased. Here is a report from The Daily Colonist November 15 1918

Chairman Brooks, of the Saanich School Board, summarized the opinions of the Board as follows: “You have done well, indeed, Mr. Hallwright. All the district is well satisfied with the results which you have attained and the instruction which the children have received. I am sure that your work has been a great help, and I hope that it will be carried on during the next year. Speaking personally as a farmer, I know nothing about gardening, but I am glad that my children have had the opportunity to learn so much, and I know that this is the general feeling among the parents of the children attending the Saanich schools.” Trustees McGregor and Watson agreed with the sentiments expressed by the chairman.

Mr. Hallwright stated that much of the good which had been attained in Saanich had been due to the policy which the Board had followed with consistency, claiming that by leaving wide discretionary powers to him the trustees had enabled him to spend money where needed to ensure success, and thereby encourage the children to continue the work with the enthusiasm. Mr. Hallwright reported that the only drawbacks to the complete success of the school gardens in Saanich during the past year had been the depredations of poultry and thieves, with occasional incursions by hungry cattle.

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