Learning to Grow: Saanich School Gardens 1913-1921

“Helping the King to crush the Kaiser”

“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
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

School Inspector for Saanich W.H.M. May’s report on the school year ending June 30 1918 reported: “…The gardens generally were very successful, teachers and pupils having the added incentive of “greater production”.

By 1918 greater / increased production became vitally important to win the war. The City of Victoria converted vacant lots into gardens, and Municipality of Saanich supported Ward Cottage Garden Societies. The emphasis was on local food production. People were encouraged to grow your own at home so food from the farmers could be exported overseas to feed the troops and starving Europe. 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.”

J.W. Gibson explains the double value of the campaign for food production. (Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia)

The increased local production in gardens and vacant lots made it possible to send a larger quantity of the essential war foods overseas and lessened the quantity of foodstuffs that had to be carried by transportation companies for home consumption.

Boys and girls realized that in the production of food they were helping to win the war, or as one little girl said, “helping the King to crush the Kaiser.”

West Saanich School garden, Forty-Eighth Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province 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

On November 30 1916, J.W. Gibson wrote: “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.”

The boys and girls of the Victoria Model School (in Ward 1 Mount Tolmie), undertook the very financially successful production of potatoes for sale. Here’s what they did:

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

The 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 from their gardens.

Saanich school gardens sale of produce amounts. 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)

Judging the School Gardens

Another gardening motivation for Saanich school children was the chance 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.

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

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)

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)

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

Page 4 – School gardens 1919-1921