Learning to Grow: Saanich School Gardens 1913-1921

School gardens 1919-1921

In Saanich the results have been gratifying

H.E. Hallwright

Back in Fall 1917, District Agricultural Supervisor H.E. Hallwright had been promoting “dry farming.” This technique became important in 1919. Director of Elementary Agricultural Education J.W. Gibson observed: “In spite of the fact that the gardening season of 1919 was one of the driest in the history of the Province, we had some unusually good gardens…some very creditable gardens were operated without the use of artificial watering. This was accomplished by good fertilizing and careful cultivation; in other words, by the practice of dry farming methods in the conservation of soil moisture. This was best exemplified in some of the gardens in Saanich.”

It seemed Saanich was finally “getting” school gardening. H.E. Hallwright reported at the end of the 1918-1919 school year: “The character and function of nature-study and school-gardening have been appreciated and good work is being done. Much credit is due to the teachers themselves for the success of the work in Saanich. Through the Saanich Teachers’ Institute, the collective intelligence of the teachers has been brought to bear on the work, and through their influence public opinion has been to a large extent won over.”

Here are the school gardens and the responsible teachers in the 1918-1919 school year.

School Gardening a “frill”?

School gardening was apparently a success in Saanich, but in early 1920 it would appear that public opinion had not really been won over. In the post-war economic recession, Saanich residents were vocal about where their taxes were going. On the evening of February 25 1920, the Ward Two ratepayers met at Tolmie School and passed recommendations to the Council and School Board of Saanich that manual training, domestic science and school gardening be eliminated. (The Daily Colonist February 26 1920) By July 27 1920, The Daily Colonist reported: “There has been considerable agitation through the ratepayers’ associations against manual training, domestic science and school gardening. The parent-teachers associations, which have become so numerous in Saanich, defended the so-called ‘frills’.”

The agitation came to a head in Summer 1920 when School Trustee Raven was forced to resign from the Saanich School Board because he no longer resided in the municipality, forcing a by-election to fill his seat. The Daily Colonist commented: “…If Trustee Holloway gains an ally in his crusade against the school trimmings, there will still be two trustees and Chairman Coates against him … it has already been decided at one meeting of ratepayers to make the “frills” question an election issue, and this vacancy in the school board of Saanich gives an excellent opportunity for doing so before the new year.”

In early August 1920, the election campaign was underway, despite (or because of?) the fact that Saanich School Board chairman Preston Coates, “an ardent advocate of “frills” and one of the mainstays of the parent teacher organization as it exists today in the municipality,” was away and would not return until shortly before September. “Mr. Coates may not return in time to marshal his forces for the hard fight which is bound to precede the polling.” (The Daily Colonist August 4 1920)

On August 21 1920, Saanich residents voted on water and sewer by-laws and for School Trustee. H. C. Oldfield defeated D. S. Tait, 616 to 359. As The Daily Colonist on August 22 1920 said: “The people of Saanich showed emphatically that they stand for strict economy in the schools and abolition of “frills” when they yesterday elected Mr. H. Clarence Oldfield.”

A few weeks later, it was time for the annual Saanich Fair. School children still competed for the “Butchart Cup” for best school garden (North Dairy school won). But we can see how Saanich was moving away from school gardening towards home gardening by school children: “The Department of Education and board of School Trustees of Saanich offered three prizes of $12, $7 and $5 for the best collection of garden produce grown in a home-garden by a school boy or girl under supervision of the school which they attend. Dudley Durrance took the first, and Harold Holyoak and Mamie Lidgate the second and third, respectively.” (The Daily Colonist September 16 1920)

Here is H.E. Hallwright’s report, Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Public Schools of the Province of British Columbia (1920). Reading between the lines…. Hallwright was actually saying that there is a lack of support.

In December 1920, School Trustee Reginald Chave resigned from the Saanich School Board. His resignation meant that three vacancies would have to be filled on the board when Trustee Diggon and Chairman Coates ended their terms at the end of 1920. At the last Saanich School Board meeting of the year, Trustee Holloway (“anti-frill”) “stated that the new Board could consider manual training, domestic science and school gardening. He claimed that to put manual training into efficient working order it would cost up to $6,000 next year, and he wondered if this amount should be spent in this way or whether it would not be better to establish night schools.” [A delegation from Gordon Head had come to the Board a couple of weeks earlier to ask them to establish a night class for boys who had left school.] (The Daily Colonist December 31 1920)

School gardening, as far as vegetable growing is concerned, will be nonexistent in Saanich this year.

The Daily Colonist February 8 1921

On the night of February 7 1921, the Saanich School Board decided to dispense with the services of the District Agricultural Supervisor H.E. Hallwright. “The trustees went on record as favoring any form of nature study that can be taught by the regular classroom teachers. They also decided to inform the Department that they would be glad to co-operate with it in regard to the beautification of school grounds.” (Vegetable gardens cut out by board, The Daily Colonist February 8 1921)

Here is a protest from former Saanich School Board chairman, Preston C. Coates Victoria Daily Times February 15 1921

“We have to cut somewhere, this was an obvious point”

Saanich School Board Chairman Holloway, Victoria Daily Times March 1 1921

On February 28 1921, Director of Elementary Agricultural Education J.W. Gibson protested against cutting the gardens. He felt it would be a retrograde step to dispense with Mr. Hallwright’s services for the sake of a small saving to be made. He attended the School Board meeting and “…he asked whether the Board considered abandonment of agricultural instruction would be a progressive move for Saanich…” Here are some of the School Board’s discussions, reported in the Victoria Daily Times March 1 1921:

Trustee Mrs. Humphries [who had helped Gordon Head School start a garden in 1913] was outspokenly in favour of gardening studies, and maintained that there were areas in Saanich which strongly supported the courses. Mrs. Humphries said that as the tools were owned, the gardens were fertilized and the superintendent’s salary cost nothing, she would move that the resolution to abandon the system in vogue of past years be rescinded. This motion was unable to secure a seconder.

Trustee Oldfield said he was sure the main trouble was that, to most of the teachers, the gardens were just places to grow things; they had no idea of co-relating classroom studies with the gardening work, which was presumably the basic intent of the courses. [Aside — Oldfield is correct in this assumption – School Inspector for Saanich W.H.M. May often made comments that school gardens that did well were where the teachers are integrating garden and school lessons. Teachers were supposed to be learning all of this information at Normal School, so either it wasn’t sinking in, teachers were buying in] Trustee Oldfield stated that the main reason weighing with the Board when the gardening courses were abandoned had been the fact at the graded schools, where the pupils had reached the years to profit by the lessons, there were not sufficient grounds for the classes in gardening. After pointing to the deficiencies in gardening land at several schools, Chairman Holloway stated that it was futile to grow vegetables under such handicaps.

Mr. Gibson agreed that some of the schools were not properly equipped for gardening, and declared that vegetable growing was not the objective of the studies; to stimulate the minds of growing youths was the main intent of the studies.

Nonetheless, the Saanich School Board dispensed with Hallwright’s services. In his report on the 1920-1921 school year, Hallwright merely noted: “Agricultural instruction – especially that part which had to do with school gardening – has, in Saanich, for several reasons, suffered a reverse.”

Agricultural instruction was suffering a reverse in other parts of the Province. J.W. Gibson submitted his annual report on Elementary Agricultural Education for 1920-1921, noting a Province-wide decline in gardens: “During the year, school gardens were discontinued in a number of schools in favour of supervised home gardens, whilst in others they were discontinued on account of unfavourable gardening conditions or on account of expense.” Patrick A. Dunae writes: “…during the post-war recession, the provincial government was unable and unwilling to maintain Gibson’s programmes without substantial support from Ottawa. (The Homeroom)

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.”

Hallwright wrote in his 1918 report that “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.

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

H.E. Hallwright, 1920

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 – developing seed production skills and creating good citizens.

“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)

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

In 1919, four schools competed, all from Saanich: Cedar Hill, Craigflower, Gordon Head and Keating. 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.

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.”

Jack Whitehead of Prospect Lake School. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Gordon Head School garden, Spring 1919

So, what was the overall result of the school gardening scheme in Saanich – a success or failure?

Our story began in 1913 with Maria Lawson of The Daily Colonist writing about Women’s Institutes and school gardens. The Gordon Head Women’s Institute had helped the Gordon Head School become one of the first Saanich school gardens. Let’s now return to Gordon Head School garden in Spring 1919, when Maria Lawson visited Saanich School gardens. (School Gardening in Saanich, The Daily Colonist, May 11 1919)

“At Gordon Head School we get a glimpse of the sparkling waters of the sea. No longer the adjective “bare” fittingly describe Saanich schoolhouses, much less the building, where Miss Williams and her assistant meet their pupils on Spring mornings.”

“Very proud are the teachers of the seedlings which prove beyond any doubt the excellence of the seeds they saved last season. All the beds of the vegetable gardens have been raked smooth and much of the seed has been planted. The pioneer work in which Miss MacNaughton and other teachers persisted in the face of many discouragements is over. The garden has been made.”

“Here come the gardeners, trooping down the stairs and into the tool room, ready for a fine game of make believe. They are going to have their pictures taken. From the fair-haired sturdy little man of six, who carries the biggest, shiniest fork he could find, to the tall student, almost ready for the High School, all the students look as though they welcomed the summons into the sunshine. It took but a few minutes for arrangement and then before the most restless of the children had time to move, the picture was taken.” Here is the picture:

Over the past six years, Gordon Head School and other Saanich school had won prizes at the Saanich Fair, grew food to feed their communities and to raise money for the war effort. But, more than prizes, production and patriotism, the school children had developed positive attitudes for life. Maria Lawson ended her visit to Saanich school gardens with this observation:  

“During the delightful drive it was learned that the school gardens are made for the benefit of the children solely. In them, it is believed, the pupils learn the value of self-control and co-operation. Valuable as is the knowledge gained of the processes of nature and useful as may be the slowly acquired skill of the pupil, the aim of the teacher is not to make efficient gardeners, but good men and women with greater capacity for happiness.”

Thank you to Saanich Archives for sharing Saanich School Board accounts for the 1910s, which contained hand written accounts for school gardens and for sharing photographs of Jack Whitehead and the Prospect Lake School garden.

I have also explored the Saanich Cottage Gardens Societies in the World War One era