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Crowds pulse through Saltspring Island's main market centre, Centennial Park, on Saturdays.
Photo: John Cameron

Salt of the earth
Get a taste of the creativity that blossoms in Saltspring’s grassroots Saturday market
By Roger Brunt

Learn more:
• Sidebar: Market change
• Rural revolution

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Saltspring Saturday Market
It is 8:00 a.m. on British Columbia’s Saltspring Island and the Saturday market is coming alive. Busy vendors are unloading pick-ups and vans as they set up their booths. Gradually, the smell of fresh-baked bread and organic coffee mingles with the scent of the sea where it fronts on Centennial Park.

A young girl at a card table carefully arranges her homemade greeting cards decorated with 3-D cut-outs; a friend selling peanut brittle is just down the way. The sound of greetings and laughter and the tuning of fiddles of four young players bound for Alisdair Fraser’s Fiddle camp on the Isle of Skye signals the flavour of the day to come.


People value, above all, their independence and creativity. This is what has drawn them here; this is the glue that holds them here.

Potters Dorothy and Peter Price are arranging shelves to display their ceramics.  Dorothy sets out flower holders and places a single Iris bloom in one, in another a sprig of lilies. "The more simple the arrangement, the more elegant," she says. There is a serene beauty to her simple-yet-evocative arrangements that contributes to the Zen-like atmosphere that unites market vendors and visitors alike.

The weekly transformation is underway in the heart of Ganges, Saltspring’s largest town. Each Saturday the winding paths of Centennial Park come alive with 150 local vendors, and the hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors who come to buy unique foods, crafts and art that symbolize Saltspring’s idyllic lifestyle. True to Saltspring’s relaxed form, there are few statistics available to trace the market’s popularity but eyeballs do not lie and anyone who visits Ganges can see for themselves the vibrant atmosphere that sparks and burns each Saturday. The compelling ambiance is far removed from the market’s less organized days when vendors gathered in the park selling everything from used books and garden tools to kittens and rabbits.

Adhering to the "Make it, Bake it or Grow it" rules for the Saltspring market, carver Antonio Alonso displays his beautifully-crafted burl sculptures.
Photo: John Cameron
Today, a walk through the market reveals bushels of farm-grown veggies and berries; brownies and banana bread; racks of tie-dyed shirts and dresses; lavender soaps and bees-wax candles; writing tablets of hand-made paper; bunches of fresh-cut flowers; chutnies, jams and relishes alongside hand-wrought necklaces and earrings. Brightly dressed sellers string braids of garlic and show exquisitely crafted garden benches and wind chimes. Booths sell smoothies, doughboys and fruitcicles — the list goes on.

The market’s unique vibe is no surprise to just-retired market coordinator Matthew Coleman. "Saltspring definitely has more interesting people per capita than any other place I’ve ever been," he says.  "People can start a market anywhere, but if it grows organically and has as rich and long a history as ours, people can feel it."

What visitors feel, in fact, is the very richness of Saltspring itself, its exquisite natural beauty and fascinating mix of multi-talented people.  This diversity defines the island, not so much as a tight-knit community, but as one where people value, above all, their independence and creativity. This is what has drawn them here; this is the glue that holds them here.

A short distance from Dorothy and Peter’s pottery display, Marcus Knox (Vikash to his yogi friends) lays out his hand-crafted necklaces and bracelets.  A single rose bud adorns the lap of the Buddha that serves as his centerpiece.  Marcus makes his beads from rose petals in a converted goat-shed studio so overgrown with wild roses and blackberries that his most frequent visitors are swallowtail butterflies and deer. 

Visitors pick up on that. John Stasiuk, who with a group of eight has come by boat from Nanaimo says, "We’ve been coming here for years. It’s the market and the people that draw us, the Island’s remarkable lifestyle and its natural beauty."

And so another market day closes. Vendors pack-up what remains from a busy day, visitors go home with bags of home-grown food and character-infused crafts. The sun goes down on Centennial Park, where the countdown begins to another Saturday and another market day, the lifeblood of this island culture.

Next page: Market change »

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