Every Saturday from April to October, rain or shine, Salt Spring growers, artists, artisans and bakers gather in the heart of the main village to sell their products. It’s a weekly event enjoyed by locals and visitors in equal measure. The products for sale are as varied, eclectic and exceptional as the people selling them.
Fine jewelry, soap, pottery, woven scarves, clothing, woodworking, floor art, felt hats and organic bedding jostle for space with pickles, artisan cheese, chocolate, wood fired bread, pot stickers and fruitsicles.
The Salt Spring Saturday market is a community tradition with long and sometimes controversial roots. It started in a dusty parking lot over two decades ago with one apple grower. A few more vendors soon joined in selling loaves of bread and bars of soap. It wasn’t long before the parking lot was crowded.
By the early nineties competition for market stalls was fierce. People argued, tables were stolen and fights broke out. A few local vendors, upset by the tension and concerned about the quality of goods, formed a group called the ‘Friends of the Market’ and what locals now refer to as ‘the market wars’ erupted. In the end it was decided that to sell at the market you would have to “make it, bake it or grow it” on Salt Spring Island.
Linda Quiring, owner of Salt Spring Soapworks and one of the original vendors, says, “The market grew like a child. It took a long time and was an organic process. The vendors are neighbours, their kids are friends, and many of them have spent every summer Saturday together for last twenty-five years. Nobody could artificially recreate that. That is what makes this market so special.”
Kerry Lee, who the locals fondly refer to as ‘the pickle lady’ has been selling at the market for 17 years, agrees that the intangibly festive atmosphere is created by the camaraderie among the vendors. She says, “We don’t compete. We support each other.”
The Salt Spring Saturday market is widely regarded as the best in Canada. The quality of goods is truly astonishing. Linda says this is because everyone knows each other so they know “who is making and baking it and who is faking it.” This is how we are able to maintain our high standards and local authenticity.”
Exceptional quality and an ephemeral festive feeling make the Salt Spring market a unique and special experience not to be missed.