Plans to establish a permanent public market on the ground floor of the Hudson is an idea both rich in heritage and in tune with the times.
The Victoria Downtown Public Market Society has reached an agreement with the developer of the Hudson that will see an indoor market begin operation next spring, focusing on the wares of Vancouver Island food producers.
The project hearkens back to Victoria's formative years, when farmers sought a venue to sell their produce to city dwellers. Attempts to establish public markets in 1861 and 1878 fizzled, but proponents of the concept convinced the city and its voters to build the $50,000, twostorey brick structure on what is now Centennial Square.
The Victoria Public Market opened in December of 1891 to much fanfare, but its first few years were rocky. By the turn of the century, the building was being used as a firehall and as the downtown station for the Victoria and Sidney Railway. It was abandoned for a few years, then revived as a public market and thrived during the two world wars.
The market's importance diminished as more people acquired cars and as suburban supermarkets sprang up offering a wide array of food, much of it imported to the Island. The building was demolished in 1959.
The demolition of the market was opposed by flower vendor Attilio Randy, who had operated a stall in the market for 45 years. He insisted the market was necessary.
He argued for small farmers, locally produced food and Vancouver Island's "food security."
He probably sounded quaint and out of touch then, but his words resonate with today's concerns about the environmental costs of mass-producing and transporting foods, the quality of the food supply and a growing desire for self-sufficiency. Locavores - people who eat only locally produced food - are hip, and The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, written by a B.C. couple, has been a North American bestseller. The time is right for a public market that highlights and encourages the incredible variety of foods and beverages produced on the Island.
That doesn't mean big food stores are on their way out - people have become too accustomed to the wide array of foods and other products they offer - but the market will offer another choice to those who like to know exactly where their food came from and what is in it.
It's an opportunity for consumers to deal directly with producers. It will provide another outlet for such enterprises as small farms, bakeries, butchers, micro-brewers and cheesemakers who don't produce on a scale that meets the demands of the mass market.
The market has the potential to draw people to the northern part of the downtown area, and will add yet another amenity to the region's attractions for locals and tourists alike.
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