A race track reborn: In North Saanich, food will sprout where horses once ran

The arm of a backhoe reaches up and yanks down a chunk of steel and concrete, leaving only a skeleton of the grandstand from which crowds once cheered on the horses at the old Sandown race track in North Saanich.

As debris tumbles to the dusty ground below, a diverse group of consultants looks down on a map. It depicts what the land looked like in 1946, but for the group, it holds a vision of the future.

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The Sandown Transition Team is tasked with turning this seemingly harsh landscape into lush arable farmland. The 83-acre parcel will be used for commercial food production, community gardens and incubator farms run by farmers trying to get a foothold in the agri-food business.

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“The district [of North Saanich’s] vision is to create something that adds to food production in the area, that adds to local capacity and interest in how food is grown,” says Ann Eastman, who brings to the project the expertise she’s gained through her work with the Haliburton Community Organic Farm in Saanich.

The success of Haliburton as an education centre, farm co-op and community hub is a major inspiration for the future of Sandown.

Located on the north side of Glamorgan Road, Sandown operated as a horse and harness racetrack for 50 years under the ownership of the Randall family. The family donated 83 acres to the District of North Saanich for long-term agricultural use. In return, they asked to retain a 12-acre strip along McDonald Park Road, where there are plans for a Canadian Tire store and other commercial properties.

The developer, Platform Properties, is responsible for soil drainage and to remediate the land to its original agricultural state.

While the vision will unfold over a decade, the transition team hopes to see progress on developing the farm community within a year. “It’s the prospect of having public land used in a way that would advance the future of growing and food security,” says North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall. “I see it as a bonus for the whole region.”

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