A weekly market day is a part of normal life in villages and town squares throughout the world. In historic Europe, market day tradition meant outlying farmers, vintners, shepherds and craftspeople would come into town centres to trade their wares. After the industrial age, most markets were replaced in modernized cities with grocery stores and supermarkets.
Weekly markets enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the 1970s, with a rekindling of an appreciation among the general public of the value of traditional arts and local gastronomy. In 1975 there were 100 markets in North America; today there are over 5,000.
Salt Spring’s market has always been a major social and cultural event for the community. In the early days, the market was mainly for farmers, with the rest being part flea market, part jam session, and a hodge-podge of imported and authentically homemade goods. Today, because of the handcrafted, home-grown ethos that the market wisely adopted, it has evolved into a hot destination for aficionados of one-of-a-kind and bespoke-quality crafts and fine art.
Every Saturday from April through October, visitors will find a distinctive collection of the best of what Salt Spring has to offer, sprung from the galleries and studios of some of the freshest creative talents in North America. Some vendors, like bespoke handbag maker Barbara Clark, have been in the market for decades, while others fresh from art school may be displaying their creations for the first time. Visitors can rely on discovering something, or someone, new every time.
Inquiring visitors will discover works of startling originality in the fields of contemporary jewellery, ceramic, fibre art and wood design to classic homecrafts like Bright Farm’s garlic braids and The Rope Doctor’s astonishingly complex rope mats. Foodies can relish in a wide selection of regional fare, from gourmet mushrooms to artisanal cheeses to exquisite arrays of savoury and sweet baked goods.
While the market rests on a foundation of products that are time-honoured and true, most vendors like to bring out new products every year. Adapting to changing impulses and attuned to currents in the broader culture is what keeps Salt Spring’s market on the cutting edge.
“I started out on Granville Island, in the urban public market. It was — oh my — 20 years ago,” says Darlene Lane of French Country Fabrics, who makes French bed linens, quilted bags and tablecloths. “When I discovered Salt Spring and began selling in the market, I realized that instead of having to travel to sell what I was making, I could stay here on the island and people would come over on Saturdays to find me.”
While she travels to France for inspiration whenever the opportunity arises, Lane says that “with what I do here on Salt Spring I get to travel without going anywhere, because my repeat customers come back from all over the world to see me, year after year.” That kind of exchange keeps the market vital, maintaining a connection to current trends and offering a way for uniquely Salt Spring designs to reach far-flung clientele.
Barbara Clark of Abara Designs Spritiwear agrees.
“We’re always working on new stuff. I’m constantly, constantly looking everywhere, seeing colours, shapes, materials, designs and being inspired to make new things. I would be so bored if I didn’t always innovate!” Visitors have always liked the feel of the market, but over the past few years vendors have really started to notice people’s appreciation of the handmade, original work that has become the market’s cornerstone.
“The market is at the heart of everything we do,” according to Amber Quiring of Saltspring Soapworks. “It’s a great place to test out new things: we’ll come out with a new soap or lotion, and bring it to the market for a test run. People give us all this feedback, and it really encourages and inspires us.”
Salt Spring’s market has been a thriving and bustling scene since it began more than 35 years ago.
“I try to make a point of going to markets wherever I go,” says Clark. “No matter how cool some of the other places may be, I am always made aware of how special what we have here on Salt Spring truly is.”