Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Sharon Wildwind

Progress is breaking up that old gang of mine.

Saturday I went to say good-bye to an old friend. The Currie Barracks Farmers’ Market is closing.

The building that houses the market started life as a hanger on a military airfield that was part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. During the war the sky over Calgary was filled with dozens of bright yellow Harvard training planes taking off and landing from that field.

After the war, the building became an indoor drill hall on the military establishment known as Currie Barricks, named for General Sir Arthur William Currie, commander of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during World War I. Later it became Canadian Forces Base Calgary.

CFB Calgary was decommissioned in 1998 to an outcry from local residents. This great hunk of unoccupied land was going to be an eyesore and a tax drain. The little shopping communities that had grown up around the base would wither.

None of this happen. Developers nibbled at the edges, first refurbishing former military housing and after those were all done, building new houses. The buildings on the base itself were temporarily leased to small businesses, private schools, the Calgary movie-making industry, and a farmers’ market. The terms of the leases were that as soon as the city figured out what to do with the land, the businesses had to leave.

If you want an example of swords into plowshares, here it is. The Currie Barracks Farmers’ Market is packed every weekend. About 90% of the space is leased to year-around tenants who sell food items (literally everything from soup to nuts) and non-food items (hand-blown glass jewelry and ostrich oil soap are two of my favorites).

Seasonal tenants lease the remaining 10% of the space. They sell local produce in the summer and fall; hand-made Christmas gifts and sheepskin rugs in the winter.

Some businesses like the fair-trade felted goods, made by a Nepalese co-op, started out as seasonal tenants and moved to permanent booths when they became available.

At the market, you could have a quick-sketch portrait done in charcoal or pastels, then pick up a flower arrangement for your party. It was THE PLACE to buy your pumpkin for jack-o-lantern carving.The staff wore rabbit ears at Easter and dressed in costume for Halloween. Throughout the year they provided space for non-profit groups to demonstrate green options such as how to service your bike or how to use a rain barrel. Every fall they held a food drive for the local food bank. There were decorated Christmas trees in December. Girl Guides sold cookies at the door in the spring. It was a place where you bought flats of blueberries or huge bags of corn-on-the-cob. It would dawn on you after you got home that maybe there wasn’t enough room in your freezer. Somehow you’d always make it fit.

By ordering from side-by-side booths in the food court, you could create a multi-cultural lunch of dim sum and cheese blintzes with applesauce. There were always at least two buskers playing: last Saturday there were an excellent hammered dulcimer player at the north end of the building and a balladeer with guitar at the south end.

Later this year, the Farmers’ Market lease expires, but the market itself will keep going. Some of the tenants will move to a new location in a different part of town. Some won’t. Some customers will be willing to drive to a new part of town; some won't, and I honestly don't know into which group I will fall. Just in case it's the "too far to drive" camp, this past week-end I went to say my good-byes to my favorite merchants, take some photographs, and buy a felted coin purse and bird-pin as souvenirs.

What will take the market's place?

A planned community of huge homes and condos, named Currie Barracks. For the military inclined among you, does calling a posh neighborhood anything "Barracks" conjure up warm home-like feelings from you. It doesn't for me. Would a little market research on name associations have been helpful? It's just a suggestion.

According to the artist's drawings, the new Currie Barricks will have tree-shaded walks and gathering places which the developer promotes as having the potential to become a world-class neighborhood, where neighbors will establish a sense of community, and interact on a level hitherto not experienced in Calgary. Does anyone but me see irony in this?
Quote for the week:
Narrator: There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
~The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts by Douglas Adams


Anonymous said...

I sympathize, Sharon. Such markets are wonderful places to discover new things, and they make our neighborhoods special and memorable. Perhaps most importantly, these markets are incubators for small businesses, allowing farmers or home kitchen entrepreneurs the opportunity to affordably reach new customers or try out new products. I hope that your local vendors can find a suitable replacement.
Llyn K.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Llyn. There is a second market just opening up in a former car dealership, but I fear it will eventually have the same fate of lost lease because something else will be built on the land.