The Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society (Farmers Institute) was incorporated by the province of BC on November 3, 1914. The first President was Vincent Nightingale, Secretary-Treasurer was Harry Stuart, and the two Directors were A. Nightingale and G. Frayne.
The objectives of the Farmers Institute's upon formation included:
- to improve the condition of rural life so that settlement may be permanent and prosperous;
- to promote the theory and practice of agriculture;
- to arrange on behalf of its members for the purchase, distribution or sale of commodities, supplies or products;
- to act generally on behalf of its members in all matters incidental to agricultural pursuits and rural development; and
- to promote home economics, public health, child welfare, education and better schools.
Today these objectives have been modernized to read:
- to promote rural life and the theories and practices of agriculture;
- to promote public awareness of the role of agriculture in today's society;
- to promote the management and maintenance of the assets of the Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society on behalf of its members;
- to promote and celebrate the legacy of agriculture; and
- to promote and support the education of youth.
Our community's history is founded in agriculture. Pioneers moved into the area to clear land to farm. As land clearing and settlement took place, the logging industry was born and vibrant communities formed around the railway or other modes of transportation.
In the early years, the Farmers Institute was responsible for issuing certificates for blasting powder. A review of the records of 1916 shows there were one hundred and four blasting permits granted that year. The records also reveal there were fifty-three members of the Institute and that dances, theater and community dinners were popular events of the day. However, card parties ranked amongst the most popular activity with people coming from as far away as Sooke, Saanich, Victoria and other Cowichan areas to attend the Cobble Hill festivities. The feature of these evenings was the Tombola where merchants and farmers were generous with donations of fruit vegetables, poultry and beef.
Over the years, the Farmers Institute has been instrumental in securing speakers on various subjects, in holding pruning demonstrations and in providing meeting space for the local 4-H Clubs, which benefit young people in the area. These and other activities are still promoted by the Farmers Institute today.
The First Fair
The first Cobble Hill Fair was held on October 6, 1909 at the Good Templars Hall. Alongside advertisements selling Apples for $2.25 per box and popular Walk-Over Shoes from $5.00 to $7.50, the Victoria Daily Colonist of October 12, 1909 provided details of that early Fair.
The column reads, in part, "the Cobble Hill and Shawnigan District First Agricultural Show, held on Wednesday last, the 6th inst., under the auspices of the local Farmers' Institute, proved from all points of view, an unqualified success. Travellers passing through this lovely district by train gain but a faint idea or the large number of well-to-do settlers scattered over the area between Koenig's station and Cowichan Lake; but even the oldest residents were hardly prepared for the crowd which gathered in response to the circulars issued announcing the holding of the first local agricultural show."
In describing the fair, the article went on to say,
"the still greater surprise [was] caused by the exhibits, both as to their number and to the high standard of excellence to which many of these attained. This is the more remarkable as the notices announcing the show were only issued a short time ago, thus allowing no time for any special culture, the result being a display of the purely normal product of the gardens. No stronger or more convincing evidence is needed to demonstrate, the highly productive character of the cultivated lands of this district. Visitors from a distance who had attended similar displays in other centres of agriculture on the Island were unanimous in stating it as their opinion that at none of these shows had they seen anything to equal the exhibits in the three principal classes, namely, fruit, vegetables and flowers."
The rest of the exhibition was described in glowing detail which included an "afternoon programme of athletic sports where local athletes were successful in upholding the honour of the district... exhibits were cleared away and side stands removed about five o'clock, the company soon after sitting down in batches to a sumptuous repast... the evening was devoted to entertainment.
Musical selections with pianoforte accompaniment, were excellently rendered by 'The Shawnigan Lyric Club,' conducted by I.J. Shepherd."
New Cobble Hill Hall - 1921
The Times Colonist article about the first Cobble Hill Fair ends by biding the community "Godspeed" in its efforts to build a new community hall. The Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society is now in its second century as an incorporated entity, and it hosts the Cobble Hill Fair on the fourth Saturday each August at its hall and fairgrounds located on Watson Avenue in the heart of the Cobble Hill Village. Those attending this event will surely catch glimpses of our past so eloquently detailed in the Tuesday, October 12, 1909 Victoria Daily Colonist article.
The current Cobble Hill Hall was built in 1921. Funded through community subscriptions and with the help of the Farmers Institute, the Women's Institute and the Independent Ancient Order of Foresters, Court Shawnigan. The new hall was registered with each of the organization owning a one-third share of the hall and grounds. The Foresters disbanded in 1942 and eventually the Women's Institute turned it share of the hall and grounds over to the Farmers Institute who now maintain these holdings for community use.
Today, there are many fine farms in south Cowichan. We enjoy the highest mean temperatures in Canada and our soil is rich enough to grow a wide variety of crops. We produce everything from fruit, berries and nuts, to vegetables and flowers, cattle, sheep, emus, alpacas, chickens and more. A scenic drive through our countryside beckons you to farm markets, cider works and vineyards, farm gates, parks, beaches, country fairs and cultural festivities. We thrive on farm fresh food and delight in the wide variety of activities that provide a vibrant backdrop to life in Cowichan. Great musicians, creative artisans and wonderful volunteers also play a vital role in our rural area.