Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society
The Shawnigan Farmers' Institute was incorporated by the province on November 3, 1914 under the Agricultural Associations Act. Today the organization is known as the Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute and Agricultural Society (Farmers Institute) and it remains a Society registered under the Farmers and Women's Institute Act where it is required to report annually to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Although this handout was designed to present at a Community Conversation meeting titled "Recreation Centres," the various amenities owned by the Farmers Institute are far less yet far more than what is viewed as a traditional or typical "recreation centre." We are a community centre: one of the few remaining structures built by and for the community a century or more ago and still owned and operated by community volunteers.
The Farmers Institute is an organization run wholly by volunteers. It has an open membership, which currently stands at around 90. We are a transparent organization and invite everyone to join and participate in our activities. Remember, you don't have to be a farmer to join the Farmers Institute!
Membership in the Farmers Institute is $10 annually for which you will be invited to help clean the grounds and barn, prepare for the Fair, help stage various functions like Seedy Saturday, the Easter Egg Hunt, the Spring and Christmas Concerts, Halloween, Remembrance Day and a wide variety of other activities.
The Farmers Institute is a community driven entity. It owns, operates and maintains the Cobble Hill Hall, the Youth and the Stu Armour Halls. It also owns a variety of animal structures located on the fairgrounds: the Baird Barn, the Poultry Barn, the Turkey Barn, the Sheep Barn and the Donkey Barn. All of these amenities sit on approximately 6 acres of land situated in the heart of the Cobble Hill Village.
Depending upon how you look at it, the Farmers Institute's holdings are either a wonderfully green rural amenity within the Village core or these lands hinder growth, development and a transition from rural life.
Through a referendum held in 1985, the taxpayers of Cobble Hill voted by more than 70% to provide an annual grant to the Farmers Institute. As a consequence of that referendum, the Farmers Institute receives approximately $20,000 annually from Cobble Hill taxpayers through the CVRD. These funds cover the Farmers Institute's annual insurance policy ($16,870) and provides approximately $3,130 toward our operational costs. The remainder of the funds needed to meet the Farmers Institute’s annual budget of approximately $132,000 are raised by renting the facilities to regular user groups or for weddings, Celebrations of Life, private parties and other activities.
The Farmers Institute also raises funds to meet its budget through the various activities it stages with the Cobble Hill Fair being its major fundraising event.
Some of the community services provided either through a donation of space or as a Farmers Institute run event include sponsoring several local 4-H Clubs by providing free meeting space. This sponsorship benefit young people in our community as 4-H emphasizes agricultural education and community responsibility.
The Farmers Institute also sponsors the South Cowichan Seniors Luncheons by providing free space. This group now serves approximately 150 seniors a hot lunch on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
We also host Seedy Saturday on the second Saturday in March. The event was expanded a few years ago to include the Stu Armour Hall.
Seedy Saturday is a free to the public event and this year it is usually attended by more than 2,000 people.
The best Easter Egg Hunt in the Cowichan Valley is hosted by the Farmers Institute and sponsored by South Cowichan Storage. Approximately 100 youngsters attend this event. We also provide a bonfire and Halloween goodies free of charge to between 300 and 400 children and adults during the event held on the spookiest night of the year.
In support of the Legion, we host the Remembrance Day Services in the hall and provide free space and support for the Spring and Christmas Variety Shows. All proceeds from the two variety shows go to the CMS Food Bank.
Because of their benefit to the community, we also sponsor AA, NA, TOPS, Dog Obedience Classes and a variety of other activities by providing rental space for a reduced rate. All Candidates Meetings and other events important to the community are usually staged for free. From time to time there are other organizations or issues that come along that the Farmers Institute sponsors by donating meeting space but the above provides a glimpse at the annual activities we have supported for years.
The Cobble Hill Fair
The Cobble Hill Fair is held on the fourth Saturday in August and it is our biggest fundraiser of the year. The Fair is visited by between 5 and 6 thousand people and those attending catch glimpses of our past that were so eloquently detailed in a 1909 Victoria Daily Colonist article about the first Cobble Hill Fair. Our Fair retains the atmosphere of an Old Fashioned Country Fair and it provides a wonderful venue for people from all walks of life to appreciate both our rural roots and the continued importance of agriculture and the agriculture industry in our community. The Fair also highlights our community and supports local businesses.
The Farmers Institute remains instrumental in securing and disseminating information pertinent to our community. Topics include, but are not limited to, speakers who share their expertise on diverse agriculturally oriented subjects from groundwater monitoring and protection, to pruning demonstrations, to the importance of dam safety, to the raising of specialty crops and to the innovations surrounding udder health in animals.
The Farmers Institute was originally founded by farmers for the benefit of farmers. Over time the organization has evolved along with the community it serves. Members come from all walks of life and share the common connection of preserving and sharing our agricultural past and present while working toward maintaining this strong bond in the future.
We are able to do this because ours is a volunteer organization run by people who are passionate about the community in which they live.
Upon incorporation in 1914, the first President was Vincent Nightingale, Secretary Treasurer was Harry Stuart and the two Directors were A. Nightingale and G. Frayne. Today our organization is known as the Cobble Hill Farmers Institute (Farmers Institute) and it is a Society registered under the Farmers and Women's Institute Act where it is required to report annually to the Ministry of Agriculture. For more than a century, the Farmers Institute has been operated and maintained by volunteers for the benefit of the community.
The Early Years
In the early years, the Farmers Institute cooperatively purchased feed and fertilizer for its members and was also responsible for issuing certificates for the blasting powder used in land clearing. The blasting powder was stored in the basement of the Cobble Hill Hall, fortunately without mishap.
Dances, theatre performances and community dinners were the major festivities and fundraisers of the day, but these were outranked by the annual card party as the most popular activity of the time. People came from as far away as Sooke, Saanich, Victoria and other Cowichan areas to attend this Cobble Hill event. The main feature of these evenings was the Tombola: it was a type of raffle or lottery with entries being drawn from a rolling drum, which we still possess. Merchants and farmers in the area were generous with donations of fruit, vegetables, poultry and beef. The most sought after prize was the cuts of beef with the butchering done right on the stage. Try that today!
The Cobble Hill Hall
The present Cobble Hill Hall was built in 1921 using volunteer labour and funded through community donations. The Farmers Institute, the Women's Institute and the Independent Ancient Order of Foresters, Court Shawnigan were the registered owners of the building with each owning a one-third share of the building and grounds. The Foresters disbanded in 1942 and in 1981 the Women's Institute turned its share of the hall and grounds over to the Farmers Institute. The Women's Institute continues to have a close relationship with the Farmers Institute.
During the 1930s money was scarce so the hall fell into disrepair. By the time the Second World War ended the situation had become critical and a series of necessary repairs were required. These included a roof that leaked so bad rainwater was threatening to ruin the beautiful hardwood floor. Young people in the community decided the hall was worth saving and they held a series of dances to raise the required money to refurbish the building. Local musicians provided excellent music to dance to and enough funds were raised for a new roof. In 1949 the stage area was added to the back of the hall.
1960 - 1990
By the late 1970s the Farmers Institute was once again finding that maintenance and repairs were almost beyond the ability of its members, many of whom were becoming elderly and no longer able to volunteer as actively as in the past. Again the fate of the hall was in doubt as major and expensive work was required.
In a November 1985 referendum the citizens of Cobble Hill voted to provide an annual grant to the Farmers Institute for renovations and upgrading. In the summer of 1987 the hall was lifted from its support posts and a proper foundation was installed.
1990 - Present
Since that time, many more upgrades have been done to ensure the future of this building that is central to the social fabric of Cobble Hill.
The latest major improvements were funded through Federal Gas Tax money and include installing a new metal roof, upgrading the electrical service to the Hall to 3 phase power, installing natural gas and hot water on demand, installing GeoExchange heating and renovating the kitchen. Many other minor changes have also taken place and will continue to be done as money and people power become available.
Please consider becoming a member and joining us in this endeavour.