Make it, grow it, bake it: St. Norbert Farmers’ Market celebrates 30 years

Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the launch of their outdoor season and brand new canopy structure that will make the venue a true four-season attraction.

The 90 by 130-foot canopy marks the culmination of a 10-year, three phase, $1 million redevelopment of the market, which was founded in 1988. An Assiniboine Credit Union member organization, the non-profit co-operative has grown to support over 200 local producers each year, drawing as many as 13,000 visitors on sunny summer Saturdays. It is Manitoba’s first “make it, grow it, bake it” market which means only those who make or grow their own products may sell at the market.

We’ve been so excited to see the improvements to our site, and now that they’re complete, we can focus again on what we do best — running a farmers’ market,” said St. Norbert Farmers’ Market Executive Director Marilyn Firth of the project’s completion. “We see the canopy as a very important piece as we proceed, especially for our winter markets.”

One of Manitoba’s most popular local attractions

St. Norbert Farmers' Market celebrates 30 years
Opening day at Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market and the grand opening of the market’s new four-season canopy structure.

St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is the province’s largest and best-known farmers’ market, offering locally grown produce, fresh baking, jams, preserves, fresh-cut flowers, jewellery and other crafts. Aside from providing organic and farm-fresh food options, the market has helped connect consumers with local vendors since its conception, which has also helped make a positive local economic impact.

Indeed, the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market has come a long way from its first sunny Saturday in July three decades ago. Back then, just eight vendors gathered on the grass to sell their produce and wares, with no parking lot or canopy of any sort.

That group blossomed and grew, forming the organization that we know today. In recent years, the market expanded to operate year-round with an online purchasing portal and a bi-weekly market throughout the winter. Over the last four years, that winter market was held across Pembina Highway from the market site in the St. Norbert Eagles Club while plans for the new structure were underway.

Now, the new canopy will allow the market to run throughout the winter on its own site and will provide an enhanced experience for vendors and customers alike.

This year we’ll be able to hold our winter markets on our own site, and it actually doubles the capacity for the number of vendors,” Firth said. “We could only fit 30 vendors across the road and we’ll be able to put over 60 in our new structure, so that will be fantastic for us.”

“In the past, local producers didn’t have many opportunities to sell in the winter,” Firth said. “Being able to offer more people that opportunity means they can sell year-round, instead of being in a situation where they’re selling seasonally and they have months and months of the year where they’re not able to sell much because they don’t have a venue.”

A brand new facility that is sure to impress

Due to the late spring this year, some landscaping and paving stonework remained to be done in mid-May, but the 30-foot high canopy structure was ready for opening day.

St. Norbert Farmers' Market celebrates 30 years
Marilyn Firth (executive director, St. Norbert Farmers’ Market) and Terry Duguid (Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South) on opening day at Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Farmers’ Market and the grand opening of the market’s new four-season canopy structure.

It’s really a big open space on the inside,” Firth said. “Of course the vendors are what makes the market, so they will come and bring that inside space to life.”

The new structure is fully enclosed, unlike the market’s old canopy structures, which were exposed to the elements on all sides. This also provides protection for shoppers, who will be able to stay dry on rainy days and warm in the winter months. This is a big change from years past.

“If it was a windy, wet day, everything was blowing in and people’s products could be damaged,” Firth said. “The new structure provides a huge amount of protection for our vendors that we weren’t able to offer before. I think it’s going to make the market more accessible for more people to come because they don’t have to worry about their products getting damaged — and they’ll be able to come longer and later into the season.”

While the new structure will not boost the total number of market vendors, more will be able to sell their products in a protected space.

“Before, we would have had about 56 vendors under our very inadequate canopy and now we have about 68,” Firth said.

A decade in the making: Big support for local producers

Opening day at Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market and the grand opening of the market’s new four-season canopy structure.

The redevelopment of the market began a decade ago with a feasibility study before Phase 1 in 2011 tackled drainage issues at the site to support further improvements. This included the addition of trees, improved pedestrian and vehicle traffic flow and seating areas. Phase 2 in 2014-15 added new washroom facilities in an up-cycled shipping container. Then last fall, work began on Phase 3 and the canopy structure.

“We’ve added wooden porticos at all the big entrances to reflect the Place Saint-Norbert heritage site right next door to the market,” Firth said. “We’re working hard to make sure it ties into the community and that it makes for some balance on the street.”

Support for the market’s redevelopment came from all three levels of government, Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market Cooperative Members, the St. Norbert Foundation, Manitoba Hydro, The Winnipeg Foundation, Community Places, Entreprises Riel, Fruit for Tomorrow, HTFC Planning and Design, G and B Portable Fabric Buildings and Assiniboine Credit Union.

Assiniboine Credit Union provided financing for the new canopy and also provided a grant of $5,000 to support the project.

Firth said the market’s improvements will help support the province’s producers and small businesses.

It really gives these producers that year-round income in a very consistent way, because we will have customers coming regularly. It just provides that extra ‘oomph’ for local producers.”

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About Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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