2012 marked a special anniversary. The first recorded collective garden in Regina was established exactly 100 years ago. The Regina Vacant Lot Gardening Association (VLGA) emerged in 1913 as an association of local “public-spirited” citizens. The Association managed newly-broken prairie land at the edge of the city north west of where the Regina Cemetery now stands on 4th Avenue. The benefits of such a location was the ability to expand to a whopping 50 acres (that’s nearly 38 football fields end-to-end). The challenges included keeping animals from grazing in the garden: correspondence between the VLGA and the city repeatedly notes challenges in fending off two- and four-legged marauders.
Unemployed men, and presumably their families, could rent plots of one to five acres for vegetable cultivation at the prime rate of $1 per acre of broken land. A co-operative seed-buying scheme assisted gardeners. Over its ten years of operation, the VLGA had over 1000 members, and cities across the prairies wrote to them asking them to share information so that their model – and success - could be replicated.
The VLGA was celebrated in Regina during World War I as urban agriculture became an important strategy to support the Dominion war effort. Canadians were urged to grow their own food, thereby freeing the domestic food supply for the war effort. In this way, gardening became a patriotic endeavour. In February 1917, the Federal Minister of Agriculture pleaded with Regina’s city council to encourage its citizens to alleviate farm labour shortages and increase food supplies as a boost to the “great cause”. Catchy slogans and propaganda encouraged this practice: calls for “soldiers of the soil” to “hoe for liberty” and “plant for freedom” stirred patriotic fever in both Canada and the United States.
Despite ten years of success and a fever pitch of support during WWI, the Vacant Lot Garden Association slowly succumbed to Regina’s expansion and the task of finding other available land grew to be too difficult. The VLGA, and the practice of gardening on such as scale on vacant city lands, was lost by the early 1930s. But collective urban gardening re-emerged later in other forms, including Depression gardens, Victory gardens during WWII, urbans gardens that began during the emerging 1970’s environmental awareness, and today’s community gardens. Community gardening is a hardy plant that’s too tough to die off.
By: Yolanda Hansen
President, REACH Board of Directors