When gardener Fred Evans decided to open a market garden in the Moose Jaw River valley next to a CNR trestle back in the 1930s, little did he know it would mark the launch of an enterprise that would still be running nearly 80 years later.
What started as the Evans Florist Greenhouse eventually became the Churchill Park Greenhouse Co-op, with the two projects providing flowers and vegetables to individuals and businesses for nearly a century before finally shutting down in 2009.
On Sunday afternoon, former employees and supporters gathered for the unveiling of a special monument remembering the two businesses that were a huge part of so many lives for so many decades.
Don Mitchell, the longtime general manager of the Churchill Park Greenhouse, was one of the driving forces behind the monument and spoke at length about the history of the project in addition to the many personalities who worked at the facility over the years.
“I had written a book called the ‘Politics of Food’ in 1975, and that was right around the time I’d been a community volunteer and I had to decide whether I wanted to make a commitment to it… that ended up happening, and I was fortunate that my wife Martha Tracy had a job at Saskatchewan Justice so I was able to commit the time,” Mitchell said of how he became involved with the Greenhouse. “It was a lot of work, but rewarding work, and there were so many interesting people who were part of it.”
It all started back in 1921 when Fred Evans started a family greenhouse business and eventually put together a market garden in what would become Churchill Park. Evans decided to relocate the entire operation to their riverside facility in 1957, and by 1961 had a busting multi-greenhouse production that was selling flowers well beyond Moose Jaw city limits.
“The greenhouse ran right from the road to where we are now, so it was a pretty big operation,” said Rick Evans of Evans Florist. “They grew flowers that they shipped all over western Canada, spray mums, carnations, chrysanthemums, a lot of different kinds of flowers, so it was quite a business.”
The Evans family spent 53 years in greenhouse production before deciding to move solely into the retail side of things with Evans Florists, and in 1974, the Churchill Park Greenhouse Co-op took over the facility.
That project was unique from the get-go, with one of the main objectives to create meaningful and rewarding employment for people facing physical, mental or social disadvantages.
It began production in 1975 with nine employees and grew bedding plants in addition to tons of greenhouse tomatoes and English cucumbers for retail and wholesale markets.
“It was one of the largest greenhouses in the province at one point, Evans Florists had shops all over Saskatchewan and Alberta,” Mitchell said. “Then we were doing pretty large tomato and cucumber production, and we were competing with Medicine Hat Co-op and in contact with them, trying to find out what prices were and kind of partnering with them… We poured a lot of energy into it, everybody did, and it was something we loved being a part of.”
The Churchill Park Greenhouse became well known for its support of the disadvantaged, and was even covered by the National Film Board in 1982 for a film called ‘Everyone’s Business’.
The Greenhouse continued to soldier on until 2009 when it finally closed down after 35 years.
The area is part of the Wakamow Valley park facility and serves as a disc golf hole, with the monument next to the Churchill Park gazebo along a walking and cycling path.
“It’s really nice, really great. It means a lot to us,” Evans said. “We grew up in it and even though we regretted having to sell it, it was just kind of a matter of circumstances. And now we’ll have this so everyone can see what used to be down here.”