This report, we’ll be looking at the Blackfoot Farmer’s Market. Or rather what’s left of it. Once touted as Calgary’s oldest such concern, it’s closed now and the grounds abandoned. We’ve only known it since the mid-1990s but one thing I’ve noticed since the beginning, it was never a terribly busy place and I am in fact quite surprised it lasted as long as it did. We were unimpressed when ever we visited it, but at the same time, felt the place had potential. Of course now that it’s closed, we are sad to see it gone.
Before we begin the tour, I wanted to make mention of the photos. We converted them to black in white, not because we want to appear edgy or artsy, but rather, simply, the day was dull and grey and overcast and the light was horribly flat and the colours dull and off. The pictures looked awful and for the most part unusable. Yuck, they were ugly. Converting them allowed them to be salvaged. So why not just return on a day with better light? We have so many projects on the go, it may be some time before we can come back and by then, the place may be gone. Shoot it now!
There is not a huge amount of information out there about the Blackfoot Farmer’s Market. Supposedly, it was established in 1976 (some reports say 1983). It’s not know if the location today is the same one from back then. No clue. Regardless, it’s a bit of a strange place to run a market perhaps, off the beaten path and in the centre of an industrial area. I believe this was a contributing factor to its demise. Few people know of it because of it was so out of the way. Of course, that also made it the most interesting (IMO) in some ways. Unlike the the yuppified, hipster markets elsewhere in town, which sold only artisan crafts and organic vegetables, this one was a bit raw and gritty. It was part farmer’s market, where you could buy a bag of carrots or a Hutterite raised chicken, and part junk store.
You could of course purchase produce and other foodstuffs at the market. There were also “antiques and collectibles” to be found – well the entrance sign said that. Sure there was the occasional treasure. Outside that was an assortment of flea market staples, old 8-track tapes, ratty stuffed animals, jig saw puzzles missing a few dozen pieces, Walmart quality press-board furniture minus one of two shelves that have been lost, an almost complete set of wrenches, an old mason jar full of an assorted of screws or buttons, an endless parade of “Where is Waldo” books. The usual assortment of bric-a-brac, chachkies and the like. You get the picture.
An outdoor market would not be complete without a few food vendors and this one was no different.
The venue was also home to petting zoo, populated by goats, donkeys, lambs and bunnies. On our visit, we saw a few of the latter wandering the grounds and perhaps these are escapees from that attraction. There was also a kid’s playground, now empty.
When operating, there used to be a live-in caretaker at the site.
I believe 2013 was the Blackfoot Market’s last year. It may been the year prior however, I can’t say. Connie and I would visit occasionally and frankly where underwhelmed by the place. It had a lot of potential, don’t get me wrong, and I was always rooting for it but instead of being a huge success it languished in obscurity. I mentioned the location being bad, for one. But there was also just not enough stuff of interest. For example, fruits and veggies – there would be say four or five vendors selling the exact same product. In respects to yummy stuff, there was no variety. It was promoted as a farmer’s market, but I can’t help think few, if any, of those vendors we saw grew what they sold. And for the flea market material – there was nothing but junk. Or at least that’s how it appeared to me.
Lastly, it never seems like the place was promoted. Maybe due to bad management? Hmm. Regardless, it was a prefect trifecta of failure. An ominous sign: every time we visited, there would be a new collection of vendors. High turnover means there is a problem.
While open there used to be an assortment of old farm tractors and the like scattered about the property but they are now gone.
Enough about what the place was. Let’s see what it is…
We pull up to the grounds and scan for around for any activity or signs of life. We’ll only enter if we can do so unmolested. It looks empty and forgotten and we can go in. Wandering around the front side, we pass a number of stalls large and small (mostly small), all empty of course. Some old signs remains – BC fruits – Watkins (every flea market has a Watkins vendor) – so and so’s crafts – and so on.
Going deeper into the Blackfoot Market complex, under somber and gloomy skies, we find some enclosed stalls. Many still had equipment or merchandise inside and it’s like the owners simply up and walked away. Vandals have not discovered this place yet (have I opened a can of worms?) and everything seems relativity intact. In one garage sized shed we find some old low end furniture, boxes and boxes of assorted books and magazines, crappy homemade works of art and paintings so horrible it’d be near impossible to describe them. They are “collectibles”, at least that’s what the sign said.
Working our way around back, we pass the petting zoo compound and the combination office and caretaker’s trailer. Peeking inside the latter, it’s clear a homeless person is living inside. Hmm, since he has made a home of the trailer, is he now no longer homeless? A non-homeless homeless person. A question for the ages, like does a tree falling in forest…ah, forget it. Beside the trailer is some biffy stalls and oddly, some showers. What the…?
Moving on, we find a gutted motorhome, some truck boxes, a hot tub and other flotsam and jetsam. Stuff of no value simply left behind for someone else to deal with. We find an old garage full of, well, even more junk. Move on.
While walking around, I felt sort of eerie. Not that we were worried about being cornered by a homeless person. In our experience they are rarely a problem – it’s just that it felt strange, mysterious, creepy. Not Ghost Hunters, malevolent demon spirits from the underworld creepy. Sort of lonely, forgotten, empty and deserted, like I’m the only one in the world (even if I’m in the big city), creepy.
I bet the land it sits on is being eyed up for redeveloped. In Calgary, at least right now, vacant land rarely stays so for long.
Strangely, the Blackfoot Farmers Market website now belongs to a web development company. Huh? Maybe it was hacked?
The Calgary farmer’s market scene in now down a player. There are still others though, the Calgary Farmer’s Market, the Crossroad Market and others. All are more upscale then the Blackfoot to one degree or another. Some far too trendy and upscale if you ask me.
Blackfoot, by the way, refers to a First Nations tribe from the area, so named for their dark coloured footwear.
If any readers of this blog has some Blackfoot Farmer’s Market stories or observations to share, by all means let us know. We’d all love to know more. Enjoy the photos…
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.