Few have seen more changes in the Saanich Peninsula than 93-year-old Grace Mariager, who wrote for this newspaper in the 1930s, known then as the Saanich Peninsula and Gulf Islands Review.
The paper served a much smaller population then, and so more space was devoted to the life events of the region’s inhabitants: births, weddings and deaths. This is what Mariager focused on, when she began there in 1936, fresh out of high school.
In the busy newsroom however, nobody specialized: “everyone had to work at everything,” she recalled. So Mariager pitched in learning to set type, operate the printers and copy edit. She fondly remembers the clatter of the behemoth linotype machine, at that time the standard for printing on a mass scale.
But it was the experience in journalism she recalls most vividly.
“I don’t think that the skill of seeing what’s going on around you, and writing it up, is something that you ever lose. It’s a help all your life,” she said.
Mariager grew up in Sidney, using her bike to get around, and “going camping all over,” in her childhood.
“We went outside and stayed active, what else were kids to do?”
The opening of the Victoria airport in the first months of the Second World War would have a fateful impact upon her life, as it did for the whole region. As part of Canada’s contribution to the Allied war effort, thousands of young men from across the Commonwealth came to the expanding airbase to learn to how to fly. The airmen, and the local girls, Mariager among them, would flock to Stacey’s Hall near the base every Saturday to do the foxtrot or the waltz. Swing dance, an American creation, had yet to arrive. It was there that she met her first husband, an airman from Manitoba and it was not long before the couple moved to Manitoba, leaving her position at the Review.
It would be some years before she returned to Vancouver Island, living in Chemainus for many years before she was drawn back to the Peninsula, compelled by its natural beauty, and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who had put down roots here.
Mariager believes Sidney has changed for the better since her youth. “We’ve had good people run the town, and good businessmen to back them up,” she said. “They’ve left farming, beaches and parks here, they haven’t taken them over. It’s been good planning. It’s made Sidney into a top-notch town.”
North Saanich, she is pleased to see, has hardly changed at all, maintaining the rustic “country lane feel.”
Today she lives at the Peninsula at Norgarden, built on the site where she once lived in the 1930s.