Bert Veld weaves a willow basket in his carport workshop in Sidney. He finishes about four baskets a week

Bert Veld weaves a willow basket in his carport workshop in Sidney. He finishes about four baskets a week

Winding the willows

A regular sight for years at the Peninsula Country Market at the Saanich Fairgrounds, Bert Veld made the move to the newer North Saanich Farm Market to sell his wares.

Bert Veld didn’t want to be a basket maker.

Least of all he didn’t want to be a perfectionist, and a basket maker — like his dad.

But his dad made him work with his hands, and as he got older, Veld felt a bit of the bug and “played around with the stuff” alongside his father in Holland.

“My father had a small farm and I worked quite a bit on the farm as a kid during the war … in 1950 all of a sudden my father passed away of a heart attack,” the Dutchman said. “I decided ‘I’m going to immigrate to Canada’.”

The then 20-year-old wound up in Ontario, finding a job in municipal works.

“I didn’t speak a word of English, but I learned,” Veld recalled.

The dream of moving out to the West Coast eventually became a reality and he found work with the District of Saanich. During his retirement party, he was sad to learn, in a speech from his boss, that he’d inherited his father’s perfection gene as well.

During a visit from his late brother, a basket maker who was still living in Holland, dad’s influence again came slipping into his life.

“He kind of talked me into it, about 30 years ago,” Veld admitted. “I made the trip to Holland and I came back with willow cuttings to plant here.”

His willow plantings give him quality basket-weave material, but he also enjoys the hunt for wild willow in different shapes, colours and styles.

“When I was in business I couldn’t fool around with this. But as a hobby, I can play around with this. Every type of willow works different and that is a challenge and it makes it nice, to have a hobby that is a challenge,” Veld said. “Wild willow, when you get it together, makes a really nice basket.”

He picks willow in the winter, dries it and sorts it into bundles, each with the right amount, length and colours for a basket he will make in the spring and summer.

“There’s many different ways to make baskets. Look at the baskets in the store,” he said. His rounded basket style is another thing that mimics his father’s design. His Galaran Road home doesn’t have a workshop, so he sits on a seat propped against the wall and works on the floor of his carport, using the tools of the trade that his father did.

“I’m getting older and doing less and less. Still I can’t leave it alone,” he said. “I like it. I live all by myself, my wife passed away last year from cancer so I’m all by myself. I don’t want to sit in the house all day watching T.V. so I love to be here and sit here and make a basket, and when I have some baskets then I go to the market.”

A regular sight for years at the Peninsula Country Market at the Saanich Fairgrounds, Veld made the move to the newer North Saanich Farm Market to sell his wares.

“It’s a big market there (at the Saanich Fairgrounds). I don’t need a big market. That little market is cosy, and the people are really friendly,” he said.

While the numbers are fewer, the feeling of each woven piece of art brings him self satisfaction.

“When [my fingers] get sore, then I made a good basket,” he said. “When I make a basket I say to myself ‘See I’m an old man but still I’m not useless yet’.”