The biggest South African handmade market in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

By Deirdre Norval

On Saturday, 29 July 2023, the first and biggest ever South African handmade market was held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Province, Canada.

The idea for the market came from Deirdre Norval, who immigrated in 2013 with her family to Rosetown, Saskatchewan. She wanted to recreate a typical Saturday bazaar feeling for the South African community in Saskatchewan, showcase our shared heritage, sell some South African groceries, treats and food, and connect with old and new friends. It was also an opportunity to share our culture with the broader Canadian community to thank them for embracing the South African immigrant community so warmly in Saskatchewan.

Back in 2013 there were very few South African families in rural Saskatchewan. Fast forward ten years to 2023, and you will be hard-pressed to find a Saskatchewan town without a few South African families.

Our team, Deirdre Norval, Ilze Major and Nicoline van Aswegen, started planning the event in June 2022 and created our Facebook page, South African Market SK, to promote our heritage and culture, building up to the actual event. We had 38 dedicated vendors, and we made sure that there was no overlap and that every single item, from koeksisters to vellies, was curated uniquely South African. Our vision for the market was a tasteful but truly South African feel.

Initially, we expected about 500-1 000 visitors, but in the end, 3 000 people showed up! Products like koeksisters, beskuit (“rusks”), wors, biltong and droëwors (“dried sausage”) sold out within an hour after the market opened. South Africans were delighted to find their favourites, and others were eager to experience new tastes. At 13:00, we had a dance competition, and the video footage was shared 17 000 times!

We have had fantastic feedback from the broader Saskatchewan community and were featured on CTV, CBC and various newspapers and social media, and we’ve had offers from organisations that want to partner with us going forward. The lesson from this was that there is a huge need for our diverse South African culture to be shared and celebrated. Canadians are curious to experience new cultures.

Many people reached out to us and told us they had tears in their eyes when they entered the market. The South African vibe just evoked them from all sides. We created many visually layered experiences to remind people of our shared home, from the South African Market Meander and the train station names placed on the vendor tables to the renaming of the washrooms in a funny way. We only played South African music throughout the day, and we had ambassadors you could ask anything about South Africa. It was also a testament to the can-do attitude of South Africans, with our support teams helping us to get the market off to a fantastic start. We would not be able to do this without their input and support.

People travelled as far as Quebec and Manitoba to spend the day with us. It was a wonderful celebration of our diversity, culture and food. We hope to do this again in 2024.

We would encourage any of our other communities to start something similar. It is a great way to connect with people sharing similar backgrounds and roots and helps with transitioning to a new country, especially for new immigrants.

Here are some statistics of what was sold on the day:

1 600 lunch meals

232 dozen rusks

100 dozen koeksisters

120 kg cookies

265 deserts

145 kg wors

78 kg biltong

50 kg droëwors

35 kg chillibites

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