14 years in, Fireweed market hits full blossom

Pavlina Sudrich Thursday afternoon a crowd descends onto Shipyards Park for Whitehorse's weekly Fireweed Community Market. From a distance it's a collection of small tents shifting in a breeze that smells like fresh sweet kettle corn.

Pavlina Sudrich

Thursday afternoon a crowd descends onto Shipyards Park for Whitehorse’s weekly Fireweed Community Market. From a distance it’s a collection of small tents shifting in a breeze that smells like fresh sweet kettle corn. Up close the market is a riot of activity: people are milling around tables stacked with local crafts, listening to fiddle music and embracing friends. Bags stuffed with plants, baked goods, hats and jewelry pass by.

The Fireweed Community Market has “grown like crazy” since its beginning 14 years ago, says market coordinator Colin O’Neill. This year’s May 15 opening set an all-time record with 42 vendors opening shop. “We have everything from hot food trucks, to artisanal crafters, jewelers, even not-for-profit info booths are appearing.”

What makes this market’s success unique?

“We’re offering an authentic Yukon product,” O’Neill says. “Everything here is made in the Yukon and sold by the people who make it. It provides Yukoners with an opportunity to connect directly with the people either buying or selling local goods.”

With an average vendor increase of 10 per cent per year, the market has become a popular opportunity for local merchants. As one vendor puts it, “We’re very proud of what we make. That pride creates an atmosphere here and that rubs off on the customers.”

Montana Prysnuk has sold her handcrafted, antler-based jewelry at this market for the past three years. Over this time she’s noticed an increase in both the variety of vendors at the market, as well as the number of people visiting. “The success of my sales here are often weather dependent,” she says laughing, “but after Christmas, this is my best revenue generator.”

With a population as small as the Yukon’s, competition with big box stores is a tough battle. But Yukoners are embracing the opportunity to purchase their garden greens, bread loaves, and handcrafted furniture from people they can look in the eye and shake hands with.

After four years at the operational helm of the market, O’Neil explain that “Yukoners are engaged in their community. They are interested in having access to local products.”

One such consumer is Sandra Lamy, who strolls between tents with a caramelized onion bun clutched in her hand. Stopping, she examines a table made of willow boughs. “This farmers market,” she explains, “is an opportunity for me to access tasty, high quality products I can’t otherwise find in larger shopping centres.”

The proud display of contemporary Yukon life has also become a deep theme of this market. Each week Yukoners have access to free workshops that range from cooking with Yukon native products to this week’s workshop, a showcase of local farm animals which O’Neill says will include “pigs, geese, and a horse.”

It’s this community showcasing that brings people like Renee Mills to the market. She has been attending for almost 10 years. “It’s become part of our family’s summer tradition,” she says as her two children, ages four and six, race excitedly between the eclectic mix of musicians and vendors. “We come down for dinner, to see friends, eat outdoors and see our community’s culture on display. Where else can you see Punjabi dancing to fiddle music?”

Starting June 28, Yukoners will have an extra opportunity to enjoy the Fireweed Community Market, when the event moves to twice a week, adding Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as well as its regular Thursday spot from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Pavlina Sudrich is a locally grown freelance writer from Whitehorse.

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