– Story by Devon Paige Smith Photography by Don Denton
For many years, the tent at Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse was the setting for some of the Saanich Peninsula’s most beautiful gatherings and events. Eight months of the year, the light and airy tent set the stage for weddings, anniversaries and galas, and many of Sea Cider’s own signature events.
But eventually, founder, owner and general manager of Sea Cider, Kristen Needham, through consultation with the Municipality of Central Saanich, decided it was time to upgrade to something more permanent.
“That was in about 2015 or 2016, and it’s taken us around five, six years to get to where we are now, which is this,” says Kristen, motioning around the beautiful, bright new space.
In order to prepare for the build, Sea Cider needed approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, along with all the other consultations, permits and licensing that come with creating an event-centric space in a rural area.
“It’s a good thing that both farming and making cider teach you patience,” she laughs.
Fortunately, Kristen came equipped with an inspiration in the form of the well-known and beloved tent. She also wanted something that would sit as a sort of modernized sibling to the main cider house.
“That’s what we went to the architects with as a rough idea—and they really took it from there,” she explains.
Those architects are Gregory Damant and Peter Johannknecht from Cascadia Architects.
“It was a pleasure working with their team,” says Kristen. “Their design sense is outstanding and they’re very attuned to their clients’ needs and visions.”
“We started with a site-planning process to make sure it would fit where Kristen was envisioning it,” explains Gregory. “That took a few months and I’ll admit, we almost got off track because of all the possibilities the land offers,” he laughs, adding, “Kristen is incredibly resourceful. She’s very nice to work with, and she came equipped with her own ideas but was more than willing to work together. This project was very much a collaboration with her, as well as her staff who run the events, to make sure we were creating the space in a way which would be useful for them.”
The team was able to determine through some careful planning that the site of the original tent would work and could be accommodated through fireproofing the walls to ensure it adhered to coding due to its proximity to the main cider house.
Aside from the location, one of the main aspects of the tent that both Kristen and the architects wanted to capture was the feeling of light and warmth in the space.
Although the resulting pavilion has lots of natural light and is painted bright white (including the trusses in the ceiling) the team wanted there to be a feeling of warmth. Cascadia’s team, which included Andy Guiry and Nicole Fitzgerald, worked with Jeff Halpenny of AES Engineering to create 3D renderings of the space and the proposed lighting plan to make sure it looked the way they wanted it to.
“This whole idea goes back to the roof of the tent,” Gregory explains. “We wanted to give it that same sense of glowing, which was a big part of the character of that tent space. I’m so glad we were able to capture that ethereal feeling.”
The new pavilion is 2,800 square feet total including front and back of house and upstairs and down, which is storage space.
“We really wanted to keep the service spaces collected in the back, neatly tucked away, to really define that sense of front of house versus back of house,” explains Gregory.
All the ducting for the state-of-the-art ventilation system is hidden, highlighting the clean, angular lines in the trussed roof—one of Kristen’s favourite parts of the space.
“Most people think it’s the dramatic water view at the front that’s the best part, but my favourite aspect is the view looking back through the pavilion towards the west. You can see the sun set through the back windows and I love looking up through the roof trusses. It has that rustic farmhouse feeling which I love so much,” she says, smiling.
The new building is as functional as it is beautiful, Kristen adds. “We stepped up cider production through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the basement of the pavilion has been a key storage area for all of our inventory,” she says.
The ink was drying on the occupancy permit for the pavilion when COVID-19 hit.
“It was kind of a godsend in a strange way,” says Kristen. “People were looking for safe space and we had it. If we hadn’t had the pavilion over the spring, summer and fall, it would have been rough.”
A state-of-the-art HVAC system, big sliding windows at the front of the space that open, and a common outdoor courtyard shared with the main cider house mean Sea Cider has been able to continue to host safe, physically distanced classes.
Through winter and spring, there are low-intensity yoga classes twice a week, along with workshops, a brunch series, and elopements. Starting after Easter, Foodie Friday with food trucks will kick off providing COVID-19 restrictions allow.
“We’ve been able to use the pavilion in a bunch of different ways—ways that we’d never considered but have come about because of COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions. Our entrepreneurial spirit, like that of many businesses through COVID-19, has risen to the challenge,” says Kristen. “We’ve spent a lot of time collaborating with small businesses on the Peninsula—that’s been one of the keys to making it through these exceptional times. It helps to bounce ideas off each other.”
And with bookings set through to 2023, Sea Cider is poised to take the stage once again as one of the Peninsula’s premier event settings once things return to some semblance of normal.
“We’re so looking forward to moving ahead with our original plans for the space as well when the time is right. I can’t wait for the day when the pavilion is buzzing with tours seven days a week. After over five years in the making, lots of planning, hoping and sweat equity, and then a tough couple of seasons with COVID-19, it will be a dream come true.”
This story was originally published in PEARL magazine