Ground has broken in North Saanich on a new Centre for Plant Health, Canada’s first line of defence against plant diseases.
Representatives of the federal government and local First Nations gathered on site September 22 to mark the start of construction on a new diagnostic and research facility, operated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
“The new facility is a first step to providing CFIA scientists and collaborators with state-of-the-art amenities and modernized tools to advance plant science while supporting Canadian agriculture, global trade and economic growth,” CFIA says in a press release announcing the project.
Slated for closure in 2012, an outcry led by local MP Elizabeth May saw the centre saved. In 2018, Ottawa pledged $80 million for upgrades as part of a broader $2.8 billion Laboratories Canada strategy.
The centre has served as a plant quarantine station since 1965, and came under the jurisdiction of the CFIA in 1997. One of 13 research laboratories CFIA operates located across Canada, it is where fruit-bearing trees, grapevines and small fruits imported into Canada are quarantined and tested for viruses, pathogens and other plant diseases that could devastate these sectors.
The location is isolated enough from commercial growers to prevent a possible spread of infection and the climate is suited for growing all of Canada’s fruit crops and ornamental plants.
Most of the buildings were built between 1912 and 1961. A modern, purpose-built greenhouse and header house are planned, parts of the facility will be upgraded while some buildings will eventually be demolished.
The design phase is currently wrapping up and a community engagement plan is in the works. The site will tap geothermal capacity for a ground-source heat pump. Coast Salish stories will be incorporated into the design and artwork of the facility, which sits on 100 acres in the Agricultural Land Reserve overlooking the Salish Sea.
Construction, managed by PCL Lab Solutions, will begin this fall on receipt of a building permit by the District of North Saanich. The lab is scheduled to open in 2025.