A Gathering Place

Community is at the heart of the newly opened Gibsons Public Market

by Gail Johnson

Photo Credit: Simon Smith

Situated on the south end of the Sunshine Coast, the seaside town of Gibsons is just a 40-minute ferry trip from West Vancouver, but its peaceful, laid-back vibe feels worlds away from the often-hurried pace of city life. With mountain views, forest-meets-ocean landscape, and charming hillside houses, Gibsons is home to a close-knit community that includes artists, outdoor enthusiasts and people of all ages who want to make the most of the area’s natural bounty.

“You really have the full spectrum in Gibsons, from grey hairs to young families,” says local resident Gerry Zipursky. “It’s a wonderful place to raise kids. You know your neighbours. It’s close to nature.”

Zipursky and his wife moved to Gibsons from Vancouver nine years ago, and though he fell instantly in love with the town, he couldn’t help but feel that something was missing—a central gathering place where people could meet up for lunch or coffee, shop for locally grown food and simply connect with one another. So, in 2014, he teamed up with a group of other committed residents and organizations and, together, they set their sights on building a year-round public market.

Located in the former home of the town’s yacht club, just a few blocks from Molly’s Reach—the iconic yellow restaurant that has served as a landmark ever since The Beachcombers TV series put Gibsons on the map—Gibsons Public Market officially opened for business in March 2017 (a grand opening event is scheduled for April 29, 2017). The $4 million project is a partnership of the Community Futures Development Corporation, the Town of Gibsons, the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation and the Gibsons Community Building Society.

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“The idea really is to have a community hub,” says Zipursky, who serves as the market’s executive director. “The whole vision is about building something for the community and increasing our economic base. We envision people coming for the day from Vancouver or other parts of the coast with the kids, hanging out, spending time at the market and meeting their friends.”

Overlooking the marina in Shoal Channel, Gibsons Public Market is now the place to go for one-stop, locally focused shopping on the Sunshine Coast. Here, visitors can purchase fresh flowers, frothy cappuccinos and all sorts of local, sustainably produced foods.

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The airy, three-level building houses a casual restaurant and caterer—Emelle’s Catering Market Bistro—as well as a seven core merchants: the Bowen Island Roasting Company, The Gibsons Butcher, G.G. Greens, Fromagerie De Baie, RainFlorist, The Fisherman’s Market and Art meets Chocolate, where owner Sylvia Punguntzky creates fair-trade chocolate bars, truffles and other artisanal indulgences. “I’m convinced the market will become the very heart of the community,” Punguntzky says.

She has good reason to believe it. Gibsons residents and businesses have been committed to the market’s success right from the start—many even volunteered their time for hand-on tasks like painting walls and installing millwork prior to the March opening. Zipursky and his colleagues plan to maintain this level of interest and commitment through a variety of on-site activities and initiatives, including art shows, cooking classes at the facility’s community kitchen and, every Friday from May to September, an outdoor farmers’ market held in the parking lot.

And there’s another major attraction coming soon—a 1,200-square-foot mini-aquarium situated right in the market. Opening this summer, the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre will delight visitors with interactive exhibits and a variety of displays on local marine life, including a 14-foot cylindrical fish tank that will house small species from Howe Sound. As part of a catch-and-release program, the centre will aim to display creatures for short periods then release them back to local waters.

For Katie Budd, co-owner of The Fisherman’s Market, the marine centre is a perfect example of how Gibsons Public Market fosters sustainability while promoting the importance of community engagement. Much like fellow vendor Punguntzky, Budd is certain the market will be a longtime draw for residents and visitors of all ages. “You can always tell if something has a really good feeling by how comfortable kids are,” she says. “And when you see kids making themselves at home like they already do here, you know it’s got good vibes.”