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Saanich, B.C. approves height variance for Howard the Gnome

Howard the Gnome arrives at Galey Farms in Saanich on Thursday, May 9. (via Glacier Media)

Howard the Gnome finally has a home.

Saanich council has approved a height variance that will allow the gigantic garden ornament to take up residence at Galey Farms, 4150 Blenkinsop Rd.

The gnome’s future had been up in the air for weeks due to the fact that he stands 25 feet, 11 inches tall — 16 inches taller than zoning allows.

Councillors, however, agreed to overlook that discrepancy rather than cut Howard off at the knees and risk his Guinness World Record status as the largest garden gnome on the planet.

“It’s time that we stood tall on these kinds of issues,” Mayor Fred Haynes told council. “It’s of course about supporting our local farmers and a wonderful family.

“But it’s also about putting the smile on many children’s faces and just raising the profile of the wonder of Saanich.”

Not everyone was in support. A number of residents expressed concern about a massive, illuminated gnome looming over their properties.

But councillors were swayed by a staff report that said Galey Farms plans to install Howard for three weeks each year during its Fall Harvest Festival. Staff said the gnome will be removed and stored off site for the remainder of the year.

“The temporary positioning of the gnome, I think, is really what sells this for me,” said Saanich Coun. Nathalie Chambers.

“I live on Blenkinsop. October is THE month on Blenkinsop. We’ve got the Galey corn maze. It’s all going on. It’s crazy.

“And I think that the Galey family have done the agri-tourism thing really well. They have made a lot of kids happy and they continue to grow food.”

Coun. Colin Plant voiced his support as well.

“To me, this is about the 16 inches,” he said. “It is not about the temporary or the permanent use; that’s up to the [Agricultural Land Commission], because that’s not within our jurisdiction. What’s within our jurisdiction is the 16 inches. I don’t think 16 inches is an unreasonable ask.

“And, for me, this is proof of a council showing support to a local farmer. We talk about supporting agriculture all the time in this chamber and here’s a chance to support a local farmer who engages in agri-tourism.”

Galey Farms was selected as Howard’s new owner in March by descendants of the late Ron Hale, who built the gnome more than 20 years ago to advertise a now-closed amusement park in Nanoose.

Hale’s family began searching for a new gnome home after learning Howard would have to move from his previous location at the Nanoose Bay Town Pantry and Chevron station by the end of April or be demolished.

The family received nearly a hundred offers and picked Galey Farms from a short list of five.

Bridget Matewish, Hale’s granddaughter, told the Times Colonist at the time that they loved the Blenkinsop location and the fact that Howard would be a family attraction.

“We all had the same gut feeling that my grandfather would really like that location for him,” she said.

Saanich staff said Howard will be installed in the northwest corner of the farm site and lit by LED lights that will turn off at 10 each night.

Rob Galey said Tuesday that he was “ecstatic” at council’s decision to approve the variance.

“It’s a big load off my shoulders,” he said. “I have been worried. So much work has gone into him.”

Galey said Howard has undergone a number of repairs and modifications that will allow him to wave his arm and blink his bright blue eyes.

“We actually built lips and gave him a smile, so he doesn’t look scary anymore,” he added. “He looks very, very friendly for the young children.”

With the council decision behind him, Galey expects Howard to be in place for the farm’s Pumpkinfest and Festival of Fear in October.

“I have not been able to get the smile off my face,” he said. “My best buddy Howard is now legal and he’s home here in Saanich at Galey Farms.”

- Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist