What started as a small fruit and hamburger stand 45 years ago has now become one of Vancouver Island’s largest tourist attractions.
The Coombs Old Country Market features fresh local produce, deli with smoked wild salmon and imported cheeses from around the world, an exceedingly wide variety of international foods, artisan gifts, in-store baked goods such as its ‘Bee Sting’ Danish pastries, and ice cream parlour with over 70 flavours of ice cream, gelatto, and sorbetto.
There is even a restaurant with a patio that boasts optimal views of the market’s four legged creatures: the famous goats on the main market building’s roof.
But those goats are up on the roof for a reason – to maintain a unique grass roof.
Market founder Kristian Graaten, who emigrated from Lillehammer, with his family half a century ago, wanted to build a building that reminded him of the old country in Norway.
“It was basically a grass sod roof with a timber and log frame design,” Arthur Urie, store manager for the market, told Daily Hive. “From there, it just grew to a grass sodded roof. It’s very reminiscent of how the buildings are built in Norway, they would just be an extension of the hillside and the grass would just grow off along the roof off the hillside.”
Urie says maintenance for the roof is extremely low as they have goats living on the roof daily from April through October, throughout the growing season when the grass grows faster.
“The grass grows and then it stops growing and due to the slope of the roof it drains very well and we basically make sure it’s in a good and presentable condition,” he said.
The goats do most of the work by trimming and fertilizing the grass, but it needs to be watered during the warm and dry summer months. There are usually three or four goats living on the roof, and they have a rooftop den if they ever need to seek shelter from the elements.
“Those goats are actually my wife’s goats and every year we have had the fortunate babies born off-site,” said Urie. “We usually put the yearlings up there, beautiful little baby goats, and this year was one of those years that we put up some yearlings up there and they have a lot of fun up there.”
The original market has since expanded with more buildings that house a surf and clothing shop, pizzeria, and ice cream parlour, but they have different structural designs and their roofs do not boast any goats. Several buildings have grass roofs of a different variety, covered with wildflowers rather than sod.
The market is located approximately 35 minutes north of Nanaimo’s BC Ferries’ Departure Bay terminal. It is a popular pit-stop along the road to Tofino.
However, as the growing season has ended, the goats have been taken down for the season and won’t reappear until spring.
Address: 2326 Alberni Highway, Coombs, BC