FERNWOOD

• Fernwood Heritage Register Properties

• Fernwood Neighbourhood Heritage Walking Tour


1329 Stanley


1422 Fort

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The land comprising the Fernwood neighbourhood was Swengwhung (Songhees) First Nation territory until 1850 when James Douglas purchased it for the Hudson’s Bay Company for the sum of £75 sterling. Once surveyed, portions of the tract were purchased for the going rate of £1 per acre by two notable Victoria residents. Section III, the portion west of Chambers Street (extending to Rock Bay) became part of the estate of Roderick Finlayson, HBC chief trader; Section LXXV, the 95-acre portion east of Fernwood Road formed the bulk of the Fernwood Estate, owned by Benjamin W. Pearse, assistant colonial surveyor. In between these two large parcels lay part of Section XVIII, a narrow strip retained by the Hudson’s Bay Company and Section LXX, the ten-acre School Reserve.

Fernwood Manor

The first houses in Fernwood were country estates built on its southern border in a corridor along Fort Street. In 1860 Pearse built Fernwood, an imposing Italianate stone structure, near the present corner of Fort and Fern Streets and facing what later became Begbie Street, taking advantage of the views looking eastward to Mount Baker. He spent the next four decades improving the house until his death in 1902, and his wife continued living there until her death in 1954. In 1862 Captain Henry Ella built Wentworth Villa, a Gothic Revival house, at 1156 Fort Street. Architect Samuel C. Burris designed 1342 Pandora Avenue at the corner of Fernwood for Joseph H. MacLaughlin in 1883, and at around the same time builder Henry Spofford constructed an unusual home on land leased from Pearse at what is now 2226 Shelbourne Street, prior to that street being

Wentworth Villa

Fort Street continued to be a desirable address even after the area began to be built up, and many of Victoria’s stately homes are located there. Trebatha, one of Victoria’s few surviving Second Empire houses, was built in 1887 at 1124 Fort Street, while between 1901 and 1907 three of the city’s more impressive Queen Annes were constructed at 1140 and 1162 Fort Street and 1270 Yates Street, all within two blocks of each other. In 1907 builder David H. Bale built a residence for himself at 1402 Stadacona Avenue called Argos, a massive version of the Edwardian Vernacular Arts & Crafts bungalow that would appear by the thousands in Victoria up to WWI.

DH Bale

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Before the land was cleared it was heavily timbered. Harris Pond near the corner of Stanley and Vining Streets was a natural catchment basin for the surrounding ridges. A stream flowed from the pond northward, one block to the east of Fernwood Road. At about Bay Street the stream was diverted by Fountain Ridge and it took a right angle turn to the west, flowing along a zig-zag route within a block either side of Bay Street until it emptied into Rock Bay. The stream provided water for Chinese market gardeners in the early 1900s southeast of the corner of Fernwood Road and Bay Street. Harris Pond and the nameless stream were filled in as residential development took place.

Within Section XVIII of Fernwood is the district known as Spring Ridge, bounded generally by Chambers Street on the west, Bay Street on the north, Fernwood Road on the east and Pandora Avenue on the south. Gravel deposits left after the retreat of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago underlie this area. Numerous fresh water springs gave it its name. Until the damming of Elk Lake in the early 1870s, these springs were the principal source of drinking water for Victoria. One of the most important springs was on the 1100-block of Princess Avenue. At first, water carriers filled their wooden casks there and sold it door to door throughout the city. Later, wooden stave pipes were used to carry the water to town. At least two breweries (the Lion and the Empire) were established in the vicinity to take advantage of the pure water. Though the springs remain in many basements and backyards, most have been capped, and the water has been diverted into Rock Bay through a drainage system built specifically for the purpose in the 1950s.




The low-lying land at Stanley Av and Vining St forms a natural catchment basin for the surrounding ridges. In the past water collected there, forming a pond that was referred to as either Harris’ Pond or Harris’ Bottom. It was likely named after Thomas Harris who owned the first butcher shop on Vancouver Island and later became Victoria’s first mayor. At its deepest, the pond held about four feet of water. It was drained by a small stream flowing north one block east of Fernwood Rd to Bay St where it supplied water to the Chinese market gardens. From there the stream angled west, meandering north of Bay St and then emptying into Rock Bay.

As Fort Victoria grew, a reliable supply of fresh water became essential. Two sources were located about a mile out – the springs at Spring Ridge and Harris’ Pond. At the time it was thought that Harris’ Pond was fed by the abundant springs in the area. In 1863 entrepreneurs John Coe and Thomas Martin formed the “Spring Ridge Water Company”. They laid pipes made from 12-foot long hollowed-out logs, attaching them end to end and burying them with their bark left on. Pipes were laid from Harris' Pond and Spring Ridge along Fort to the San Francisco Bathhouse on Government St. From there, water was delivered to customers by wagon at a rate of twenty buckets for one dollar. The pipeline also filled 4 large cisterns for fire protection – at no charge.

By 1869 it became evident that Harris’ Pond was not fed by springs and there were frequent complaints in the British Colonist newspaper regarding the quality and quantity of the water. The water supply from Harris’ Pond was described as “a meagre supply of unwholesome liquid” and “a limited quantity of liquid vegetation as thick as pea soup that used to be pumped up from the scummy recesses of Harris’ Pond, the use of which sometimes cause diphtheria and kindred complaints, and rendered cleanliness the exception rather that the rule.” In 1872 the City authorized the construction of water works to bring water from Elk Lake. The pipes from Harris Pond were last used in 1875.

Winters must have been colder in Victoria in the 1800s since the livery stables all had sleighs and the locals enjoyed ice skating on Harris’ Pond. When temperatures allowed, trips to the pond were advertised in the newspaper. Snow was cleared from the ice and the pond was flooded. On January 18, 1868, the British Colonist reported a gay and lively scene at Harris’ Pond, with 150 persons including about 30 ladies skating. A couple of entrepreneurs erected a board shanty for the refreshment of the “inner man and woman” that was liberally patronized. The pond and stream were filled-in by 1890 and little evidence remains today of their importance.*

* Harris' Pond research by Brigitte Clark

Gravel pits

The gravel deposits proved very useful as a source of building materials for the growing city of Victoria. Stevenson Park between Pembroke and Gladstone Streets is lower than the surrounding area because of the large quantities of gravel removed from the site in the early 1900s, some of which was used to fill in the James Bay mudflats where the Fairmont Empress Hotel was built. South of Gladstone Avenue, now the site of Victoria High School, concrete block factories took advantage of the abundant gravel. However, the dust and noise of the unsightly gravel pits were a constant source of annoyance to nearby residents who regularly petitioned City Hall about the issue.

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Schools have been at the heart of Fernwood’s social and architectural heritage. The School Reserve, now the site of Central Middle School, was the site of the squared-log Colonial School of 1853, demolished about 1879. It was the first non-sectarian public school in what is now British Columbia. In 1876 the mansard-roofed brick edifice for Boys Public School was built at the head of View Street, and in 1882 Victoria High School, the province’s first high school, was added as an extension to this building. In 1902 Francis Rattenbury designed a new brick high school building that faced Fernwood Road. The 1876 and 1902 buildings were pulled down to make way in 1953 for Central Junior High School, a reinforced concrete design by Birley, Wade & Stockdill, architects. Architect C. Elwood Watkins is responsible for two imposing schools that still stand in Fernwood. In 1909, with his then-partner Thomas Hooper, he designed George Jay Elementary School at 1118 Princess Street and in 1914 he designed the new Victoria High School at 1260 Grant Street at Fernwood Road.

George Jay School

Vic High

Vic High

Construction of the high school permanently benefited Fernwood in two major ways: it required filling in some of the biggest gravel pits and the massive Edwardian Classical brick edifice continues to serve as Fernwood’s visual focal point.

1347 Vining

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One of the first major residential developments in Fernwood took place in the 1880s when the Springville subdivisions were created by mill owner Joseph Austin Sayward. Springville I lay west of Fernwood Road, bounded on the south by Pembroke Street (originally South Street), on the north by Denman Street (originally North Street) and on the west by Spring Street. Springville II lay immediately east of Fernwood Road, including Sayward Street. Both subdivisions consisted of small, inexpensive lots intended to attract working class and tradespeople. Among the purchasers were many Icelanders who established a short-lived but vibrant community with its own Lutheran Church, bakery and Icelandic Literary Society.

Several houses from this development still survive in the area. The oldest, 1286 Pembroke Street, was built in 1884 and is a simple vernacular building embellished with Italian Villa features. Several of Victoria’s rare brick homes are located in the 1200-1400 blocks of Pembroke, built in 1890-93 by their bricklayer owners. A number of Italianate and Queen Anne cottages date from 1889-1893 (including the one at 2221 Fernwood Road, built originally on Sayward).

2221 Fernwood

2130 Ridge Road, a two-storey Italianate house built by Icelanders Kelly and Mary Johnson, must have dominated the district with its original tower when it was built in 1893.

2130 Ridge

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Residential development in Fernwood, as in so many other parts of Victoria, accelerated after the streetcar system was introduced. In 1890 a line was opened along Fort Street to the Royal Hospital (later the Royal Jubilee). In 1891 another line took a more circuitous route into the heart of Fernwood: Pandora Avenue, Cook Street, Caledonia Avenue, Chambers Street and Gladstone Avenue, with the terminus at Fernwood Road. Emmanuel Baptist Church (now the Belfry Theatre, 1900 Fernwood Road) built between 1886 and 1892 and the commercial buildings at the corner of Fernwood Road and Gladstone Avenue (1284 and 1301 , and 1923 and 2008 Fernwood Road) grew up at the end of the line.

1301-11 Gladstone

The development of the land between Cook and Chambers Streets on part of the old Finlayson Estate and the tract comprising the nursery of George Jay Sr. on the east side of Cook between North Park and Caledonia Streets was also facilitated by the streetcar line. Over two dozen of Fernwood’s Heritage Register houses were built in the period 1890-93 within a few blocks of the streetcar lines, many of them in the fashionable cubical Italianate style.

A particularly striking development was the series of five (originally six) constructed in 1892 by William Whittaker at 1203, 1209, 1213, 1217, and 1221 Yukon Street as rental properties.

In spite of the residential growth of this area, it retained a rugged, rural character for many years. After George Jay Elementary School opened in 1909 the principal complained that wild, horned cattle sometimes stampeded through the school grounds en route to the cattle pound on nearby 1100-block Queens Avenue and to the slaughterhouse at Oaklands.

1272 Balmoral

2103 Fernwood

Royal Bank

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Residential development in the eastern portion of Fernwood was slow to take place, perhaps because the Pearse family wanted to enjoy the sanctity of their estate. Their home, Fernwood, was demolished in the 1960s. Subdivision of the western part of the estate did begin in the 1890s and some of the first streets to be developed there were Vining Street, Stanley Avenue and Balmoral Road. Six heritage register houses in the 1400 block of Vining were constructed in 1891-92, two of them by builder George Powers. Between 1898 and 1901 bricklayer Thomas Donovan built 1459 Vining Street, an unusual patterned masonry Queen Anne.
1459 Vining

Development of the eastern portion of the Fernwood Estate closer to the Pearse home took place in the early 1900s. Although two Queen Anne houses were built earlier on Belmont Street (Warley at 1916 Belmont Avenue in 1893, by Rev. Peter H. McEwen of Emmanuel Baptist Church two blocks away on Fernwood, and Oak Villa in 1891 at 1924 Belmont Avenue), almost all of the construction in this area was done during the boom of 1907-13. As a result there is a sharp divide in the house styles seen in the neighbourhood. This contrast is most dramatic in the 1400 block of Pembroke Street, where the 1891 Italianate 1449 Pembroke Street to the west rubs shoulders with the 1911-12 Arts & Crafts 1461 Pembroke Street to the east. Belmont runs along a ridge that connects to the Rockland area and terminates at Pembroke; the higher ground attracted affluent homeowners who built in the Arts & Crafts style then current in Rockland, including a house (1803 Belmont Avenue) designed by Samuel Maclure.

1416 Fort

1205 Pandora

 


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