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Home > Walking Tours (Brief History)

Brief History of the Area:

The Fernwood and Spring Ridge neighbourhoods, just East of downtown Victoria, date from the city's earliest beginnings as a Fort. In 1843 the Colonial Governor, James Douglas, engaged men of the Songhees Nation to cut trees from Cedar Hill, to the north of the neighbourhood, to build the Fort's palisade. The Song-hees may also have led the British party to fresh water springs emerging from a gravel ridge (hence the early name 'Spring Ridge') in the meadowlands surrounding the Fort. For the next thirty years these springs supplied water for the burgeoning town of Victoria. Water was carried in barrels by horse carts of the Spring Ridge Water Co. and later piped to households via wooden pipes. By 1849 the entire townsite region was deeded to the Hudson's Bay Co., which surveyed it and sold large portions to early colonists. Surveyor Benjamin Pearse acquired a hilly, heavily wooded parcel in 'the country' beyond Spring Ridge. On a hill above present day Begbie St. he built a fieldstone mansion he called 'Fernwood Manor', in keeping with the landscape. This home, which stood from 1860 to 1969, is the source of the neighbourhood's more contemporary name.

Originally a wilderness area of Garry Oak meadows alive with wild flowers, springs, swamps and small lakes, Fernwood also contained sand pits and gravel banks which supplied materials to build the growing town. When Victoria started piping water from Elk Lake in 1875, the area of the springs became municipal gravel yards, used to pave roads and sidewalks, and as fill in James Bay for the building of the Causeway and the Empress Hotel.

The California gold rush of 1858 spurred the expansion of Victoria and by the 1880s more lots had been subdivided in the Spring Ridge and Fernwood districts. These were initially developed with cabins and cottages. The introduction of a street car line in 1890 led to rapid residential development of comfortable homes for the swelling middle-class population. Today's streets and most of the houses date from this era (1890 to 1912), many now included in Victoria's registry of heritage buildings. The inhabitants were merchants, sea captains, teachers and tradesmen of all types -- especially, due to the proximity of brick and gravel yards, builders, bricklayers, stone masons and carpenters, who created outstanding and enduring examples of Victorian housing.

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Researched and written
by Carol A. Sokoloff
© FCA September, 1996.