Character homes, painted poles, and the small, yet vibrant community square typically spring to mind when someone mentions Fernwood, making it hard to believe that before development and colonization this unique community was once a part of a trail towards the inner harbour and a subsistence “food forest” for indigenous peoples, ranging from the Kosampson, Swengwhung, Chilcowitch and the Chekonein (Ellis, 1989). During the October and November months of the year travelling on the coast became difficult, so the indigenous peoples used a trail –which cut through Fernwood– to what became Fort Victoria. While walking, women made mental notes of what was growing along this undeveloped trail. With this knowledge women would begin harvesting food plants of the area in March, ranging from “blue camass, rushes and wild carrots (the wild caraway)” (Ellis, 1989, pp. 12-13).
The arrival of James Douglas and his companions marked a change in Fernwood’s land use. Development began, and colonists began to build their humble abodes in the area; One man being the “Father of Fernwood”, Benjamin William Pearse, who built the Fernwood Manor in 1861 (Ellis, 1989). Also, with the greater influx of people, Fort Victorians became concerned with having an adequate water supply that would last. It was J.D Pemberton’s discovery that would transform Fernwood and the area where Spring Ridge Commons lies today. Two main springs were discovered within 300 feet of each other, near Spring Road and Princess Street, and another claimed by local authorities to be near what we know of today as Ridge Road and Pembroke Street.
The springs became a free local public water supply since their discovery, and declared a public reserve by Governor James Douglas in 1858 (Ellis, 1989). As exciting as this discovery might have been, its perks would not remain for the inhabitants of Victoria at the time.
1861 marks the year of private ownership of the springs, where resistance arose from HBC’s willingness to sell. The Spring Ridge Water Company was created after the passing of a legislative bill in June 1866 (Ellis, 1989). When Elk Lake became the main water supply the spring sites became gravel pits, and eventually sites for development.
The Lion/Empire Brewery was situated in the Spring Ridge area from about 1862 to May 1887 when it was burned down. Then, in 1887 a school was built on the site we know today as Spring Ridge Commons; first being called Fourth Ward School, and eventually becoming Spring Ridge Ward School.
“The windows looked out on a narrow lane and board fence. A lone tree stood on the grounds with no other vegetation to be trampled by eager young feet at play.” (Ellis, 1989, p. 68)
For more history of Fernwood area, please visit: http://thefca.ca/walking-tours/