If you were measuring the length, circumference or total area, Fernwood Village would likely come in as the smallest urban centre in Victoria. Yet despite its actual size, the weight of it is many times larger. It might be the lot-line setbacks, the metal fire escapes or just the sheer number of businesses in this very small area that make Fernwood Village feel like a real part of the city. Whatever it is, Fernwood feels like a piece of downtown that fell out of the sky about two kilometres too far east.
Like many of the urban centres around Victoria, the density that you see is due to the old streetcar line that used to end here. In Fernwood's case, it was the the No. 3 streetcar that made its way here after passing through North Park Village. (As an aside, isn't it interesting that so many of the great buildings and urban centres are the result of mass transit?)
There are a couple things that make Fernwood truly unique beyond just the juxtaposition of a small high density node in the middle of a residential area. First and most importantly is that the village is focused on culture and socialisation. And second, perhaps because it is so close to Vic High, the demographics here seem to skew young and have since I first moved to Victoria (and lived near here) in 1995. I don't have any demographic basis to back this up but rather just my observations of the village.
Compared to a lot of other places in Victoria, if you want to get a lot done, Fernwood Village is likely not the best place to head. Yes there is a small (South African) grocery store, a convenience store, a hair place and a smattering of other small places to shop, but you are not going to be able to do your weekly shopping here. Instead, Fernwood has a much more unique focus and purpose, it is a meeting place. In just a small area there is a large pub, a wine bar, a coffee shop, a Mexican restaurant, a brand new pizza place, two community centres and the most popular live theatre in the city. I think that having a village that is focused on delivering connection is a very interesting outcome for somewhere that began as a place of commerce as Fernwood started out. Originally, the area was the water source for Victoria and home to a large water works, a brewery, a brick works among other merchant activities.
Going to the village at night there are white lights stretched across Gladstone Avenue and a yellow glow from the windows of all of the eateries. It feels close, like many of the dense urban night spots you might see in lower Manhattan, except here it only stretches for 25 metres in each direction. The other thing you notice when you look more closely at the people in all of these places, especially when you compare it to Cook Street Village or James Bay Village is that they almost all young. This was the same as when I lived in the neighbourhood, which made sense as Fernwood was a lot more rough around the edges 20 years ago. This was also the place near town with the cheap rent, since that time this has changed. It is no longer a cheap neighbourhood to live in yet somehow the youthfulness of the village has stayed.
One thing that was interesting on my walk around taking the pictures this time was that a new pizza place has opened on the north end of the village in a building that has been vacant for as long as I can remember. While at the east end of the village, a brand new building with both commercial and residential is being built. So even a place as old and static as Fernwood Village is feeling the growth of the city.
What are some of your favourite places in Fernwood?