Afro-Cuban group Kutapira gets the crowd going during FernFest in the square in front of the Belfry Theatre. This year’s event happens June 21-22. Photo courtesy Webmeioster Bud

TESS VAN STRAATEN: Getting funky in Fernwood

Eclectic neighbourhood draws many visitors, laid-back feel popular with residents

It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon and I’m chilling on the patio at the Fernwood Inn, just a few minutes from downtown Victoria, sipping an ice-cold cider. With a vibrant arts scene and amazing artisan eateries, this eclectic neighbourhood is funky and full of energy.

“Fernwood definitely feels like its own little village,” says Belfry Theatre artistic director Michael Shamata. “There’s an identifiable architecture to the neighbourhood and a recognizable sensibility. We really are the 21st century Haight-Ashbury!”

Tess Van Straaten

The Belfry, of course, is also one of the big draws here. The iconic theatre’s been a Fernwood favourite for more than four decades. Located in a historic building that used to be a church dating back to the late 1800s, the Belfry anchors Fernwood Square, a popular community gathering place in the heart of the village that also has seasonal markets.

“The Belfry building itself is as much a part of our identity as what we put onstage, and the community loves this space,” Shamata says. “I think the Belfry is popular because our programming is contemporary and primarily Canadian and people know that the plays will be relevant and reflect who we are.”

I can’t wait to see the Belfry’s latest production. But first, it’s time to explore. After noshing on an aptly-named Fernwood burger with applewood-smoked English cheddar and a side of sweet potato fries and homemade paprika aioli dip at the Fernwood Inn, I stroll down the street to look at the unique assortment of shops and character homes in the area. There are so many, in fact, you can do a self-guided, 90-minute walking tour with the Victoria Heritage Foundation. It maps out more than 60 heritage buildings, including Victoria High School, which opened on the current site of Central middle school in 1876 (this building was built in 1914) and is the oldest public high school west of Winnipeg.

ALSO READ: TESS VAN STRAATEN: Brentwood Bay bliss awaits

As I stroll through the neighbourhood, I notice painted telephone poles. Hundreds have been decorated since 2011 as part of the Fernwood Pole Painting Project and they inject vibrancy into the area. Walking down side streets, no two homes are the same and there’s a quirkiness here that’s endearing.

Making my way back to the heart of the village, I stop at Stage Wine Bar for a glass of sauvignon blanc and some coconut curry mussels before heading to the theatre. The award-winning restaurant specializes in tapas-style dinning. As I sip and savour my meal, I can’t wait to return to Fernwood for FernFest June 21-22. The music, arts and community festival is a free, family-friendly event with live music, workshops, a local artisan market, a kid’s zone, heritage walking tours, theatre, magic and much more.

Right after that, on June 23, is Fernwood Bites — a tasting event with the best food and drink Southern Vancouver Island has to offer with samples from more than 30 restaurants, breweries, distilleries, cideries, and wineries. It’s the 10th anniversary for the popular event, which is a fundraiser for the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group.

Walking across the street to the Belfry, I can’t help but smile after a day in this fun and funky neighbourhood.

RELATED: TESS VAN STRAATEN: Marine magic at play in James Bay



editor@mondaymag.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Victoria’s Oktoberfest brings out the Bavarian in all of us

Stein and Dine at Victoria Public Market celebrates German food, beverages, culture on Oct. 19

Restaurant Review: Authentic Mexican molé hits the spot

Restaurante la Tortilla Mexicana’s hearty, spicy sauce works well over enchiladas, writes Allan Reid

REVIEW: Mullins’ Weaksauce hits the mark, like a good hockey pass

UVic Fine Arts alumni and frequent CBC writer’s biographical storytelling show here through Oct. 19

Two local authors walk away with Victoria Book Prize

Kathy Page and Aidan Cassie each walked away with a literary award

Inspirational evening celebrating the power of the arts

The Victoria Guitar Society hosts Syrian Encounter – An Evening with Orontes Quartet, Oct. 18

Fashion Fridays: How to pose in photos

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra launches new season

First up: Celebrating the Concerto on Oct. 27

Trudeau to appear on Jessi Cruickshank’s Facebook Watch show ‘New Mom, Who Dis?’

Federal Liberal leader to do sit-down interview with Canadian media personality on Wednesday

‘Joker’ laughs its way to October box office record

Warner Bros. said “Joker” grossed an estimated $93.5 million in ticket sales from 4,374 screens in North America

Ginger Baker, Cream’s volatile drummer, dies at 80

Baker wielded blues power and jazz technique to help break open popular music in the 1960s

‘Interesting mixture of emotions’: Scott Moir reflects on final tour with Tessa Virtue

Multiple Olympic ice dance gold medallists skating through B.C. during the Rock the Rink tour

It’s onward and upward for Victoria gelato artisan

After winning Gelato Festival gold, Stefano Mosi will compete at North American finals in 2020

Most Read