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Fairfield-Gonzales: sixth in a series about Victoria's neighbourhoods

When Lisa Pasolli first ventured into the basement of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Place, she was greeted with boxes of unorganized letters, photos and other documents.

When Lisa Pasolli first ventured into the basement of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Place, she was greeted with boxes of unorganized letters, photos and other documents.

Most people would have backed away slowly, but this PhD history student saw it as a volunteer project fitting nicely with her career path.

“It was a treasure trove of information about the neighbourhood … but there was no way for people  to use it,” she said.

She and two others got to work, sorting, researching and interviewing old timers with the help of a grant from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Among their discoveries was a mystery photo of kids at a rally. Cross referencing old newspaper articles, and other documentation, Pasolli helped piece the puzzle together. The year was 1975, and the event was a memorial to the houses being destroyed to make way for apartment buildings surrounding Cook Street.

Like at a true memorial, “they read out the addresses really solemnly,” Pasolli said.

It was the issue that galvanized a movement of “urban gorillas” dedicated to heritage preservation, who eventually formed the Fairfield Community Association, explained Joan Kotarski, executive director of the association (which has since expanded to include Gonzales) since 1996.

“It’s come full circle,” said Kotarski. “Now we’re back to trying to save the apartments that are on Cook Street as affordable rental.”

Rising property values have resulted in development pressure along the popular shopping district.

They’ve also resulted in a slew of legal and illegal secondary suites throughout the neighbourhood.

It’s witnessed by the number of cars parked on the street, said association president Michael Masson. “When we bought our house 18 years ago, it’s (since) tripled,” he added.

Another issue raising eyebrows is the garden suite. While only two applications have come through City Hall, Fairfield’s land-use committee has heard three in row, gathering mixed reaction from neighbours.

Fairfield is characterized by large character homes.

At one time, many residential yards boasted large fruit and vegetable gardens rather than decorative plants.

“The Moss Street Market … was started by one of our board members years ago as a place for people in Fairfield who used to have big gardens in their yards to share their produce,” said Kotarski.

Gradually, farmers and other food vendors took over, creating a market with city-wide appeal.

These days, there is a new movement afoot by residents to return to their gardening roots in the form of a community garden at Robert Porter Park. Almost two years after its proposal, however, controversy is blocking its progress.

“It’s about change,” said Masson, explaining the opposition. “A lot of people use that area to walk their dogs and they think that will be more difficult for them to do.”

The garden is on the back burner for now, but not dead.

“The notion of it is just a good idea,” Masson said. “It’s not using the entire area, and we’re thinking multiple uses are better than one.”

Mark your calendar

Fall Fairfield takes place Saturday, Sept. 24 at Robert Porter Park, 1330 Fairfield Rd. from 1 to 4 p.m. Come for live music, cider tasting, saori weaving, storytellers, and a photo-archive display. Help identify the people and places in the photos on display. Also on Oct. 6, learn the history of the Chinese Market Gardens in South Fairfield.

Did you know?

The well-used Fairfield Gonzales Community Place just got bigger with the September completion of its new youth space.

“We used to have an illegal space there,” said Fairfield Gonzales Community Association executive director, Joan Kotarski.

The discovery of mould, however, turned into a lucky break.

The city, which owns the building, repaired it and the association chipped in extra funds to upgrade the space to meet the requirements for assembly. The $50,000 contribution provides a space for couches, games and other activities.

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