In the Spring of 2004, when the Cornerstone Building (on the corner of Fernwood Road and Gladstone Avenue) was a boarded-up eyesore, we held an open-space visioning forum at the Fernwood Community Centre. The Visioning Forum was the first instance of our neighbourhood working together to co-create the future of Fernwood. We discussed the major challenges confronting the neighbourhood, and called for suggestions on what it would take to resolve them.
Examples of the issues the neighbourhood identified at that time, included:
- The condemned building in the heart of the square.
- Few locally owned businesses.
- No community café or meeting space.
- Fernwood Square was unwelcoming and not well lit.
- A lack of performance space for local artists.
The Visioning Forum defined the neighbourhood’s concerns, but we knew that we would need to become a different kind of organization in order to really make change for Fernwood. In the Spring of 2005, we drafted our Declaration of Principles and Values which has guided us in our work ever since. Key among these principles was that we become more financially self-reliant, so that we could direct our resources where we thought they would make the biggest difference.
In August 2005, we quietly purchased the Cornerstone Building, and with the help of neighbourhood residents, supporters, and funders, began renovating the retail spaces and apartments above. Fourteen months later, we held the grand opening of the Cornerstone Apartments, which provides affordable housing to 4 families and brought children and families back to the heart of the neighbourhood.
Two months later, we opened the Cornerstone Cafe, Fernwood’s living room—with live performances by local artists, providing employment for residents, and creating an environment where every member of our diverse neighbourhood is welcome. Over the next months, two very successful commercial tenants moved into the building: Stage, an award-winning restaurant and wine bar, and the Collective Works Artists’ Gallery.
By the middle of 2007, most organizations would have been ready for a well-deserved break. But it was not to be—an opportunity arose for us to purchase two vacant lots on Yukon Street and we once again rose to the challenge. Over the first six months of 2008, and with generous support from our funders, we built a beautiful house on Yukon Street, the Park Place Apartments, creating affordable housing for six more families.
The global financial crisis in the fall of 2008 changed the picture locally, and funding for housing projects dried up. We spent much of 2009 focusing on our internal operations as our organization had doubled in size since 2004. In 2010, we finished the development of the Cornerstone Building and moved our Outreach Office to 1313 Gladstone Avenue.
In March 2011, we held our second Neighbourhood Visioning Forum. Over 120 people came out and shared their hopes and dreams for the future of the neighbourhood. Our Board is working now on creating a Strategic Plan which will identify key opportunities for the Fernwood and Fernwood NRG over the coming years.
Our work is far from over. We could not have achieved what we have without our funders, supporters, and friends. Please consider making a donation, and you can help us create the neighbourhood we all wish we had grown up in.