Fairbridge has a fascinating history dating from 1862 when the land was first settled by James Mearns. Over the next decades he began cutting down the well established forest land, including very large first growth Douglas fir trees, on the bench land above the Koksilah River and Kelvin Creek. Over the years it became one of the premier farms of the Cowichan Valley on southern Vancouver Island.
In approximately 1910 Frederick B. Pemberton, a Victoria business and land developer acquired the property then bought adjacent farm land and by 1934 Pemberlea Farm, as it was now called, totalled 416 hectares (1028 acres).
On January 1st, 1935 the Child Emigration Society of London, England purchased the farm and established the first Fairbridge Farm School in Canada. The farm school operated until approximately 1950 at which time it was closed due to the lack of sufficient funds to maintain the large property and bring young children from Britain. Between 1950 and 1974 the residences within the home site were mainly rented to emigrant families from the British Isles while the farm itself was leased.
Today the farm is called Meadow Green Farm owned by the Vanden Dungen family, who run a large dairy operation while the home site has become a residential strata community consisting of 39 homes. The heritage site, while not part of the strata, is within this area adjacent Fairbridge Drive.
As mentioned above the farm was bought by the Child Emigration Society (soon to be called the Fairbridge Society) in at the beginning of 1935 and established the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. Over the next few years the home site was developed and included a number of residents for the children, a large school, dining hall, library, hospital and many other buildings including the Fairbridge Chapel. The first party of 27 boys and 14 girls arrived from Britain on September 25th 1935 with the last party of six arriving on May 25th, 1948. Over this period of time 329 children came to Fairbridge and made it their home.
During the16 years the farm school existed there were hundreds of visitors from across Canada, Australia, and United States, and of course the British Isles. Many were very interested in the work of the Fairbridge Society and supported this farm school, and others established in Australia, that followed the principles established by Kingsley Fairbridge.
One such person was Major J.H. Feilden. He came from England to British Columbia in the summer of British Columbia in the summer of 1938 and visiting Fairbridge asked the school principal, Col. Harry Logan, what he needed next now that the farm school had sufficient cottages. he was told that they needed a chapel. Returning to the Empress Hotel in Victoria, where he as staying, Major Feilden wrote Col. Logan on September 4th;
“Enclosed is what I said I would send you. First, let me thank you for
a very pleasant, interesting, and constructive afternoon which gave me a
great insight to the splendid work you are doing not only for these little
children, but for the Empire…
On September 6th, after receiving the letter and a cheque for $20,000, Col Logan wrote the following;
“Major J.H. Feilden,
Empress Hotel, Victoria, B.C.
Dear Major Feilden:
It is not easy to find words to express my feelings of gratitude to you for the
wonderful gift you have made to this Farm School. Very many thanks also
for the fine letter which accompanied your gift. The chapel which will rise
here will be a permanent reminder of the unselfish spirit of helpfulness
occasioning your gift, and the service of our Chapel will perpetuate in the
lives of our children and staff from day to day the underlying spiritual truths
which form the basis of all our Fairbridge work. I earnestly hope that our
Fairbridge work, which is new in Canada, and which still has to be under-
stood by the great majority of our people, may measure up in some degree
to the high expectations which you have formed of it, and that we who are
engaged in this work may merit the extraordinary confidence which you
have shown in what we are doing.
Again thanking you,
Col. Harry Logan,
Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School.”
During the spring and summer of 1939 the land was cleared of trees and chapel construction began. Ross A. Lort, a prominent Vancouver architect, who had designed most of the other buildings at the farm school, prepared the plans and submitted them to the Fairbridge Society who in turn had the Chief Architect for the British Commonwealth Sir Herbert Baker, review the. He added the “apsidal sanctuary” as well as clerestory windows which would add light to the interior and reveal the beauty of the timber construction of the nave roof.
On September 22nd, 1939 British Columbia’s Lieutenant-Governor, the honourable Eric W. Hamber laid the foundation stone. The first service in the new Chapel was held on Sunday, March 3rd, 1940 with the official dedication taking place on April 20th.
Even though the Fairbridge Society Annual Reports repeatedly mentioned that the Prince of Wales Farm School was closed—only temporarily—it never opened again.
Between 1949 and 1952 the remaining children gradually left the farm school and boarded with families throughout southern Vancouver Island. At the same time starting in 1950 families from the British Isles began to rent the various cottages until either finding local employment—often with a logging or sawmill firm—or were able to purchase farm land, mainly on the Island.
Meanwhile the Fairbridge Chapel as well as the rest of the buildings within the home site were being maintained by Mr. and Mrs. Morley Bulcock. The wonderful Harrison & Harrison organ, now in Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, was still in the Chapel and thus at least a minimum amount of head had to be maintained throughout the colder part of the year to preserve this valuable asset.
In 1973 the Society finally made the decision to put the home site up for sale. This 30.2 (75 acre) parcel included all the buildings on the east side of Koksilah Road. After much negotiation between the new owners, Bellamy Properties of Victoria and the local government it was decided the 30.2 hectare (75 acre) home site would only contain a total of 39 single family residences, many which were the original cottages. Furthermore, in 1977, the Fairbridge Chapel and the original Cowichan Public School built in 1885 were deeded to the Cowichan Valley Regional District. The school building was then moved to the small heritage site within the community. On May 27th 1981 the Regional District designated the land and buildings an historic site under the British Columbia Heritage Conservation Act and was then included in the provincial registry of historic sites. In the fall of 1988 the heritage site was given to the Fairbridge Chapel Heritage Society to manage.