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Century-old Victoria inn to get energy-efficiency makeover

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"There have been a lot of different things in this building, from a guitar shop, to a laundromat, to a dentist's office to a plumbing business," says Mike Colwill, General Manager of the Fernwood Inn in Victoria. "And for about 25 years now, it's been set up as a restaurant."

The Inn is the winner of this year's Energy Fix contest, which means it will receive an "energy makeover" of up to $35,000 from BC Hydro.

Colwill says the 100-year-old building, which houses 10 residential suites in addition to the 4,800 square foot restaurant, offers plenty of opportunities for efficiency.

"Since we bought it four years ago, we've been focusing money on essential renovations – we replaced the roof, renovated kitchens, fixed leaks and so on," he says. "We've gone for energy efficient options where possible – like when we upgraded our lighting – but green renovations were the next thing for us."

The owners' intentions got a boost earlier this year when they got a visit from a carrot mob – a group of people who offer to bring a wave of patrons to a business in return for green commitments – organized through the University of Victoria.

"They all came down and ate and spent a bunch of money one day, and we pledged to spend the net sales on green renovations," says Colwill. "It was super exciting; the event went over really well. We raised $8,000 in sales, and matched it to a total of $16,000.

"And through that journey of looking at how to spend the money on green renovations, we kind of stumbled upon this BC Hydro contest."

Colwill credits his late father, Roger Colwill, with helping instill a green ethic at the Fernwood Inn. The founder of Victoria's Green Drinks network (a regular environmental get-together), Colwill was a passionate advocate for the environment. He also helped the group of owners put together their deal to buy the Fernwood Inn.

"We are a group of younger people that own the business and the building," says Colwill. "We've always been focused on energy efficiency and being as green as possible; we're tied quite tightly into the Green Drinks network. So for us, this direction is the socially responsible decision."

The Fernwood Inn was selected as one of three Energy Fix finalists by BC Hydro, along with Oak Bay Dental Clinic in Victoria and Super Suds Laundromat in Quesnel. The final winner was decided by members of the public through online voting in May, which helped spread the word about efficiency and built community spirit around the businesses vying for the makeover.

When the voting closed, the Fernwood emerged as the winner.

"We were ecstatic, it was great," says Colwill. "It's been such a cool ride through the whole thing in that so many different people have been involved. We've got regulars here who were pushing big [voting] campaigns through their offices and through their networks. They were really excited for us." (To recognize their efforts, the contest runners-up will also receive some BC Hydro support.)

So where will the Fernwood focus its energy efficiency upgrades?

"We don't know yet; we're really looking forward to getting some expert advice," says Colwill. "But the financial support is very helpful, it's a huge positive for us since it's been tough times in the restaurant industry. And we'll be able to reap the rewards of savings down the line too."

  • Read more about the Energy Fix.
  • Check out our energy-efficiency incentives.