Historic Ross Bay Villa in volunteers’ hands

Historic Ross Bay Villa officially belongs to the society dedicated to protect it and manage its operations.

“Relief, gratitude and excitement,” was the response from Simone Vogel-Horridge, president of the Ross Bay Villa Society, after ownership of the property at 1490 Fairfield Rd. passed from the Land Conservancy of B.C. to the society last week. It holds a City of Victoria heritage designation.

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The Land Conservancy sold the villa built in 1865 to the society for the cost of the outstanding mortgage, which was $130,000. This followed months of fundraising by the society, which was determined to hold on to the property.

The society is trying to raise $70,000 to create an endowment fund for the villa. That campaign has been kick-started by local resident Grace Walker, who donated $10,000, said Vogel-Horridge. It is hoped that others will want to match that donation, she said.

Ross Bay Villa volunteers have put in 15 years to meticulously restore the heritage property. The villa was among many to change hands after Victoria-based The Land Conservancy went into creditor protection in 2013 with close to $8 million in debt. Properties have mainly gone to other land trusts and conservation organizations to ensure they are protected.

The Land Conservancy once had 51 properties and now has fewer than 10. It is restructuring its operations to allow it to continue operating on a sound financial footing. It has paid off some of its secured creditors.

It bought the villa in 1999 for $300,000 to protect it from demolition.

Briony Penn, chairwoman of The Land Conservancy’s board, said “satisfying our creditors while balancing our moral obligations to protect properties has been our goal for the last couple of years.”

The Ross Bay Villa Society offers tours on Saturdays at 2 p.m.

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