Thriving community of Sunnyside is beloved by residents and developers alike
A community with an undeniable entrepreneurial and artistic character, Sunnyside is a place where anything can happen, and often does. Together with its western neighbour, Hillhurst, it makes up the funky, inner-city village known as Kensington, with its inspired restaurants and popular watering holes.
Events like the annual summer-time favourite Harry Potter Festival frequently transform the streets. During the Harry Potter Festival, muggles and wizards alike can try on a wand for size or flip through a “Marauder’s Map” at Flourish & Blotts (the one-day only rebrand of Pages Bookstore), have tea leaves read, or scoot across town by departing from platform nine and three-quarters at the Sunnyside CTrain station.
“The first year we had it, we closed down all of the streets – it really got the community and the business owners engaged,” said Robert McKercher, vice-chair of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association. “It was a concept that was really organically driven.”
McKercher has lived in the area for nearly 12 years, and over that time, he has seen it evolve considerably, with new infills replacing century-old homes and a flurry of condo development bringing a young and eclectic crowd to the neighbourhood.
“It’s a very welcoming community. People talk to their neighbours, they are out on the streets all the time and it’s so walkable,” he said. “Plus, it’s a really great mix of new residents, who bring fresh ideas and energy, and long-term residents, who have the history.”
Long-term resident Sandra Walker has also witnessed changes to the housing landscape in the community. “These wonderful little bungalows are being taken down and replaced with five-floor condo buildings,” she said, adding that the increased density is exacerbating infrastructure challenges that already existed in the area.
However, the elements that have attracted a slew of developers to the area are the same reasons that Walker loves her community. “There are lots of parks and green spaces, and we are in close proximity to everything, including the LRT,” she said. “I walk to my dentist, to my hairdresser and to all of the shops and restaurants in Kensington. I can even walk downtown.”
As for shopping, the local Safeway provides all the staples, but on Wednesdays, a year-round farmers market spearheaded by the community association offers fresh produce, meats, crafts and baked goods from close to 35 vendors in the summer and 20 in the winter, when the market retreats indoors.
“It’s a really great mix of new residents, who bring fresh ideas and energy, and long-term residents, who have the history.” – Robert McKercher, Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association vice-chair
“It’s a great gathering point for people to come together once a week,” said McKercher. “There are food trucks and bands and you can support local farmers and get great, healthy food.”
The market is part of a broader food initiative known as the Fresh Food Basket – a program that targets community members who have trouble accessing healthy food. It’s a drop-in program that distributes fresh produce to approximately 70 community households every week.
Also, thanks to a provincial government grant and inclusion in a pilot program, the daycare program run out of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association can now offer child care for $25 per day. “Our goal was to make it more accessible for local community residents,” said McKercher, adding that the program is now run internally, rather than contracted out.
As one of Calgary’s oldest communities – it was settled in the 1880s and incorporated into the city in 1904 – Sunnyside showcases a blend of architectural designs, from 150-year-old cottages to modern infills, walk-up apartments and modern, mid-rise condo towers with rooftop decks.
McKercher says it’s challenging to unpack how the changing housing landscape is affecting the community.
“I think everyone is really feeling their way in terms of how it develops,” he said. “We have seen tons of unique specialty stores, new bars, restaurants and coffee shops – Kensington can’t be that hippy community from the ’70s forever. It has to evolve as well.”