Kensington comes together iconic inner-city community copes with COVID-19
April 30, 2020
Welcome to Kensington; a historic area with of vibrant shops and local businesses in the heart of northwest Calgary. Kensington is known to most Calgarians as the place to go for an afternoon stroll, a nice meal, and the spot to find unique gifts and experiences any time of the year. It’s reputation as a retail destination is well established, in 2019 Colliers International described Kensington as “always near the top of the list for retailers looking for a streetfront location in Calgary.”
Beyond the appeal as a shopping destination, Kensington is also a core part of the community for residents of Hillhurst and Sunnyside, the nearby residential areas. Hillhurst and Sunnyside combined have a population over nine thousand Calgarians, and that number is growing with new residential projects bringing new condos and townhomes to the community.
Kensington, like all Calgary communities, is facing the economic challenges from the pandemic, but the way Kensington businesses and community members have been pulling together is inspiring, and suggests that this community will come out even stronger.
Over 100 Years Old
In the late 1800s, the area that we now know as Kensington was Thomas and Georgina Riley’s farm. In 1904, their son, Ezra Riley sold a portion of the land to the city to create some of the very first “suburb” neighbourhoods in Calgary. Hillhurst was named after the Riley family farm.
Many historic buildings have been preserved over time, such as the Hayden Block, the Plaza Theater, and the Hillhurst Exchange. The original grid street pattern remains, as well as a couple English-inspired street names; Kensington Road and Gladstone Road. When the Calgary streetcar crossed the Louise bridge in 1911, Tenth Street became a busy commercial area, building the foundation of the business district we know today as Kensington. You wouldn’t guess by looking at it, but the Kensington business district is over 100 years old.
An Ideal Contemporary Community
The Hillhurst-Sunnyside area is Calgary’s posterchild for a modern inner-city community. It’s walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly, perhaps even paddleboard-able community. Here you can live within walking distance of Sunnyside C-Train station, the Bow Pathway system, the Bow River, and Downtown Calgary. Of course, during the pandemic, we cannot gather in our usual community haunts, but soon, the perks of being close to Riley Park, Prince’s Island Park, Downtown Calgary, the Jubilee Auditorium, SAIT, and ACAD will be apparent again.
Another Challenge, Another Opportunity
Spring 2020 has become an unprecedented, challenging time. Like all other Calgarians, Albertans, and Canadians, the Kensington Business district and the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community are abiding by Health Canada protocol and doing what is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 while keeping essential services available. What sets Kensington apart is the incredibly proactive and supportive measures of the business community to keep people fed, happy, and healthy. Many businesses are adapting to shopping online, arranging curbside pickup, and now offering delivery.
Purchase a “Kensington Box” with items curated from 10 local Kensington businesses and 10 percent of sales goes to the Calgary Food Bank, coordinated by The Naked Leaf. Get creative and enter an art contest to win an art table courtesy of Sunnyside Art Supplies, they’ll be exhibiting the entries when it’s safe to gather again. Cuisine et Chateau has adapted their services so you can attend interactive virtual cooking classes at home. Marathon Ethiopian Restaurant has been in the Kensington community for 23 years, and now every Wednesday afternoon they are offering free platters to give back to their community. For more info on these business offerings, visit kensingtonyyc.com.
Annie MacInnis, Executive Director of the Kensington Business Revitalization Zone, explains that Kensington’s long-standing history and tight-knit community has made this area resilient. “Healthy cities evolve and our business districts, like Kensington, are not static. We’ve experienced economic disasters and floods before and with each challenge there are changes, but also opportunities.”
The Kensington business community has worked closely with the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association and the City of Calgary to create a healthy and strong community for years. While Calgary’s current crisis is dire for our economy, one can hope Calgary is perhaps ahead of the curve in formulating a response plan as good working relationships already exist and task forces for economic strategy had been established years ago due to Alberta’s economic downturn.
While recognizing the challenges ahead, MacInnis is cautiously optimistic: “it is heartbreaking to watch Kensington businesses struggle. I hope we are able to save more businesses than we lose with support and collaboration in our community and get through this together with a renewed appreciation for the power of synergy between residents and businesses that make great communities like Kensington.”
Join the Kensington Community
There are three new developments in the Kensington area – one under construction, one in the pre-construction phase, and another for quick possessions.
The Annex by Minto Properties is located on 9A Street NW, offering one and two-bedroom condos. Building occupancy is planned for late 2020. Reach their team at minto.com.
The Theodore by Graywood is offering one, two, and three-bedroom condos on 10th Street at the corner of Gladstone Road. Read more at theodorecondos.com.
Ezra by Birchwood Properties is located next to Riley Park on 5th Ave NW with a variety of one, two and three-bedroom homes. Learn more at ezraonrileypark.com.
About Rachel Feddema
Rachel Feddema is a digital strategist and contributor at NextHome.