Calgary's Newest Urban Village?

BH wrote:

Richard. I’m pleased to see that someone is interested in and writing about urban villages. They do contribute to the quality of life at the neighborhood or community scale. Yet so  much of planning is focused on other  issues , residential land uses, parking, density, development charges, growth management etc. I’m not sure planners or developers  really understand what makes an urban village successful. While planners and architects  may have drawn some pretty pictures of streetscapes, they have not really studied how urban villages developed, and how they survive.

The City of Victoria has some excellent examples of urban villages, particularly in the older areas-Cook Street, Oak Bay Village, James Bay, Cadboro Bay Village, as well as locations for big box retail in the Greater Victoria area. The ingredients are small scale, service businesses-usually a restaurant or pub, coffee shop, food and flowers, bank, pharmacy, wine store, etc. Contrary to popular belief, while they are surrounded by residential development it is not high density. Indeed the infrastructure required for high density development-major streets, parking structures, security etc, would probably overwhelm their profile , compromise their image, and frustrate their success. The City of Victoria Official Community Plan has a focus on encouraging and supporting urban villages and town centers. (Growth Management is not a major concern for the city).

The blog originally appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours publication on August 29, 2013 as part of a series of community profiles.  Some of the text has been changed and additional images have been added. 

I’m guessing you don’t know where Shouldice Terrace is; I didn’t - until I did some digging into the history of Montgomery and uncovered that that was Montgomery’s original name.  The “Terrace” part of the name makes sense given the entire community is built on the south facing Bow River escarpment.  The gradual slope offers almost everyone in the community a view of the majestic Douglas fir tree forest (the most eastern stand in Canada, with some being over 400 years old) on the other side of the Bow.

The “Shouldice” part comes from James Shouldice who purchased 470 acres west of the Calgary city limits in 1906 so he could farm. After farming he land until his death in 1925, the land was slowly developed as its own town. Fifteen years before he died, he donated 100 acres along the Bow River for a park (land today that would be worth multi-millions of dollars for condo development), obviously thinking that someday Calgary would grow and need more park space. 

A view from the north side of Montgomery looking across to the stand of Douglas Fir trees.  

Montgomery's Main Street with new condo development, just one of the many new infill projects that will transform this community into an attractive inner-city urban village. 

But why the name change to Montgomery? In 1943, the post office had an issue with the name as there was also a town in Alberta called Shouldice (it still exists today, as a hamlet about 85 km SE of Calgary). They requested a name change to prevent confusion.  Montgomery was subsequently chosen to celebrate Bernard Law Montgomery of Alamein a celebrated Great Britain military leader who played an important role in WWI and WWII.  Montgomery annexed into the City of Calgary in 1963, is celebrating its 50 anniversary this year.

Today, Montgomery’s boundaries are Shaganappi Trail to the east; 32nd Avenue and Market Mall to the north and Bow River to the south and west.  Like many older inner city communities, it has seen its ups and downs, but today it is on an up swing! It is one of the city’s top 10 infill communities with numerous new houses and condos being built.  It is also home to Calgary’s newest Business Revitalization Zone, an indication that local businesses are working together to create a sense of place and a brand for the community.  Montgomery’s population rose to 3,860 people in 2012, a 4.7% increase compared to 2011, an increase twice the city’s average. A very healthy sign!

Montgomery's new town square.  It is a modest beginning, but this space could become a wonderful pocket park. 

Shouldice Athletic Park consists of several football, soccer and baseball fields.  It is used by people from across the city. 

Montgomery is the gateway into Calgary as you drive in from the west on the TransCanada Highway. It is here you see the funky Alberta Children’s Hospital on the bluff, the cluster of new buildings at Foothills Medical Centre and your first good look at downtown’s shiny skyline.  It is not surprising then that Montgomery has its own motel village along the TransCanada highway, as mid-century travellers would have been looking for a place to stay as soon as they entered the city.

Montgomery has some of the best recreation facilities of any community in the city with Shouldice Park offering football, baseball and soccer fields, a batting cage, tennis courts, indoor pool and a wonderful picnic area on the Bow River.  It also has its own shopping center anchored by a Safeway grocery store – Bridgeland, Inglewood and East Village can’t match that.  And then there is Market Mall, its neighbour to the north.  From a shopper’s perspective, it doesn’t get much better. From an employment perspective Montgomertonians can walk, cycle or drive in minutes to two hospital complexes, the University of Calgary and downtown.

Looking at the community’s demographic it’s clear to see Montgomery is in transition.  Seniors over 75 make up 11.2 percent of the population, almost 3 times the city average of 4.3%; this it the result of several seniors’ lodges in the community.  At the same time, 26.7% of the population is between 20 and 34 years old (vs. Calgary’s 24% average). This is a very healthy sign as they are the one’s who will give the community the energy and investment needed to transform it into a 21st century urban village.  

Notable is one of Calgary's premier restaurants and the fact that it is located on Montgomery's Main Street is a testimony that the community is becoming more trendy. 

This is Montgomery's Safeway mall, but I decided to use this image as it speaks to the smaller mom and pop shops that are indicative of an urban village i.e. a sushi bar, liquor store, Donair shop, Loonie Store and Massage Therapy.  Around the corner is a Vietnamese Sub shop and hair salon. The mall also has the neighbourhood pub.  

One of the young newcomers to Montgomery is Kristina Groves, former Olympic speedskating medalist and now a University of Calgary grad student who, is in the process of building a small, affordable, sustainable home on a “tear down” lot she purchased.  “I love the charm and character of the community. It has history, is affordable and is located close to both the Oval and Canada Olympic Park,” exclaims Groves.  She also notes that several other current and former Olympians are living in Montgomery.  Hmmm….maybe the name should be changed to “Olympic Village?”

Montgomery, like Bowness has its own Main Street, currently experiencing signs of beautification with new banners, a pocket park and the recently completed four-storey condo building with retail at the street. Montgomery is home to over 100 businesses including its own lumberyard (Timbertown), its own boat dealer (Hyperactive Watersports – what a great name – in 2010 it was the largest Tige Boat dealer on the planet) and one of Calgary’s top restaurants (Notable).

Montgomery has all of the ingredients to become one of the city’s top ten inner-city communities in the not too distant future.  



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