Spruce Cliff: A hidden gem

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours on March 27, 2014. 

By Richard White, May 3, 2014

As an avid off-the-beaten path shopper, I recently discovered the community of Spruce Cliff when I went there to check out Louche Milieu, a mid century modern shop located in the Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre.   The “shopping centre” name is a bit deceiving as it is just a single row of six or seven small retail shops. But sometimes you find the most interesting things in small out-of-the-way places. 

Louche Milieu was definitely worth the trip. It was full of vintage furniture and home accessories, all in great shape and nicely displayed.  We also enjoyed a coffee and homemade muffin at the cute Little Monday café that had just opened.   There was something refreshing and authentic to this vintage ‘50s shopping centre with its locally owned and operated shops, something missing from the big box franchised power centres.

If you blink, you would miss Spruce Cliff. Driving along Bow Trail just west of the Shaganappi Golf course, it parallels Bow Trail for only five blocks – 33rd to 38th St SW.  Its boundaries are Bow Trail on the south, Bow River on the north, 38th street to the west and Shaganappi Golf Course on the east.  Though the land was annexed by the city of Calgary in 1910, it wasn’t developed until the ‘50s.

What intrigued me as I entered the community along Spruce Drive SW, was the dichotomy of the many small mid 20th century apartment complexes with the large 21st century Westgate Park and Copperwood condo projects. It was as if two worlds were colliding.  Coincidently, a few days later I was reading Robert M. Stamp’s book “Suburban Modern” where he documents postwar dreams in Calgary and there is a section on the “Spruce Cliff Apartments.”  They were a $7 million, social-housing project designed by Rule, Wynn & Rule that are “sensitively distributed across the site, establishing a park-like setting (32 buildings over a 50-acre site) and offering remarkable views of the city skyline.” 

Driving around the community there was a conspicuous absence of single-family homes.  Indeed, Spruce Cliff’s housing mix is different from most Calgary communities with 65% of its housing stock being apartments, (city average 27%) and only 42% of the homes are owner-occupied (city average 73%).  A check of the community’s demographics and you find Spruce Cliff is a haven for young single Calgarians - 37% of the population are 25 to 34 year of age and 71% live alone.

It is not surprising Spruce Cliff is attractive to young professionals (31% have a university degree vs city average of 25%) given you can walk/cycle to downtown or catch the LRT train at the nearby Westbrook Station.  In addition, there are few places in Calgary where you can walk to a golf course for a round of golf in the summer or some cross-country skiing in the winter. You also have easy access to Edworthy Park and the Douglas Fir Trail for hiking and more biking.  

Spruce Cliff has been home to the Wildflower Arts Centre for over 30 years, offering classes to everyone from preschoolers to seniors.  Recently they offered a “Famous Artist” series of lectures covering everything from the Group of Seven to Matisse.  In addition there are pottery, painting and drawing classes, making it a fun place to discover your inner artist.

Spruce Cliff is also home to Calgary’s annual Greek Festival at the Hellenic Community Centre; this year’s festival happens from June 20 to 24.  Calgary’s Hellenic Orthodox Community was formed in 1957 and the St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church was built two years later. It has since been joined by the St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church and the Church of Shepard, creating a church campus in the middle of the community.  If you have always wanted to go to Greece but haven’t yet made it, head to Spruce Cliff for this year’s festival.  

Like many of Calgary’s inner city communities, Spruce Cliff is about to be transformed from a low-density ‘50s residential community into a early 21st century mixed-use community.  The most obvious evidence of this change is Intergulf-Cidex’s three high-rise towers right on Bow Trail at Spruce Dr. SW.  Westgate Park added not only 480 high-end condos, but started to create the link between Spruce Cliff and the planned Westbrook LRT Station transit-oriented urban village.

Similarly, the new Copperwood condos along Hemlock Crescent added 517 units in several buildings, each with spectacular views of downtown, Bow River valley and the mountains.  These two developments alone have attracted over 1,500 affluent new young professionals and empty nesters to Spruce Cliff, who no doubt will germinate other new developments like Louche Milieu and Little Monday café.   

Spruce Cliff is yet another example of how Calgary’s inner city communities are successfully being transformed into active, attractive, diverse and denser 21st century neighbourhoods. 

St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church

Little Monday Cafe

Louche Milieu

Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre

Westgate condos

Wildflower Arts Centre

Shaganappi Golf Course