Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Richard White, July 19, 2014

With summer officially here, it is a great time to get out and enjoy the city’s great urban outdoors.  One of Calgary’s summer highlights is Kensington’s “Sun and Salsa” festival, Sunday July 20th from 11 am to 5 pm.  Organized by the Kensington BRZ since 1986 this event attracts up to 100,000 people for the fun, festivities and tastings. However, Kensington Village is a fun place to shop or meet friends for coffee, lunch or dinner anytime of the year.

For Calgary newcomers, and those who haven’t been to Kensington in awhile here’s the lowdown on Kensington Village.  First off the boundaries are 10th Street NW from the Bow River to 5th Avenue and Kensington Road from 10th Street to 14th Avenue and a few commercial blocks adjacent to 10th Street and Kensington Road.

One of the things that makes Kensington unique is that it has its own cinema. The Plaza Theatre was built in 1929 as a garage, but in 1935 it was converted to a movie house (Calgary’s third). In 1947, it began experimenting with foreign and art films, becoming an art house cinema in 1977. It has been the home of Calgary’s film community ever since.

Plaza Theatre is home to Calgary's film community.

Kensington Pub is Calgary’s quintessential neighbourhood pub. Situated on 10A Street just off Kensington Road, it is actually two buildings – a 1911 brick bungalow and a 1912 duplex.  It became a pub in 1982 and has been popular watering hole ever since.

Long before Starbucks or Phil & Sebastian’s, there was Higher Ground and the Roasterie.  I remember when I first came to Calgary back in 1981 the pungent smell of freshly roasted coffee was synonymous with walking along 10th Street.

Today, the Roasterie’s mini-plaza on 10th Street is always (yes, even in the winter as it faces west so gets lots of sun) animated.  It is a great public space that works (because there are several small shops facing onto the plaza) without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on decoration and public art.  Could it be that smaller is better?

Kensington's 10th Street Plaza next to Roasterie is a popular busking spot.

Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

With 270 businesses, Kensington Village has something for everyone’s taste.  Naked Leaf Tea shop offers artisan teas, as well as beautiful teapots and cups. Smitten, Kismet and Purr are just three of several women’s fashion boutiques.  There are also several great furniture shops like Cushy Life, Kilian and Metro Element.

Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Every urban village needs a shoe repair store. Alpine Shoe Service has been around for over 30 years.  Their "Thought of the Day" is both fun and thought provoking. 

Kensington BRZ is a leader in innovation. Here street parking has been converted into a sidewalk to allow for a patio next to The Yardhouse.  It is also home to a container bar located in a side alley. 

Kensington's Container Bar located in an alley between two buildings has been an instant hit. 

The 10th Street and 4th Avenue foodie corner has its own ambience with Safeway, Sunnyside Market, Sidewalk Citizen and Second Cup.  There is also what I call the Parisian block (1200 block of Kensington Road) where pedestrians will find the paring of Kensington Wine Market (great Saturday afternoon wine tastings) and Peasant Cheese.

No village would be complete without a good bookstore. Pages is one of Canada’s leading bookseller with over 10,000 titles in stock and one of the best author reading programs - everyone from David Suzuki to Stuart McLean. Pages is located in a 1947 building that was the City of Calgary’s first branch library.

And, no visit to Kensington Village would be complete without a visit to Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys where reproductions of classic retro toys amuse both young and old. The place is more like an art museum than a store, which is not surprising given one of the owners is the CEO of the Glenbow Museum.

Livingstone & Cavell is fun for everyone.

Kensington’s hidden gem is the Kensington Riverside Inn which is actually on Memorial Drive.  Not only is it a great place for a weekend getaway, but its Chef’s Table restaurant is one of the city’s best restaurants – a great spot for a staycation.

Kensington Riverside Inn

Last word

What makes Kensington Village a fun place to explore is the eclectic mix of students (Alberta College of Art and SAIT), yuppies and empty nesters who all mix and mingle. The sidewalks are like a ballet with pedestrians, bikes and strollers “dancing” their way from place to place. Great urban villages attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

With 16 new developments on the drawing board, creating 1,000+ new homes - Kensington is one of North America’s healthiest urban villages.

St Johns on 10th is just one of several new mid-rise condos recently completed, under construction or planned.