With all the communities surrounding Calgary’s downtown becoming more gentrified with new condos, offices, restaurants and cafes people often ask me, “where is the next Sunnyside, Bridgeland or Inglewood?”
One community that is not on most people’s radar is Manchester.
Manchester is the no-man’s land between Macleod Trail S.W. and Blackfoot Trail S.E. and from 58th to 34th Ave South. Most Calgarians know it as a hodgepodge of junkyards, railway tracks, lumberyards, automotive shops, small industrial and a few assorted small office buildings. However, for the urban pioneer, there are lots of hidden gems to be discovered.
Backstory: Named after the England’s industrial city, Manchester (in the early 20th century it was common practice to give new Calgary communities that would appeal to British immigrants) it was Calgary’s first industrial district, although it did have some residential development and even its own school until 1973.
Arguably, the first pioneers were Uri Heilik and Rogelio Herrera, who in 2010, opened Alloy Fine Dining in a nondescript building at 220 - 42 Avenue SE. It immediately became one of Calgary’s go-to restaurants for foodies. So much for the adage, “location, location, location.” There are no luxury condos nearby, nor any suits with their expense accounts. Seven years later, Alloy remains one of Calgary’s top restaurants.
Then there’s Christine Klassen who, three years ago, made a bold decision to move her contemporary art gallery from the Beltline’s 11th Avenue Design District to a warehouse space behind an office building at 321 - 50th Avenue SE. While the location is off the beaten path, the industrial chicness gives it a New York or London gallery look/vibe.
“Moving to Manchester allowed us to go form 1,900 to 4,600 square feet. It allowed us to show more artists and to show larger works. The viewing vistas for the artwork is so much better. We love it here and so do our clients.” says Klassen.
She even joked she’d love to see more art-oriented businesses open up so it could become the Manchester Art District – MAD for short.
Indeed, a short drive from Klassen’s takes you to the Alberta Printmaker’s Studio and Gallery at 4025, 4th St. SE. It moved from its Inglewood space to a very fun yellow façade a funky ‘70s warehouse building that looks like a box of Crayola coloured-crayons. The Studio space is perfect for its 60+ members to make their art and a dedicated exhibition space open to the public. They love the location and the fact that right out their back door is Ukrainian Fine Foods.
Klassen’s MAD dream was further enhanced in 2016 when Jarvis Hall Gallery (also a former Beltline gallery) relocated to 333B -6th Ave SE. while not far away from Jarvis Hall is the artisan Banded Peak Brewery (119, 519, 34th Ave S.E.)
We were sampling late on a Saturday afternoon and the tasting tables were full with people of all ages. We were told several other small breweries will be opening nearby in the next year.
Baker, Butcher, Bootmaker?
While several of Calgary’s younger entrepreneurs are transforming Manchester from a dusty industrial district to fun, funky and quirky quarter, there are still a few old timers.
The Calgary Italian Bakery, founded by Luigi and Myrl Bontorin in 1962, and one of the largest independent bakeries in Western Canada, has called Manchester home for 20+ years. There is a popular small deli on site where you can get a fresh and very tasty, made-to-order classic sandwich. (Hot tip: if you go late on a Saturday afternoon there are some good deals to be had for a buck or less.)
Eric Day not only has rented space in Manchester for his Indulge Catering Kitchen for years, but recently also opened up Urban Grub in the old Sidewalk Citizen space (which moved to East Village’s Simmons Building) offering meals to go.
Manchester is also home to several large corporate buildings. CANA, one of Calgary’s oldest companies, has its funky bright yellow trimmed office building just off 58th Ave, while ENMAX’s sprawling head office building is on 50th Ave. Safeway has a 256,000 square foot cold storage facility for meat and produce.
And tucked away out of sight at 5340- 1st St SW is the contemporary Southern Alberta Eye Centre building.
Alberta Boot established in 1978 also calls Manchester home. After 30 years in its Beltline location, it moved to #50, 50th Ave SE. If you haven’t visited yet, it is a truly hidden gem - part factory, part showroom and part museum. It is a great place to bring visiting family and friends.
Did you know they not only make custom boots but also funky men and women’s shoes?
Opps We Got The Wrong Name?
Manchester is also home for 1,332 Calgarians of which a whopping 23% (three times the City’s average) are under the age of 4. There is a cluster of high-rise apartments near Macleod Trail and 58th Ave, as well as some old cottage homes, many of which have become small cottage businesses.
A huge opportunity for larger scale Transit Oriented Development (TOD) exists next to the 39th Avenue LRT Station, which has to be the most, unfriendly LRT station in North America. It is almost as if Calgary Transit forgot it is even there. In fact, it was originally called the 42nd Avenue Station even though it is located at 39th St.
However, it is on the City’s radar and is currently being analyzed to determine how best to capitalize on the opportunity.
“Manchester feeds Calgary through its network of warehouses, industrial bakeries, food equipment shops, coffee roasters and some nice restaurant finds such as Alloy and Black Apron, in addition to being home to the Calgary Food Bank” says John Gilchrist, Calgary restaurant critic and food writer.
In some ways, you could call Manchester “the new Beltline”, given all of the businesses that have relocated from the Beltline to Manchester. While Manchester might have a Walk Score near zero today, in the future it could become a thriving integrated and diverse retail, restaurant, residential and commercial community.
Could become Calgary’s equivalent of New York City’s Meatpacking District or San Fran’s Tenderloin District.
It might even become The Bakery District given it is home to the Calgary Italian Bakery, as well as Safeway and Weston’s bakeries, and numerous commercial kitchens.
Perhaps not in my lifetime!
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