How one inner neighbourhood spreads its heartbeat to surrounding areas

A hubbub of shoppers haggle for deals on yellowed books, vinyl LPs with faded covers and holiday ornaments from Christmases past.

From somewhere a familiar voice sings the blues from Folsom Prison. Food is served at the cafeteria — homemade lasagna and fresh baklava. Cheap entertainment resides on a five-by-two-foot table in the form of DVDs and CDs displayed in a collage of Hollywood and music.

The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association by provides a self-contained economy within the sister neighbourhoods. The benefits stretch beyond the community centre to orchards and community gardens, an outdoor pool and activities for low-income families.
Photo by: Laura Lushington
This is the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Centre and it provides the ideal place for people to sell old goods and trinkets that are potential treasures.

Every Sunday of the month, motorists circle slowly like condors in front of the community centre with its gym filled with row upon row of tables for a flea market.

Asher Mysyk, 20, has frequented the flea market for the better part of five years and said there is variety and eclecticism in the vendors.

“Every week is different,” he said. “There is something new every week that wasn’t there the week before. All these folks have garages full of stuff that they’re trying to get rid of. It’s just nice to go and see the new old stuff they have every Sunday.”

However, the rewards don’t stop at the flea market.

The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association has been the beating heart of the neighbouring communities for the past 64 years. With help from contributing residents in the sister communities, the association has created an entire neighbourhood for young eclectic artists and community-oriented individuals of all ages.

The association’s executive director, Quentin Sinclair, attributes the tightness of the community to the proximity of trendy bars and independent restaurants.

“This is a community that very much likes to walk to local events and keep things tight-knit,” Sinclair said. “The local culture of having a close community bleeds through in everything the association does.”

Mysyk said he believes the uniqueness of the flea market and the activities the association provides reach ever further than the Hillhurst Sunnyside area.

“I think it’s a great thing for the community and beyond,” he said. “It pulls me all the way from Bankview, so it reaches further than the community itself. It’s something that can attract anyone in the city.”

In addition to its year-round flea market, the community centre provides a farmers market between May and October. The market provides residents with local food and drink that includes honey products from the Okotoks-based Chinook Honey Company and organic foods from the Thompson Small Farm in Sundre.

“The farmers market has created a community around food,” Sinclair said. “But the feedback that I get is a lot of people who live around the area don’t come just for the food. They come to see other people in the community and catch up with friends.”Vendors at the Sunday flea market at the Hillhurst Sunnyside community Center provide an array of trinkets and toys for everyone.
Photo by: Guillermo Barraza

During the summer months, the farmers market is electric with action. The parking lot smells of fresh-popped kettle-corn and merchants pedal vegetables, meats, handmade soaps and wines from under parasols with friendly smiles.

Tim Kitchen, chairman of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association board, said the programs are organized and funded by the community and have created a self-contained economy.

“A number of vendors within the flea market have been there for 10-plus years,” Kitchen said. “Not only is it part of their social group but they are all entrepreneurs in a way, supplementing their income with what they sell.

“We have taken that model into the farmers market with more entrepreneurs who are selling into the local economy.”

Kitchen says that this economic system that has been created is part of the essence of the community.

“One thing we are good at is manning the centre’s operations from our internal revenues and some grants,” Sinclair said. “But we don’t have to chase after a grant every year to pay for a program.”

Although the association still depends on the city for grants to fund big building projects, it has found a way to keep itself self-sufficient.

Money raised from people in the community is used to provide amenities for area residents. People engage in sports, entertain themselves with art classes or learn to stretch their food dollar in cooking classes designed to help them get the most out of their monthly grocery budget.The Sunday flea market is one of the community’s greatest attractions. A farmers market is added from May to October.
Photo by: Laura Lushington

The association also provides and maintains two community gardens and orchards where community residents get their hands dirty and flex their green thumbs.

Along with many other ways of bettering the community, the association launched Calgary’s first pesticide-free park in 1999. New Edinburgh Park in Sunnyside became a success when during a five-year trial, dandelions and other weeds never invaded the park. Since 2003, five other city parks have adopted the pesticide-free philosophy.

Sinclair says he hopes to see the community centre and its assets grow steadily over the next few years.

“The organization does things well, but it is itching to do more,” Sinclair said. “We ask ourselves, ‘Where does this community need us to be 10-20 years from now and what role are we going to play in making sure it stays vibrant?’”

gbarraza@cjournal.ca