With Cleveland Avenue situated between the stunning vistas of the coastal mountains and Howe Sound’s waters, downtown Squamish’s one-of-a-kind landscape is just one of the draws pulling new residents and visitors to the Sea to Sky.
Conveniently located midway between the Lower Mainland and Whistler, it’s no surprise Squamish is one of the fastest growing – not to mention youngest – communities in the country, with downtown pushing its way forward as the prime spot to plant some roots.
Downtown Squamish is swiftly shifting towards becoming a more urban, bustling destination for residents and visitors alike, all while continuing to take advantage of the natural surroundings. An influx of young families and entrepreneurs – and, subsequently, new restaurants, shops and developments – are moving in.
“Certainly in the last 10 years, we’ve seen a significant amount of growth in downtown,” said Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman, who estimates that about 3,000 residents currently call downtown home.
“Prior to that there wasn’t really any multi-family residences downtown, or very, very little… In the last 10 years we’ve started to see a lot more densification. The vision for that neighbourhood plan is to get a critical mass of people in the downtown area, so you can start to see that vibrant node in the community; that anchor node with a lot of vitality.”
And the residential population isn’t the only one on the upswing. As Bianca Peters, executive director of the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association, explained, the list of businesses operating in the downtown core has grown from 100 to 180 in the past three years alone.
“When I first came on over two years ago, we had issues with people filling these storefronts,” she said. “There were empty storefronts and it was very quiet downtown. Now, it’s completely the opposite. It’s vibrant, stores are filled, people are coming downtown all the time. There’s developments; they’re densifying downtown with homes. It’s an exciting place and it’s got a great future ahead of it.”
Along with beautification projects spearheaded by the District of Squamish between Victoria and Main streets – such as a rainbow crosswalk – Peters said the neighbourhood’s increasing appeal can also be seen in the onslaught of activities offered throughout the warmer months.
“Every weekend in the summer between the end of May and September, there’s always something going on downtown,” she said, citing examples such as the Squamish Wind Festival, the Squamish Beer Festival, Canada Day celebrations, the Squamish 50 and the Squamish Children’s Festival.
Adding to the vitality of the downtown core is the area’s growing culinary scene. Unique eateries like The Green Moustache – an organic smoothie and eatery that got its start in Whistler – are among the many new businesses opening their doors alongside longtime local favourites, like the cozy, vegan-friendly Zephyr Café and Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company.
At The Salted Vine Kitchen + Bar, executive chef Jeff Park and general manager/sommelier Pat Allan have teamed up to offer a contemporary, upscale dining experience, characterized by their menu’s family-style shared plates, since opening their doors last fall.
The pair, both longtime Squamish residents and veterans of Whistler’s Araxi, felt like the time was right to branch out on their own – this time in a kitchen closer to home.
“We thought it was good timing as far as the demographics and how Squamish was evolving. We were ready for it and I think Squamish was ready for it too,” Allan said. “With the population increasing and a lot of people moving up from Vancouver to have a little bit more of a natural setting than what the city offers, they also want some of the amenities of the city – so the best of both worlds. There’s some great pub food here in town and great sushi, but it’s very limited in terms of dining, so we decided to go a little more upscale.”
And downtown’s Second Avenue served as the perfect location to do so, Allan added.
“With all the new developments that are being put in, it’s going to offer a density that restaurants and businesses need to get people in,” he said. “I like downtown Squamish myself. The views, the feel of downtown; everything fits very well.”
And thanks to one of those developments, that downtown community is set to look very different over the course of the next two decades.
Ground has already been broken on the peninsula that sits south of downtown, in preparation for Newport Beach’s Oceanfront development. Following the sale of the land by the municipality in February 2016, the development is set to include space for 6,500 new residents as well as about 8.5 hectares of public space, commercial space and community facilities, including boat launches and waterfront parks, upon completion.
Oceanfront Village is the latest in a string of residential developments to hit downtown, following in the footsteps of Coastal Village, The Main, Mireau, Cleveland Gardens and Summits View, to name just a few. New development Sirocco is also taking advantage of the Pacific’s proximity, with plans to install 27 float homes alongside apartments and commercial space approved by council last fall.
“You look at the dynamic landscape that you see from the downtown area and the fact that you’re on the ocean; it’s a pretty attractive combination,” said Heintzman. “Not a lot of places have the type of really fantastic waterfront that we have… As we go into the future, I think you’re going to start to see a real community connection with that marine environment as the downtown gets built out.”
Downtown’s development coupled with Squamish’s environment is something that makes for “a desirable combination,” Heintzman added – a statement Peters agrees couldn’t be more true.
“The views are free,” Peters said. “When you come downtown, you get out of your car, get off your bike, or walk out of a business and stand on Cleveland Avenue or Second Avenue and turn around and you’ve got the Chief, the gondola in the distance, Shannon Falls, the ocean, it’s a very unique place.
“And economic development – marry that with the beautiful views and it’s just a thriving place to be right now.”