December 28, 2017

Valleycliffe: Moving and shaking since the early days

— Discover Squamish
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— David Buzzard

Long known as a working-class neighbourhood, Valleycliffe was historically comprised of trappers and loggers and subsequently workers at the now-defunct Woodfibre Pulp and Paper Mill. It truly came into its own in the early ‘70s when streets were paved, ditches were dug, and houses were built in short order – perhaps a little too quickly, according to those who’ve embarked on renovations and discovered a lack of insulation in exterior walls.

Today, you’ll see high-end homes being built amongst older ones, many of which are undergoing their own facelift as Valleycliffe shifts in the face of new socio-economic standards.

Squamish has become a bedroom community of sorts to Vancouver, and at its southern most tip, Valleycliffe is the most commutable neighbourhood.

Let’s face it: the drive to the big city is probably one of the most scenic in North America. It’s an easy choice for those who want the benefits of living where they recreate but put in their 40-hour workweek in the Lower Mainland.

Residents will tell you that living at the foot of the Stawamus Chief – the second tallest granite rock face in the world at 702 metres – is awe-inspiring daily. It doesn’t seem to matter how long you’ve lived in the Valleycliffe community of 3,112 (which encompasses Crumpit Woods, Ravens Plateau, and Hospital Hill), the sheer power and magnitude of that geological rock formation is enough to humble any pro snowboarder, mountain biker and climber that makes their home here – and many do.

If nature had her way, few would look beyond the gorgeous rise of rock and tree surrounding Valleycliffe, but on closer inspection, you can easily pick up on the neighbourhood’s blue-collar roots, overtly demonstrated by the lack of architectural diversity on streets named almost exclusively after trees. It’s also quiet due to the fact that the community is only accessible by singular entry points off Clarke Drive near the municipality’s only hospital. As resident Ivan DeWolf notes: “if it’s not your destination, you wouldn’t be here.”

A favourite running joke amongst residents is that you never have to ask where the bathroom is when visiting a neighbour, as virtually all homes sport the same layout – give or take a carport. Recently, relative newcomer Jody Kramer cleverly coined the term The Valleycliffe Shuffle: that “super awkward dance” one must do at the entrance of most homes built (coincidentally?) in the disco-era, which feature an oddly impassible front entrance.

Valleycliffe is also brimming with new developments, families, a variety of public alternative and independent schools; outdoor enthusiasts, pro athletes, professionals, and environmentalists who call it home; and there’s a small yet robust business community.

All of this contributes to a colourful cross-section of Squamish’s movers and shakers, like Tracey Saxby – a marine scientist, musician, “accidental activist” and environmentalist who has lived in Valleyclife with her partner Adrian Jones for over a decade.

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Tracey Saxby near her home in Valleycliffe. - David Buzzard

Saxby co-founded My Sea to Sky in 2014 in response to growing concerns about the proposed Woodfibre LNG project. The volunteer executive director says the group is committed to protecting Howe Sound and its sensitive environmental habitat for the long-term health and prosperity of the region. Her reverence for Valleycliffe runs just as deep.

“We first came to Squamish on a climbing and skiing trip in 2001, we’ve been here ever since. We fell in love with the temperate rainforest and the mountains coming down to the sea. We had an ‘aaaaah’ moment as we first drove into Squamish – it was one of those miserable rainy days when we first drove up the Sea to Sky Highway in July 2001, and it was so foggy that we couldn’t even see Howe Sound. But as we drove into Squamish, the fog lifted, the rain stopped, and there was a beam of light shining down and illuminating the Stawamus Chief – cue angels singing,” Saxby said with a laugh.

“For the first few years we lived in pretty much every neighbourhood in Squamish, but we fell in love with Valleycliffe and bought our home there in 2006. We love watching the mist rise off the river and between the three peaks of the Stawamus Chief. I can watch it for hours,” she added.

“Last winter, we went for a walk by the river one evening when it was snowing. We lay on our backs and watched the snowflakes falling while looking up at the clouds hiding and revealing the Stawamus Chief. It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s pure magic.”

Rhonda O’Grady, who moved to Valleycliffe with her husband Stephen Savauge and sons Lucas and Tristan in 2008, is a self-professed “mad” enthusiast of gardening and lover of all things related to nature. She cultivates her own personal vegetable, flower and pollinator garden at home, and as a parent volunteer, she’s created the same, as well as a pollinator habitat enhancement project, bat house, pathways, signage, and wetland restoration called The Living Classroom at Valleycliffe Elementary School.

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Rhonda O'Grady at the Valleycliffe Elementary living classroom pollinator hotel - David Buzzard

She said she attributes much of that to the abundant sunlight the neighbourhood receives during the summer months – more than any other part of town due to the sun’s path June through September. “All the gardens flourish.”

“The Living Classroom has become a very significant part of the Valleycliffe community. Not only during our annual community events and celebrations that occur about four times a year, but in the evenings, this special place has become a gathering place,” said O’Grady, who is the education coordinator for the Squamish River Watershed Society. “It has connected us with other schools throughout the corridor, as well as with UBC, BCIT, Quest University and, national and international nature organizations.”

Like many other parents, O’Grady said it was important that her children could walk to the elementary school, and that she rarely has the urge to leave the neighbourhood.

“I do everything in Valleycliffe. I think the Stawamus River is what connects me to this place as much as the Chief. I swim in the river, take my children to the river, hike around the river, watch the salmon and the wildlife around and in the river. The peregrine falcons and blue herons fly overhead every day as we walk to school on the dike. It is paradise,” she enthused, adding in the evening they often spot beavers, bats, owls, and the odd coyote.

Michael Coyle, software consultant and search and rescue volunteer, has called Ravens Plateau home for over 11 years.

“I love being next to one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the world, and some of the most outstanding mountain biking. I love how we’re wedged between a mini mountain range of the Smoke Bluffs and Mount Crumpit, and the higher cliffs of the Chief and Slhanay with our own little Stawamus River, and its tributaries.

“We’re in the mountains while being on the ocean.”

For all the nature elements in Valleycliffe, there is a thriving business area as well. In the mall at Westway Avenue and Maple Drive you’ll find ninja classes at the training centre, a general store, esthetics spa and hair salon, laundromat and dry cleaning services, plus offices and other specialty shops. The neighbourhood’s newest addition is Kululu Café, which opened in October and offers healthy, tasty fare such as Japanese rice bowls and noodle dishes, salads, sandwiches, baked goods, teas – and of course killer locally roasted espresso drinks.

“Our café is a place where parents can feel comfortable coming with their kids,” said Miho Yoshida who is partners in the venture with Hiroaki Kimura.

“As a new business owner, we feel grateful to be a part of Valleycliffe so we can grow together.” 

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Hiroaki Kimora and Miho Yoshida of the Kululu Cafe in Valleycliffe. - David Buzzard

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