COLUMN: Rediscovering the ‘warmth’ of a village

It’s seems odd that, despite driving past something virtually every day, you never really notice it.

It’s seems odd that, despite driving past something virtually every day, you never really notice it.

Such is the case with “downtown, old town” Abbotsford. There is not a day I don’t drive through, yet rarely do I stop, other than occasionally at the Royal Bank on South Fraser Way or now and then at Hub Sports to score a new fishing lure that doesn’t lure a fish.

Long gone are the days when Gosling’s used to be the ultimate department emporium; Marshall Wells the local hardware store; and Little Mountain Dairy “the” coffee shop on Montrose. Also consigned to the history of Essendene Avenue is Gilmours, Ken Adrian’s super market and cross-street rival Walker’s Grocery Store.

I remember too, in a time before the malls, the days when most Christmas shopping was done along the three or four blocks of the village, carols playing from the storefronts and windows decorated. I still wear now and then a heavy leather belt with a big brass buckle bought at Viola’s Boutique back in the early ’70s.

So it was with some measure of appreciation that I walked a block of Montrose on Saturday, enjoying what appears to be a resurgence of the village atmosphere emanating from the rebuilt or renovated “heritage-style” shops.

To those who operate businesses in the old village, please accept my apologies for ignoring you for so long, and for neglecting to recognize what a great job developers and the business owners have done to revitalize and return a sense of hominess to our city.

Certainly over the years I have noticed the great improvements, but almost always with little more than a glance as I passed through. However, this weekend I was drawn to the Farmers’ Market that has for the past eight years called ‘home’ the alley at the north end of Montrose. Thus the reason for my walk along the street, and a new-found appreciation for our community.

It seems, however, that I am not alone in rediscovering “Abbotsford.”

While talking to farm market organizer Bruce Fatkin, who extolled the weekly success of the Saturday event, he pointed out that they have begun to hold midweek markets beside city hall. What makes this remarkable is that, according to their ‘polls’ more than 80 per cent of those who attend the Wednesday market are “new faces.”

So I have to assume if the vast majority of market visitors haven’t been to the Montrose market, they likely also haven’t spent anytime experiencing the charm of Abbotsford’s revitalized village, and that, as I have now discovered, is an opportunity missed.

This may soon change because, when reading this Sunday’s Vancouver Province, I noted an article announcing a weekly feature that will describe in detail a dozen “special streets” across the Lower Mainland. Abbotsford’s Montrose is one of those to be featured – listed as number eight in the series.

The Province described the streets it will feature as “beneath every skeleton beats a heart, and behind every street beats a community.”

The ‘new’ Montrose, and its neighbouring shops and streets, is all of that.

So I encourage you, if like me you usually just pass through, to stop, smell the coffee and spend a few moments appreciating a sense of community and ‘small town shopping’ that, despite their convenience, isn’t available in the relative anonymity of malls and big box stores.