Burnaby Heights’ small-town charm draws denizens

Published February 18th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

For Alka Kundi, one of the best things about living in Burnaby Heights is that she can walk everywhere. She strolls to delis, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, parks, a library, a rec centre, and even an old-fashioned ice-cream shop. That’s a boon to the working mother of two.

“On weekends, we don’t take our car anywhere,” Kundi says in a phone interview. “I love it. I live on a really nice street with big trees. It’s a really nice community.

“It feels like a neighbourhood,” she adds. “You run into people you know; you see your neighbours. It reminds me of the kind of place I grew up in [just outside of St. Catharines, Ontario]. When I grew up, we were at our next-door neighbour’s house all the time and they were at our house all the time. I feel like my kids are having that experience too.”

Alka Kundi enjoys an old-fashioned milkshake at Ron LaQuaglia’s Glenburn Soda Fountain & Confectionary, one of the businesses giving residents a retro-neighbourhood experience.

Kundi and her family have lived in their Heights home for almost four years after moving from another part of the city. It’s an easy 15-minute commute to her office in New Westminster and to her husband’s workplace in downtown Vancouver.

The area is flourishing as more people like Kundi discover its appeal. And even as condos start to move in, it’s so far managing to retain its unpretentious, small-town charm.

Bounded by Burrard Inlet to the north, Willingdon Avenue to the east, Hastings Street to the south, and Boundary Road to the west, Burnaby Heights has a sense of history too.

When Hastings Street opened in 1902 and a streetcar began operating to North Burnaby in 1908, the area boomed along with an influx of immigrants to B.C. One of the coolest symbols of the area’s heritage is the street’s kinetic neon sign of a little girl on a swing. The iconic piece of art from 1956, called “The Swinging Girl”, originally read “Helen’s”, named for the entrepreneur who ran Helen’s Children’s Wear. But in 2009 it was declared a heritage landmark by the City of Burnaby and refurbished to read “Heights” in the same quirky font. That clothing store is long gone, with the space below now occupied by Cioffi’s Meat Market and Deli (4142 Hastings Street and 4156 Hastings Street).

Cioffi’s started out 25 years ago with a 1,000-square-foot space but now occupies about 9,000 square feet, selling everything Italian: house-made pastas, sauces, and risotto; dried salamis; antipasti like marinated olives, braised artichoke, and bruschetta; ready-made desserts like tiramisu; and even whole or half lambs and piglets. (It offers catering, too.) Rino Cioffi, who co-owns the family-run deli, also lives down the street, having moved from the Renfrew Street and Broadway area several years ago.

“I love that everything’s here,” Cioffi says by phone. “There are cafés, Thai restaurants, pho places….It reminds me of how East Van used to be. It’s a lot of families, a lot of European shops. We get people in from all over the place: North Van, West Van, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, and Vancouver.

“The area has changed a lot over the years,” he notes, adding of a local landmark, “the Admiral [Pub & Grill] isn’t a strip joint anymore.”

Bon Bon Bakery just moved to the hood at 4622 Hastings Street after operating at Victoria Drive and 41st Avenue for 54 years.

“The [former] area wasn’t working out for us,” owner Paolo Burtini says on the line from the cake and pastry shop. “It was a good move. We have all sorts of customers and a lot of diverse cultures, which I like. The area is growing really fast, so it should be good for us.”

Attribute part of that growth to condos. Epta Development Corporation has three projects in development within a few blocks in the Heights: Centro, Madison, and Montage.

“It’s kind of unusual for a developer to build so many projects in close proximity to one another, but that gives a good indication of how we feel about the community and how much potential it has,” says Chris Tsakumis, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “It’s got so much history. The amenities are great. You’re a straight shot into downtown in 15 minutes. You’re 15 minutes straight to Brentwood and Metrotown along Willingdon. You’re in close proximity to SFU and Cap [Capilano University]. Virtually in every direction you have amenities, but the Heights is still less densified and so it still has a small-town appeal to it.

“It’s culturally diverse and multigenerational. It’s welcoming. We’re seeing a lot of people from Burnaby Heights who want to stay in Burnaby Heights, whether they’re downsizing or they grew up in this neighbourhood.”

Troy Steine, director of real estate for Censorio, which is building Beta in the area, says that Burnaby Heights does feel different from a lot of other Metro Vancouver areas.

“People who live in the area or who are coming in really say it has a sense of neighbourliness,” Steine says. “There’s a close-knit feel to it.”

Ron LaQuaglia—who wears a soda-jerk hat when he’s making sundaes, malts, milkshakes, and floats at the Glenburn Soda Fountain & Confectionery that he runs with his wife, Roberta LaQuaglia—says the neighbourhood reminds him of the place where he spent his childhood.

“I grew up in Revere, and there are a lot more of these small towns in the States [than in Canada],” says LaQuaglia, who has called the Heights home since 2005 and opened the retro ice-cream shop at 4090 Hastings Street in 2013. “Every little community there has a main street where you went to pick up a pizza or went to the pharmacy or went for ice cream. This area feels like that; it’s so close to Vancouver but it’s something separate from Vancouver with its own thing going on. It feels more like a neighbourhood.

“There are a lot of established businesses, like Anton’s [Pasta Bar], and it has a history,” adds LaQuaglia, who named his shop after the former Glenburn Dairy, the historic landmark that once stood at Boundary and Hastings streets. “For small businesses, the Heights is an opportunity….It’s a great place to have a business and it’s a great place to live.”

Epta Development Corporation (EDC)
Epta Development Corporation (EDC)