Citizens Re-Imagine Squamish, Starting With Cleveland Ave

imagine squamish

Tracey Saxby and volunteer Tsawaysia Spukwus help to weed the curbside on Cleveland Avenue on Wednesday, June 19. Photo: Bronwyn Scott

By Bronwyn Scott
Published: June 22, 2013

Inspired by Better Block, a global movement that started in Portland, Oregon, to transform areas into better community spaces, local resident Deborah McQueen and her comrades arranged a volunteer effort to clean and enliven our downtown core.

McQueen hatched the idea for Imagine Squamish: Building a better block a few weeks ago. Soon word of mouth caught on,  and three became twenty, and twenty became 43.

On Wednesday, June 19, a few volunteers were on Cleveland Avenue, shovels and trowels in tow, pulling weeds from the curb to the storefronts for the first evening of Imagine Squamish: building a better block.

“Cleveland Avenue isn’t by far barren, but it does need some cleaning up,” McQueen said, pointing out that lampposts need to be repainted and some of the businesses could do with some power washing.

A key part of Imagine Squamish is getting local businesses involved to make the fronts of their stores and cafes more appealing to encourage pedestrian traffic, explained McQueen.

“Like a lot of municipalities, we don’t have a lot of money,” she said.

“But it doesn’t take a lot of money for some small changes that can really enliven and create a place that flourishes.”

The district is in the first stages of initiating a 20-year strategic action plan that will transform the downtown area into a vibrant cultural and commercial hub, but for the time being little has been done to revitalize the area.

“It’s been neglected for so long,” said Tracey Saxby, one of the organizers, tearing up the hardened earth with a garden claw and separating weed from soil.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be kind of a kick start,” she said.

The goal is for Imagine Squamish to be an ongoing effort, in cooperation and in conjunction with the district’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

Coun. Patricia Heintzman welcomed the initiative.

“I think this is great,” she said.

On Thursday, volunteers weeded the sidewalk areas, using donated plants to beautify the flowerbeds and installing donated planters along Cleveland Avenue and on Second Avenue near Outwest Sports.

Similar efforts are planned for the coming days. Stay updated on the Imagine Squamish Facebook page.



  1. Michael Lonergan says:

    Just make sure you don’t park a great car in front of your store, or place Rose Petals on the sidewalk outside your flower shop. The by-law nazi’s get a bit steamed by that.

  2. Dave says:

    Great initiatives BUT don’t forget the rest of the Valley:
    Regarding recent discussion of our Down-town Initiatives which goes on and on, I will re-state these points:
    Generally I have no problem with “Down-town” (I count the mall near Nesters and Home Hardware in this designation). I shop all over the valley for all my needs. My Bank is downtown, my medical clinic is downtown and I enjoy coffee and art stores too. I shop at Save-On downtown, Nesters, Home-Hardware etc. etc. and Extra Foods, London Drugs etc. in Garibaldi Estates. Over the whole District, the good, well run businesses will survive and I will surely frequent them.
    I am personally tired of the recent “insular whining” about Downtown. If the many “malcontents” really want to do something useful, they should get onto CN Railway to clean up their disused track or remove it…That IS a disgrace! Unfortunately, I doubt CN will respond or even let volunteers pull out the weeds.
    Promote the waterfront development….make it a reality not a “pie in the sky” dream….Cut the red tape Council and let’s move forward throughout the WHOLE VALLEY, because this is the REAL SQUAMISH!
    In short don’t put “all your eggs in this (one) basket”. Alas, we should all realise that Downtown has some historical and geographical disadvantages for any spectacular transformation but credit should certainly go to those who are trying.

  3. Elliot says:

    Bravo to Deborah McQueen and all the volunteers. This isn’t the first time townspeople have rallied to initiate a cleaner downtown. Let’s hope this time it sticks, with proper cooperation from the District

  4. Jason Bechard says:

    What about the rest of Squamish? Everything is ‘downtown, downtown, downtown’. Majority of the people in Squamish don’t live ‘downtown’ and many shop in all areas of Squamish not just ‘downtown’

    It’s like Mike Holmes says, ” First you fix the problems with the infrastructure first and then you slap on the paint. If you paint it and don’t address the problems, you just waste time and money”

  5. Tracey Saxby says:

    To clarify, this is also inspired in part by the Downtown Transformation Initiative that the District of Squamish has started. We’re now working directly with DoS staff to make changes, and are actively selecting projects to improve the downtown core (which to me includes Cleveland Ave, Second Ave, the Nesters complex, and the SaveOn complex too). The downtown businesses are getting engaged, and some of the changes that we’re seeing are simply incredible.
    We need the downtown to be a vibrant, thriving community with unique businesses to attract tourists. Yes, lots of highway traffic stops at the strip malls on their way through town, but do we really want to become another Kelowna? We need to become a destination. Strip malls are the same everywhere.
    I’d love to see the waterfront move forward as well, and the CN railway cleaned up. Lots of projects to tackle! If you have a problem with somewhere in your neighbourhood, how about you get in there and do something about it? Check out the facebook page, and let us know how you’re getting involved.

  6. Chris Atkinson says:

    Hey Mike and Jason … By volunteering our time and energy cleaning up Downtown we are embracing Squamish as a community. Very few of the volunteers live downtown, we just want a better and nicer community to live in. It didn’t really occur to me that the Walmart parking lot or the London Drugs parking lot needed cleaning up, Downtown seemed like a great place to start. Most of us also volunteer on the river cleanup projects, the park clean up projects, fish & bird counts and other community minded initiatives. Come on out and lend a hand, the energy and passion are invigorating and inspiring and if you have a project in mind yourself let us know and we’ll all be glad to lend a hand, anywhere in the valley ! Cheers …

  7. Tara McKone says:

    Thank you for this article! I love seeing people volunteering in public space… the more you do it, the more people feel okay joining in!