This is the first in a new weekly series on Tenth to the Fraser. Every Wednesday we’ll publish a post that’s meant to spark conversation about New Westminster. You can participate by sharing your thoughts in the comments on the blog, Facebook or Twitter, writing a post on your own blog (just link to this post and a link to your post will show up in the comments) or submitting a guest post. To submit an idea for discussion, email info at tenthtothefraser.ca.
This week’s topic is first impressions.
First impressions count. But they don’t always stick. What were your first impressions of New Westminster? Has your opinion changed over time?
Here are my two bits:
My first impressions of New Westminster were formed in childhood. I went to a Montessori elementary school in Coquitlam, and there I met two sisters with long blonde hair, Caitlin and Brianna. They fascinated me for three reasons:
- Caitlin, the elder sister, led a pack of girls in a schoolyard gang called “The Unicorns.” The chief activity of this group was to run around chasing boys around the playground. This amazed me.
- Brianna, the younger sister, was my age. She had almost the same hair colour and almost the same name. Whoa.
- They lived in ‘in a mansion’ in a faraway land called New Westminster, where they had neighbours who had even bigger mansions. We didn’t have mansions in my part of Coquitlam. I had never even heard of the word.
I imagined New Westminster to be a foreign kingdom, with a population that lived exclusively in mansions. I thought it must be a secret, small treasure, because I had never set foot there – only driven by. My direct experience of New Westminster was limited to two signs, which seemed alarmingly close together: Welcome to New Westminster, followed by Now Leaving New Westminster.
Eventually, I learned that there was more to New Westminster than Queen’s Park and the entrance/exit signs. After high school, I went to college in New Westminster and began exploring the downtown. At the time there was more of an arty vibe to the downtown. I hung out at the sadly short-lived New Westminster Arts Club, a drop-in art studio and coffee shop. I also frequented Full Spectrum, an art supply store that later metamorphosed into Paper Poet, selling cardmaking supplies to DIY brides. I enjoyed cheap movies at the old theatres that used to be near the London Drugs uptown. I found love in the Douglas College atrium and got my heart broken in Tipperary Park. I drank coffee at the Quay and stumbled upon a meeting of a Vancouver Pagan meetup group at the Paddlewheeler Pub (likely drawn here by the now-closed witchy occult store Aunt Agatha’s. I saw New Westminster as a bohemian college town, because I was something of a college boho myself.
We can’t help but judge the city by our personal experience of it. I came back to New West as a newlywed on the mommy track, and I see New West as an affordable city (by Lower Mainland standards) with immense potential in the throes of change. Now that I live here I see another side as well, the sometimes intense community bonds. It sometimes feels almost like a 60,000-person-strong extended family, complete with family squabbles and even feuds.
But in the end, I think I had it right when I was a schoolgirl. New West really is a treasure.