But Susan Greig says that space already exists.
Since Greig opened her 100 Braid St. art studios and gallery at the old BC Distillery warehouse 18 months ago, she’s seen the small enclave of commercial enterprises in the industrial parcel at the corner of Braid and Rousseau come together to provide all kinds of cultural and recreational opportunities.
Her studios are the home away from home for 16 artists, most of them from New Westminster. The gallery space not only exhibits their work, it hosts art classes and workshops, weddings, end-of-life celebrations, private parties and fundraisers for community organizations like the Royal City Farmers Market and Royal City Musical Theatre. Next door Planet Lazer and Bullpen Baseball offer more strenuous physical activity. Bully’s Rehearsal Studios just moved in to give musicians more space to hone their licks. There’s even a place for dogs to gather, at Uptown Dawg downstairs.
“It’s like this symbiotic relationship,” said Greig.
It’s more than Greig ever could have imagined when she first walked into the empty warehouse with its expansive windows, looking for a space to fulfill her dream of creating a place where visual artists could work, inspire each other and visitors.
“The light was magical, the sunlight was streaming in,” said Greig of that fateful January day. “It was beautiful. It was overwhelming.”
Greig knew the time was right for New West’s artists to have a communal working space and gallery of their own. Most of her creative colleagues worked alone in dingy basements or cluttered spare rooms in their homes.
She sent out a detailed questionnaire to 173 artists in the area; almost half got back to her with information about the rental rates they could afford, the types of ancillary services they could provide, like teaching, conducting workshops, working with children’s programs.
“I could see there was a pent up need,” said Greig.
With her business plan affirmed and financing in place, Greig signed a lease and set about fixing the warehouse up. She painted the walls and high ceiling white, a clean canvas for the creativity to come. She built a wall of vintage window and door frames to separate the work and gallery spaces, yet still allow visitors to see the artists ply their craft.
The building’s history is a bit fuzzy.
It was constructed in 1929, as the Winery Building, for BC Distillery. But, according to New West historian Dale Miller, the spirits maker never produced wines so it was likely used to store chemicals and compounds. Although, through the sixties and early 1970’s it did live up to its name as home to three wine companies before it was vacated through the middle years of the decade. A manufacturing company took it over in 1978.
Miller said it’s rare for industrial structures to last long enough to be of great heritage significance.
“An industrial building is usually utilitarian, practical and intended to be temporary,” said Miller. “As the business changes and grows, so do the buildings that house them.”
Julie Schueck, the city’s heritage planner, said many of the city’s old industrial buildings have been lost to time. Those that remain often have contamination issues.
“Often the buildings are amazing in design and construction,” said Schueck. But getting them listed on the city’s heritage registry requires staff resources to research the building and discuss the property’s future with its owners.
“I am a strong advocate for industrial heritage in the city,” said Schueck.
In a report to the city’s Land Use and Planning committee on Urban Academy and Wesgroup’s rezoning application, staff conceded “it may be difficult to incorporate the former BC Distillery Building by Gardiner & Mercer into a new development” that will include 50,000 square feet of high density housing in addition to a new private school for 450 students.
Greig said if the redevelopment proposal is realized, more will be lost than just a piece of New West’s industrial history.
“This could become an entire arts and community centre,” said Greig. “You’ve got the art, you’ve got the music, you’ve got life celebrations. We all function together. I love this building.”
Susan Greig and the artists at 100 Braid Street Studios show off their space, and their work, on the first Saturday of every month. The next Open Saturday is April 2.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on March 20th. An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed information and quote to New Westminster historian Archie Miller. The notes and quote, in fact, are from Dale Miller, an accomplished researcher and historian who makes up the other half of A Sense of History Research Services. We sincerely regret the error. Sorry, Dale!