Let’s Keep This Civil

The following is an imagined New Westminster Council public consultation during which it becomes apparent more than a bridge or ferry is needed to connect Q2Q. (Editor’s note: It is a work of fiction, full of self deprecating humour. Don’t read too far into it.) 

Mayor Jackets: Let’s dive in. We are starting the evening with a public discussion of the RFP issued for the Queensborough to Quay pedestrian connection project.

Audience member: [Jumps up from seat.] Quay to Queensborough!

Moderator: Ma’am, you’ll get a chance to speak later.

Audience member: Quay first! We’re number one! [Pumps fist in the air.]

Moderator: [Glares.] Sit down.

Mayor Jackets: Alright, on that note, Councillor Julie is going to summarize the project to date. Julie?

Councillor Julie: Thank you Mayor. We all know the bridge idea has been ruled out; it’s simply too expensive. We can’t accommodate accessibility, ease of river passage and beautiful form while staying within our budget. The Quay residents’ insistence on gold filigree detailing alone puts the city millions over budget. In June, we released a request for proposals to trial a new ferry service between the two communities.

We received a handful of proposals, though none apparently from parties with experience running a ferry service. I will summarize the proposals and then invite the public to speak or ask questions.

Proposal one from “anonymous”: Ive got a boat for you. Its a-boat time you figured out how to build a bridge that doesnt cost 40 million dollars. [Audience applause.]

Okay, well, let’s move on. Proposal two is signed by several Quayside strata presidents: Costco has kayaks on sale. Tell those QBers to use all the money they saved buying in a crappy location to buy their own dang boats and traverse the river on their own dime.

Port Royal audience member: Hey! We paid a premium for that bridge when we bought our house, you know! Paid a premium for nothing!

Quay audience member: You can’t pay for a bridge that doesn’t exist, dummy. It’s not like a view—you can buy a view. And own it. And keep it forever.

Moderator: Please, let Councillor Julie finish. No interruptions. Go on, Julie.

Councillor Julie: Thanks. Our third proposal from a group of Port Royal residents. I think a page must be missing? It seems incomplete. It says: Despite rumours, we do not have a sandy beach on our side. Theres not much to see or do. The trains still whistle in these parts. Your side is better so we understand if you dont want to come over here.

Umm, that was weird. If there’s someone in attendance who can shed light on whether part of that proposal is missing, please speak. [Audience whispers, then silence.]

Hmm. Let’s move on. Our fourth and final proposal, this one from a group of Quay residents: We found an aluminum boat with an outboard motor on Craigslist for $400. Lets use the rest of the bridge money for something more feasible. We were so pleased by the city chopping trees on the riverfront for us but now our neighbours on the back side of our buildings are upset that they dont have a nice view. Is there any way we can use the bridge money to get our sad neighbours a better view?

That’s the last one.

Mayor Jackets: [Furrowed brow.] Are you sure, Councillor?

Councillor Julie: Yep.

Mayor Jackets: I hate to say it, but number four sounds the most promising and raises some excellent points. Let’s hear from the constituents before planning the next steps.

Moderator: One audience member at a time may approach the microphone to make a statement or ask council or our guests a question. Please keep your comments to under two minutes. [Gestures to microphone.]

Audience member: Hi. I’m David. I live in Queensborough. I’m just a bit confused because the mayor just said he wanted to hear from the constituents. But, in Queensborough we aren’t allowed to vote. Well, I mean, we vote for Richmond but I don’t really understand why. So, are we allowed to talk tonight?

Mayor Jackets: David, thanks for your question. I’m troubled to hear this—QB residents are absolutely able to vote in civic elections. It’s the provincial election riding that lumps QB into Richmond. On that note, please go ahead and share you thoughts on Q2Q.

David: I don’t have any Q2Q comments. I just wanted to say that I wouldn’t have voted for you even if I could and I don’t think it’s fair for the mayor to buy the only three-bedroom condominium in the city. [Walks out of building in silence.]

Moderator: [Clears throat.] Reminder to please keep to the topic of the evening, everyone. Let’s continue.

Audience member: I’m Ravi from downtown. I want to express my concern and skepticism that anyone here saying they live in Queensborough is telling the truth—how could they have made it through the bridge traffic and gotten here on time? Should we really take anything they say seriously, then?

Someone in the crowd: We left last night Ravi! Nice try.

Ravi: My wife took the kids to Port Royal for the July first fireworks last year and they didn’t get home until Labour Day.

Someone in the crowd: Your kids don’t look anything like you! [Crowd laughter.]

Ravi: I, I… [Blushes and leaves the building.]

Moderator: Let’s keep this civil. Next, please.

Audience member: Hi. Eliza from Sapperton. I have a question for council: does Port Royal really have a sandy beach?

Mayor Jackets: You know what? Nobody answer her. [Audible sighs of relief from half the public.] No, no sighs of relief either! Stay on topic, please. Do you have any Q2Q-related questions, Eliza?

Eliza: No. Wait. Is there parking at this beach?

Mayor Jackets: Anyone with anything Q2Q related?

Audience member: [Steps in front of Eliza at the microphone.] Good evening. I think the river is a great divide between those who would live in a flood zone and those who have the sense not to. [Bows and returns to seat.]

Moderator: Okay, look: I think we can all agree to only speak if we have questions or comments related to the ferry-service proposals. Anyone else? I guess not. Councillors?

Mayor Jackets: That was a lively discussion. I think council has a lot to mull over in terms of the four proposals. In light of the final proposal being the most complete and frankly rational, I say we move to write a report on its feasibility.

We should discuss another RFP to see what we can do for those Quay residents who don’t have a nice view. That’s just not what New West is about. Perhaps we can move some mountains for them? Engineering—I’m looking at you. What do you—oh! What’s going on? Please be seated everyone. Oh, no!

[A brawl erupts.]

Audience: Queensborough! Quay! Not in my backyard! Keep away from our beach! Stay on your side of the river! I’ll spit on your view! I wish you were further away! Don’t drag my property value down to your level! Go buy your groceries at Walmart! Oh, you don’t like that? Well then take a 10-hour bus ride to my house and tell me to my face! Queensborough! Quay!






Into the Fraser

This work of fiction is by author Amy Eileen Hiscock, a New West writer. We are proud to share it on our website. 

I want to look at the morning sky and then feel the Pacific wind and tell you—prognosticate—how the river looks.

Is that even possible?

There must be other things to learn first: how the moon pulls and sways; snow packs, snow melts; King Tides; rainfall near and far. This list is surely not exhaustive.

I am uselessly mystified.

Today, the river has thousands of crests falling in every direction. Eddies disrupt a flow I can’t discern; if I didn’t know where the Fraser met the Pacific I swear I couldn’t tell you the river’s direction.

The mist-rain might originate within the river and not the sky. It’s the same with the grey that creeps and obscures the mountains to the north. It’s like the underworld found a sub-river vent from which to escape and now innumerable hungry ghosts stampede on the water’s surface, silently trampling one another.

However, the Fraser isn’t always morbid.

Just yesterday, the river was a carver’s work in progress. A wooden surface delicately scalloped in countless places, shifting and becoming something intelligible, purposeful. The sun crept through the clouds like a gap through window blinds. Light to see by.

Perhaps I was beginning to understand.

Then I wake this morning and can’t make sense of the river anymore.

You can read about the Doppler Effect and feel you have a decent understanding of sound. You can imagine sound waves as they squiggle out of peoples’ mouths—smaller then bigger, louder then quieter.

With the river, it’s different. There’s no single rule, drawn as a sinuous line on a page. There are: currents; undercurrents; eddies; tides; floods; waves; effluents; velocities; turbulence; densities. This list, as well, is surely not exhaustive.

At work, the silence is broken when my coworker complains about the electronic forms we fill. “The listy-thingy,” she says. Drop-down menu, I scream inside my head. “The… you know,” she says, moving her pinched fingers back and forth. Toggle, I yell again. She is surprised by every error message. Fill out the goddamn required fields, I pretend to shout. I see her staring at the computer with the same stupefied wonder I get peering into the depths of The Mighty Fraser. Her face contorts and reddens.

“I never learned this stuff when I was young, you know,” she says. The contrition in her voice startles me.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t learn anything important when I was growing up either.” She squints her eyes and tilts her head, then looks back to her computer. Conversation over.

Stealthily, I pull up a search engine on my own computer. How to understand a river.

Enter. The results are a pell-mell of scientific formulas, mystic travel pieces, safety warnings and fishing advice. There’s nothing that quite satisfies what I’m looking for. I get back to work.

On the bus home, a cell phone dings the stock iPhone SMS notification. Ten people eagerly grab their phones; ninety percent disappointment ensues. Some guy plays his music before his earbuds are plugged in; he blushes as furiously as he fumbles to silence the hip-hop beat. Angry stares abound. Always make sure your earbuds are plugged in, everyone thinks. Rude loser. When my annoyance subsides, a lonely ache fills my chest.

I get off two stops early; I want to walk along the river.

The city streets slope steeply to the water, making my feet smack hard and loud on the tarmac—I can see now how gravity pushes me like a tiny tributary to where I belong. I zigzag through the alleys, heading into the cool wind off the water.

No one sees as I slip over the chain-link fence that borders the wharf. I scramble through some bushes and sit on the bank. Stare. The river changed again; the mist is gone. With the setting sun, the water’s surface is antique stained glass. Warbled and red, delicate.

I see silhouetted men fishing the river along the Quay. They have plastic buckets to hold their catch. I know, therefore, there is life inside the Fraser. There’s an entire ecosystem under there. I know this—that there is a system—because the salmon cannot be the only species. You can’t survive as a species in isolation. You need something else, which also needs something else, and so on. All the flora and fauna species prop each other up into a house of cards. Still, I can’t imagine life burgeoning under the Fraser. I don’t understand—how can anything survive such a swift current?

I dip my finger into the water and bring it to my mouth. It’s tasteless as tap water. I wonder if I’m going to get sick with Beaver Fever or brain-eating amoeba. Maybe even hepatitis of some sort, if there is human sewage in the river.

There’s a stack of Post-its and a black pen in my pocket. I pull them out. “Water Study”, I scrawl at the top of a sticky. I sketch the water sloshing around a rock near my foot. The result looks like a robin’s egg in a cartoon bird’s nest. I am not Da Vinci. Or was it Medici? Rote facts don’t matter anyhow. I set the sticky and the pen on another rock.

I want to have a feel for something natural. I swear I’m not being retro or ironic or meta. It’s just that I feel baseless. I live at the behest of unnatural forces. There’s this thing inside me that wants me to be closer to the earth. I don’t know what it is, but I tried to listen.

I have tried. I walked down the city street with hundreds of others, holding a cardboard sign. No pipeline, we all agreed. But I think it’s coming anyways. I heard someone whisper to his friend, I know its bad for climate change, but we could really use the jobs. His friend’s eyes widened; she craned her neck to see if anyone overheard. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak to a single person.

I went home and saw my photograph—sign in hand—tweeted by Naomi Klein. My phone beeped and lit up all day. “I saw you on Naomi’s Twitter!! OMG! So amazing.” “You go girl, social justice! Xox” and “Saw you were downtown—loved your sign LOL”. I replied: “Thanks”; “Thanks”; “Thanks”. My phone went quiet.

The recycle bin at my apartment was full, so I guiltily stuffed my cardboard sign into the garbage. I just didn’t want to look at it anymore, and recycling day wasn’t for nearly a week. Its okay, I told myself, I ride the bus and I never use disposable coffee pods. Like a priest, I absolve myself of wrong-doings.

The next day I started looking at—really looking at—the river. It confounds me, still, and I admit I’m becoming desperate. I feel as though it might be possible to tap into some primordial chunk of my DNA; it might be possible to have a revelation from within.

The cold sand and rocks under my ass are the best thing that’s happened all day.

The reddened surface of the Fraser pulls me in like the warm glow of fire. First a toe. Then another. Until it’s foot, ankle, shin, knee.

Immersion Study, I think.

Thighs, hips, navel, breasts. How else will I ever understand?

Neck, chin, nose, forehead.

This is it. I will get carried away with my thoughts until I reach the depth of understanding I’m looking for.