Mailbag: Shop New West this Christmas

Here at Tenth To the Fraser, our editorial team has been kicking around ideas for localizing our Christmas celebrations this year. Our family will attempt to source most of our food locally, and I had in mind to explore local shopping opportunities as well. One of our readers is taking it one better, and plans this year to do all her family Christmas shopping locally.

Hey there.  I just checked out your blog for the first time today at the suggestion of my husband, Blair Fryer [ed. note: Blair is the City of New West’s communications manager].  What a great resource for New West!  I just posted a link on my Facebook page so that all of my NW friends can check it out. 
I also wanted to tell you about something Blair and I are doing this Christmas which might be of interest to you.  We’ve decided to do all of our Christmas shopping in New West this year, purchasing as much as possible from local businesses. (The Wii for the kids might be the only exception.  Best Buy is technically in NW but doesn’t exactly qualify as a local business!)  There are so many fabulous new shops and galleries on Columbia and E. Columbia, I don’t think we will have any problem finding perfect gifts for our family members, teachers, coaches etc.  Gifts certificates for a our favourite cafes and restaurants are another option.  I’m planning to let all of our friends know about this via email and Facebook in hope that others will consider doing the same, or at least supporting some local businesses as they make their Christmas purchases.  It’s a great way to support our community, particularly during such difficult economic times.  It’s also a message to other businesses that NW is a great place to set up shop.
Congratulations again on your blog!


Rebecca Maurer

Thank you for your note Rebecca! Your email was a timely reminder for us (and our blog readers) to remember New Westminster businesses when planning our Christmas shopping this year.

In the post I wrote on Peter Julian‘s idea for a destination B.C. history museum and arts centre downtown, my co-author Jocelyn said in the comments

I vote they take over the Burr theatre and knock down an ugly next-door neighbour for the museum part. Columbia seems perpetually on the edge of greatness, perhaps this would push it over. Can’t you see Columbia as the Commercial Drive of the Fraser?

The funny thing is, while Columbia may be teetering on the edge of greatness today, once upon a time the ‘golden mile’ was the place to shop. A recent Newsleader article paints the picture:

It was the 1950s and 1960s, boom years for New Westminster’s most famous street nicknamed the “golden mile.”

Woodward’s, Eaton’s, Army and Navy and Spencers, all dominant retailers of the time, were found on the mile—actually four to six busy, crowded blocks.

It was one of the busiest retail districts in Canada, said historian Archie Miller—busier than Toronto’s Yonge Street, Vancouver’s Granville Street and Montreal’s rue Sainte-Catherine.

Think about that for a minute. Busier than Younge Street, Granville Street or rue Sainte-Catherine. Oh, New West! What a decline! And yet it is improving. More boutique businesses are opening along Columbia and in Sapperton, and many locals are hopeful that we really could be approaching the tipping point to retail greatness once more. If and when we do, it will be thanks to people like Rebecca and Blair, who look away from the generic frenzy of mall shopping and seek out unique gifts from local shopkeepers. 

Need a break from the Goo Goo Ga Ga?

Although there are a lot of children in New Westminster, it can be hard for new parents and newcomers to our city to meet other parents and establish a network for social interaction and support. During the summer it’s not so hard – just head out to your local park, the Queens Park spray park or Grimston Park wading pool and you’ll find a ton of parents with their kids.

During the cold, wet winter months, it’s more complicated. While there are a number of well-established local parenting groups, a lot of information isn’t yet online, and most of our groups are not affiliated with well-known national programs. When Googling for information La Leche League, for example, parents have to turn to neighbouring municipalities because there is no representation in New West. 

Some local parents are stepping up to create the parenting communities they seek. Jen from The Arbolog, for example, has created a new Facebook group for parents in New Westminster to “swap, buy, sell, give away, chit chat, and compare notes.”

As Jen wrote in an email to me today:

“The sad thing is there are hardly any parent type resources. I learned the closest La Leche League is deep dark Poco or into Vancouver, so other than the Family Place and the Mom’s morning thing at Olivet Baptist I haven’t found hardly any! I also look at www.yoyomama.ca a lot. Even though its sort of Vancouver-centric they do list NW a lot.”

After our son Wesley was born, I attended the Public Health-sponsored Baby Talk program at Centennial Community Centre (Wednesdays, 1-3pm), for instance. The program is geared towards new parents (though it is mostly moms), and includes a speaker on a parenting-related topic and social time for parents and babies. I didn’t meet a kindred spirit through the program, but it was great to check in with the public health nurses, weigh my baby and just plain get out of the house.

It was through Baby Talk that I learned West Coast College of Massage Therapy occasionally has free baby massage classes for parents. I can’t find any information about it online, but if it interests you, give them a call and ask if/when they’ll be offering it again. When I went, it was loads of fun. I’ve never seen so many babies in one room!

I also attended Olivet’s Mom’s Daybreak group a few times. I had a good time, and they have the HUGE bonus of providing free childcare for the duration. Unlike most other groups, the point is not for you to socialize your child, but rather to get a break and have some adult conversation! Olivet’s group also has speakers and craft sessions to keep things interesting. They are not especially ‘churchy’, although when I attended they did include a short Bible story session. Despite this, I felt no obligation to attend the church or even be a Christian to participate.

The Family Services of Greater Vancouver site lists a bunch of parenting resources for our community. There are drop-in programs in pretty much every community centre for parents of kids under the age of six, plus some interesting specialized programs. Running quickly through the list, a lot of programs seem to be targeted at Aboriginal parents, and also single parents and teen parents.

Some programs that I haven’t experienced personally, but which sound interesting are:

 As I was doing some research for this post, I came across the Tiny Tots Coupon Book again, which is like an Entertainment Book for parents of young children. Little did I know – the ladies behind the Tiny Tots book are based right here in New Westminster! You can buy the Tiny Tots Coupon Book at Dimpleskins and Pedagogy Toys in Sapperton.

New course series for heritage home lovers

Heritage home aficionados can now sign up for applied courses on home restoration through the Vancouver Heritage Foundation:

… the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, established in 1992 and best known for raising money and awareness through workshops and its wildly popular annual heritage home tours, to offer a unique educational series.

It’s called Old School: Courses for Building Conservation, and it’s designed to meld heritage theory with hands-on practice.

The $400 certificate program comprises a mandatory core course called Heritage 101, as well as seven elective courses.

Graduation – and it’s expected it will take you about two years to complete the program schedule – is dependent on attendance and most courses are available evenings and weekends, in fall and spring sessions.

If you’re not looking for the diploma, you can pick and choose individual courses, which range in price from $12 to $100, and include Windows and their Conservation, Research the History of a Building, Creating a Budget for a Conservation Project, and Creating a Conservation Plan.

Instructors include familiar names in Metro Vancouver heritage circles, like consultant and author Don Luxton and Eric Pattison, a New Westminster architect who specializes in heritage building.

Source: No longer a deal, vintage homes priced for heritage and “green” benefits”, Vancouver Sun

Heritage Walks from SkyTrain Stations

Vancouver historian John Atkin has published a book about heritage walking tours near each SkyTrain station. Local blogger Just A Gwai Lo has made it a mission to try out (and blog, and photograph!) each one. 

He recently followed the New Westminster Station route, and what struck me was his assessment of our city:

New West holds a strong place in B.C. history, having the distinction of being British Columbia’s capital city, though it doesn’t hold much in my imagination, spending most of my time in Vancouver or its suburb to the East, Burnaby. I’ve spent far more time in Surrey than in New West, and New West has always been closer!

It’s really sad that this is how New West is perceived outside our borders. It has become little more than a pass-through place for most of the Lower Mainland. 

Being a hidden gem has its benefits (I’ll never forget our first realtor’s fumbling attempts to explain ‘the Burnaby premium’ – meaning you pay more for an uglier place in a worse neighbourhood as soon as you cross 10th Ave) but it just doesn’t sit right with me.