Who’s Buying Here?

 

Justin Turcotte is the new face of New Westminster.

The 29-year-old filmmaker and his wife, Jaycey, moved to the city last year from East Vancouver. They bought a home in Sapperton because they could afford it, something they could no longer do west of Tenth Avenue.

But moving to New West hasn’t cost them the urban vibe they loved in East Van, says Turcotte. “It really doesn’t feel like a suburb.”

Realtor James Garbutt says he’s seeing more and more buyers looking at New Westminster as a real alternative to Vancouver but without giving up the amenities of city life.

In fact, 22 percent of visitors to open houses he’s conducted in New West are from Vancouver, says Garbutt, whose team has been tracking the numbers for months.

For detached single-family homes sold up to October, 2016, 51 percent of the buyers’ agents were from Vancouver, suggesting their clients likely are as well, says Garbutt. For condos, 36 percent of the buyers’ agents were from Vancouver.

Overall, 39 percent of buyers’ agents were from Vancouver. The next biggest source was New Westminster-based agents—13 percent—often representing residents who’ve chosen to stay in the city. Burnaby and Coquitlam were the next biggest sources for home buyers, with about 11 percent each.

“In New West, our main sources of buyers are coming from more expensive markets, primarily Vancouver,” says Garbutt. “However we are seeing a trend that New West is a sought-after community for residents in the Fraser Valley who are looking to relocate closer to Vancouver. They accounted for about nine percent of the buyers’ agents.”

New Westminster is no longer a secret, says Garbutt. “It’s centrally located, there’s a great sense of community, and, quite frankly, it’s the most affordable community to buy into that’s within 30 minutes of Downtown Vancouver.”

Many of the buyers he’s met are young, urban professionals, some with young families, says Garbutt.

Like Anna Horvath. Even though she grew up in New Westminster, it’s only when she started shopping for her first home she realized her appreciation for what the city offers.

“I thought New West was for retirees and well-to-do families,” says Horvath of her perception of the city when she was younger.

But as she looked for a home of her own, she started to see New West through a different prism.

“More and more younger professionals as well as younger families are attracted to the area,” says Horvath.

After considering areas like Gastown, Chinatown, and Mount Pleasant in Vancouver, Horvath realized there’s no place like home. She bought a condo in the Trapp + Holbrook building on Columbia Street.

“The area needed to have a sense of community,” says Horvath of her requirements for her new home. “I wanted it to be on a transit line and no bridges between my place and the downtown core. I did not want to spend most of my disposable income on a mortgage.”

The city’s changing demographic comes with difficulties, says its mayor, Jonathan Coté.

“It certainly does present a challenge to be able to anticipate that services are in line with the growing population and demand,” says Coté.

To meet that challenge, the City embarked on a three-year process to update its Official Community Plan, a kind of roadmap for growth that was last visited in the 1990s. New Westminster’s population—currently at around 67,000—is expected to exceed 104,000 by 2041.

Developers are jumping aboard.

Bosa Developments recently submitted its proposal for two tall towers between the River Market and Pier Park, joining its RiverSky project currently under construction next to the Inn at the Quay. Aragon and Wesgroup are also adding major projects to the city’s skyline. Onni is in the final phases of its massive Victoria Hill development.

But to manage the city’s growth, it needs a variety of housing options, and infrastructure like schools, transportation, recreation, culture, and jobs, says Coté.

“The Official Community Plan is definitely a document that guides us how the city will transform,” says Coté. “The timing is perfect for a city in our stage of growth that is starting to become attractive.”

One key component is the city’s new Family-Friendly Housing Policy.

It was sparked by a 2015 City of New Westminster supply analysis that ranked New West 21st out of 22 Metro Vancouver communities for ground-oriented housing and 20th for housing options with three bedrooms that are more family-friendly.

But the need for family housing is growing. Census data from 2011 shows an 11 percent increase in the number of families living in New Westminster compared to 2006. Of neighbouring communities, only Surrey and Coquitlam saw a larger jump, and BC’s overall increase was just 6 percent.

Matt Lorenzi knows the frustration of finding a family home in New Westminster only too well. He spent about a year searching for a new, larger home that could accommodate his growing family, his budget, and his desire to stay centrally-located in the Lower Mainland as well as close to transit.

“We wanted more space, something as modest as a third bedroom or spacious den,” says Lorenzi, whose family of four could no longer fit into their one bedroom plus den apartment. “We knew the supply of three-bedroom condos was limited. But we didn’t really realize just how limited it was until we started our search.”

After a series of consultations with residents and builders, the City enacted a new bylaw that mandates new multi-family projects must dedicate at least 30 percent of units to two and three bedrooms with at least 10 percent of the total comprised of three-bedroom units.

New multi-family rental buildings must also include a minimum 25 percent two- and three-bedroom units, with at least five per cent of the total comprised of three-bedrooms or more.

The bylaw, the first of its kind in British Columbia, came into effect on January 1, 2016.

So far developers have been receptive, says John Stark, New Westminster’s acting manager of planning. “There is a realization in the development community that three-bedroom units appeal to a wider market segment, like extended families and young professionals looking at shared living arrangements.”

In fact, says Stark, some projects that have been submitted by builders in the past year are even exceeding the mandated requirements for two and three-bedroom units. One of those is a new condo development planned for 100 Braid St.; 26.1 percent of its units will be two-bedrooms and 13.5 percent will have three bedrooms.

Stark credits an ongoing dialogue with developers as well as some key compromises, like not requiring the third bedroom to require direct light from a window, for the smooth transition. He says the city is committed to gauging the ongoing success of the bylaw and adjusting it if necessary.

“We’re still in the early days,” says Stark.

“The Official Community Plan allows the city to be in a better position to plan and ensure that growth will benefit the city and the people who are moving here,” says Coté.

That gives Lorenzi hope his family will be able to stay in New West, even as their living requirements change. After a year of searching, and flirting briefly with the idea of moving to Port Moody or elsewhere, they were able to find a suitable condo in Victoria Hill.

“Over the eight or nine years prior to moving (to Victoria Hill) we grew to love New West,” says Lorenzi. “The city should encourage a mix of housing, especially larger units for growing families.”

Justin Turcotte says he’s confident moving to New West was the right choice.

“It took a bit of warming up to the idea of living so far from Vancouver,” says Turcotte. “We’re discovering new things about the city and have been pretty impressed by what we’ve seen so far. I definitely still think that it’s only going to improve and offer more.”

Anna Horvath says she’s also feeling good about her decision to stay in New West, close to family and the friends she grew up with.

“It ticks most of the boxes.”

New Westminster is changing, and this is a critical time in its transformation. Planning that recognizes growth, embraces the city’s diverse demographic, and a drive to adapt will ensure it continues to thrive and be a great place to live. Who will be the face of New Westminster in 2041?

 

Paint It Red!

 

Take a moment this spring, on a quiet afternoon if you can, and stroll in to Queen’s Park Arena once the glossy, green wooden floor is in. Take in the sights—the banners, the displays, the retired jerseys, the sounds, and yes, even the smells. This is what history feels like: the living, breathing history of the New Westminster Salmonbellies. Founded in 1889, the Salmonbellies have a longstanding place of pride in this community, and to many, they are a strong representation of family—family pride, family legacy, and, most importantly, time spent together as a family.

Photo by Rachel Riding

Representing four generations of proud Salmonbellies, Bill Tyler’s family is a testament to the strong sense of family the Salmonbellies organization exemplifies. The Tyler legacy began with Bill Tyler (Bill’s grandfather and namesake) who played nine seasons for the Senior A Bellies from 19351944. One of Bill’s favourite stories about his grandfather took place later in his Bellies’ career. His grandfather joined the Navy during WWII and when the Bellies found out they were going to be facing a very tough, physical team, Mayor Hume (who ran the Salmonbellies organization at the time), lobbied the Navy to allow him to return home to play.

Bill’s father, Mac Tyler, grew up playing lacrosse in New Westminster and eventually joined the Senior Salmonbellies as a rookie in 1964. At 6’4”, and wearing large black rimmed glasses, he would have been an imposing figure as he ran down the floor. Mac Tyler went on to have a lengthy and celebrated career with the Bellies which included winning three Mann Cups, receiving many all-star awards, and playing as part of the World Championship team in 1968.

Bill also grew up playing for the Salmonbellies, wearing his jersey with pride and playing games on that “magical green floor” in Queen’s Park Arena. Now both his sons, Malcolm and Marcus, play for the Bellies and he has coached both of their teams over the years. Bill enjoys reconnecting with guys he grew up with who coach their kids’ teams or cheer from the sidelines.

For the Tyler family, the Salmonbellies represent a shared thread of passion that has woven its way through the generations. Many of Mac Tyler’s former teammates and their families are like one big extended family. Bill’s wife Jaymee, who had “zero knowledge of lacrosse” before meeting him, has also developed a tremendous passion for the game. “So much so,” says Bill, “ she seems determined to single-handedly keep the Bellies’ team store in business!”

Photo by Rachel Riding

According to Minor Salmonbellies Association President Rich Catton, this passion for the Salmonbellies is infectious. “For such a small community,” says Catton, “we have the third highest registration numbers in British Columbia with over 500 boys and girls playing box lacrosse and over 200 playing field lacrosse.”

When asked about multi-generational families in the Association, Catton was able to quickly list over a dozen off the top of his head, like Goss, Husband, Stewartson, Goodwin, Peterson and Porter. “There are countless lacrosse families in New Westminster that span generations and many of them continue to give back to both the Association and the community,” notes Catton.

Catton himself grew up in New Westminster playing on the famous green wooden floor and acknowledges how fortunate he was to have great coaches and supportive parents  who helped with his development and created opportunities for him to play lacrosse for a long time at a high level. “Now,” says Catton, “like so many other players who have come through the Salmonbellies organization, I give back by coaching and helping with the minor executive.”

Catton currently has three kids (a daughter and two sons) playing with the Minor Bellies and hopes his three-year-old daughter will also play in a couple of years. “I love the game of lacrosse for the many things it has taught me, the things it has given me,” says Catton, “and definitely for the friendships I have made.”

It’s the ability to have everyone in your family be part of the game and Association that makes it so engaging, and doable, for so many families. Take the Deans, for whom lacrosse is most definitely a massive family affair. Dad, Geordie Dean, is a Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame recipient who had a long and illustrious career with the Senior Salmonbellies for 14 years. With three Mann Cup wins, multiple trophies, and many MVP awards, it’s little wonder his #5 jersey was retired in 2007 and now hangs proudly inside Queen’s Park Arena.

While Geordie’s Senior Salmonbellies career had many highlights, it’s the moments with his own kids that mean the most to him. Like the first time his oldest son, Hudson, put on a Salmonbellies jersey, when he coached his two daughters together on the same team in field lacrosse, as well as coaching his daughter Graceyn at the national level and, most especially, seeing all four of his kids with his old number on their jerseys.

Lacrosse season is “controlled chaos” in the Dean household. Last year alone, both older kids were coaching, all four kids played, Geordie coached two teams as well as Team BC Midgets, and both daughters played on Team BC. “My wife Michelle creates a big calendar for all the practices and games,” notes Dean. “We depend on this to know where and when we need to be. Thank goodness for Grandpa and our Salmonbellies family, who we rely on to make sure everyone gets where they need to be!”

Over the years, the Salmonbellies family has continued to be a big part of Dean’s life. “Some of my best friends have come from the lacrosse community, and a lot of them are still involved with the sport in some capacity. To this day, most of our good friends, and our children’s good friends, have come to us through the lacrosse community.”

While New Westminster is filled with families like the Tylers and Deans who have donned the famous blue and red jerseys for generations the Salmonbellies Association also plays a part in creating memories for families new to the city. You certainly don’t need to have grown up here to get caught up in the excitement and thrill of being a part of the Bellies family. Nancy Graham and her husband Ross moved to New Westminster in 2003. When their son Aidan was born, they quickly learned that lacrosse for the Salmonbellies was “the” hometown sport to play.

Last year Aidan played at the Novice level and was “lucky to have Geordie Dean as his head coach.” says Ross. “He’s a fantastic coach and was able to teach Aidan so much about lacrosse.” Both Ross and Nancy admit their knowledge of the sport was limited but found everyone really accepting from the get-go. “It’s like one big family,” says Nancy, “and there’s such a feeling of community. It’s been a great way for Aidan, and us, to get to know a lot of people from around town and make new friends.”

Brand new to New West, or a legacy name in the Bellies organization, we are fortunate to have a place like Queen’s Park Arena and an open extended family like the Salmonbellies. Being part of this organization brings us together and enhances our sense of community. The Bellies pull at our passions and let us give back and, at the same time, we become stronger and are given opportunities to thrive. Family is more than who lives within our walls and the scoreboard is only part of the story of how the Salmonbellies allow us all to win.


FAST FACTS!

History and Culture

  • Lacrosse is the official “national summer sport of Canada”
  • Lacrosse is known as “the fastest game on two feet”
  • Lacrosse has been played in Canada for over 1000 years
  • In the traditional indigenous Canadian version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field from 500m to 3km long

Lacrosse in New West

  • The minor field lacrosse season runs from September to January
  • The box lacrosse season runs from April to June
  • Tryouts for novice level and above begin in February and the provincial playoffs run into July
  • Kids can start playing mini-tyke lacrosse at age five
  • Registration starts in January (see www.minorbellies.com)

Want to try it out?

Each February, the Salmonbellies offer the Doug Hazelwood Clinic to players under eight and new players under ten. This free clinic teaches lacrosse basics in a fun atmosphere. This year’s clinics are on February 15 and 22. More information can be found at: www.minorbellies.com

Tournaments

  • The Minor Salmonbellies Association hosts three popular tournaments during the box lacrosse season:
  • May: Dorothy Robertson Memorial Tournament (girls tyke – bantam) and the Hyack Invitational Bantam Tournament (boys and girls)
  • June: John Witt Memorial Bellie Bowl Novice Tournament (boys and girls)

Want to learn more?

The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame is in Anvil Centre right here in New West: www.clhof.org

Read:

Salmonbellies vs. the World: The Story of Lacrosse’s Most Famous Team & Their Greatest Opponents by W.B. MacDonald

 

Joining Houses

Paul wasn’t supposed to live. And then not past three. And then not past six. And now he’s thirty.

My new brother-in-law Paul has a disability, or to use his more enlightened vocabulary a ‘diverse-ability’. It’s a one-in-a-million condition, for real. We can talk about the science later, or not, because in some ways the details don’t matter. It’s like when the end of a movie doesn’t say what happened to the main character, or wanting to know the gory details of a crime. Curiosity is natural, but it can overshadow what’s really important about the story.

I married Alexi less than two years ago, officially joining houses with a family that is different from mine. What I noticed from the start is the openness and closeness of this new family. Emotions are stated plainly. Arguments happen. They can spend so much time together without a break. I found this remarkable, but it could make me feel uncomfortable.

Paul is Alexi’s younger brother. He is very social. His 30th birthday was packed with a mix of family, friends, rugby teammates, young entrepreneurs, and free-spirited souls. He has a ridiculous guffawing laugh that makes me stop whatever I’m doing to join in. His bright blue eyes have a wonderful mischievousness lurking just below the surface, which often manifests as a smartass comment that catches me off guard.

His stubbornness is at once his best and worst quality. He dreams about wheeling across Canada and doesn’t want to hear reasons not to, but has to confront his body’s limitations. He trained too much, which resulted in a ceaseanddesist order from his metabolic specialist. He lives very independently and works hard to make it happen. But he also needs support to prep meals and clean because his fine motor control is varied. I admire Paul’s stubbornness, despite the worry it sometimes produces for those around him. It pushes him to live a great life.

Life’s most meaningful experiences are so memorable because they are the best and hardest things you will ever do. This has been true for me about joining my new family.

It has been amazing. I sat in a room while the whole family worked with Paul to make a “path.” A path is a life plan where you write and draw all your big dreams, hopes and ambitions, and then work back to create a workable plan to get there. It was in these few hours where I saw—really saw—how much love and closeness this family shared. The conversation was about living independently, finding love, finding meaningful work, and living well. I saw Paul’s courage as he talked about his dreams and some of his unique challenges. I heard overwhelming support, interspersed with some hard truths and reality-checks.

It has been hard. Before we got married, Alexi and I talked about having children and the possibility of having a child with a disability. I was terrified. I asked if we should find out  before getting married. I asked if we should not get married if it turned out we couldn’t have kids. We went through genetic testing to see if we were both carriers of the particular gene. It was a game of chance. It was a conversation with doctors about probabilities. It turns out we’re OK.

It was during our conversation about children that I felt  most loved, and saw my wife’s courage and  commitment. She said, “I love you, and that’s enough. We’ll figure everything else out.” These two sentences changed me. I was coming from a place of fear. She was coming from a place of love, commitment, and faith.

Her parents are remarkable and candid. I see their joy and appreciation for life. I remember his mother saying, while we were sitting looking at the water, “You stop worrying about a lot of things when you’re not sure if your child is going to live or not.” I know it’s been hard for them having a child that needs more support through their life. A son that is very independent, but won’t launch the same way as their daughter.

Getting to know Paul has made me more compassionate. I am more willing to ask questions and try to understand people’s experiences. I am more willing to contribute to my community. I see the randomness, fragility, unfairness and most of all the beauty of life. We can’t predict who will be in perfect health, have a car accident, get cancer, or have a disability. I am grateful for the support that he and my family receives. Because the same thing could happen to me, to my neighbor, or to my friends. I want to live in and help build a compassionate community. It’s hitting home now because I will be a father soon too.

RESOURCES:

The Family Support Institute of BC, located in New West, strengthens and supports families faced with the extraordinary circumstances that come with having a family member who has a disability.

Vela is a Langley-based non-profit that helps families create amicroboard”. A microboard is a small group of committed family and friends who join together with the individual to create a non-profit society (board) to help the individual plan their life, advocate for what they need, and connect to their wider community.

 

The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part Five)

This is an ongoing series written and illustrated by JJ Lee. New to Havenholm? Start at the beginning!


The story so far: Oscar is the spirit of a boy trapped on the hill of Havenholm, where a supernatural river surrounds him and his ghostly friends Willa and Tough Tom. Beneath its waves swims a monster created by a wizard named Maurais. Maurais is seemingly immortal and sustains himself by stealing the souls of deceased children. Willa believes they will find the means to break Maurais’ dark spell in the ruins of her burnt-out home.

PART 5, CHAPTER 7

Willa forged ahead with ease through the woods but when she turned she discovered Oscar had fallen far behind. She made her way back to him. “What’s the matter?”

“Just a second,” said Oscar. “I just need to catch my breath.”

“That would make sense if you actually still breathed.”

He made a wan smile and bent over. They were going back to the spot where Oscar first encountered Willa, where his then-mortal hand passed through her spectral one, where he ran, and where his heart stopped.

“Look, it’s okay. I died there too.”

“That house is your house?”

“Yes. I lived there.”

“How can you go back?”

“I didn’t. I never went to my place. Then you came and changed everything. I was there because of you.”

“But why?”

“Don’t you see? You make everything different. He needed my soul and he didn’t get it. He needed yours and he didn’t get it. We got you instead. We needed help and now you’re here.”

Oscar said, “You must think I’m chicken.”

Only when Willa set a hand on his shoulder did Oscar realize he was on his knees, half slumped in the snow. He picked himself up.

“Don’t tell Tough Tom, but the place still gives me the heebie jeebies.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“And, like, we’re the ghosts, right?”

“Oscar, you were meant to help us.”

“Dead or alive.”

“Tough Tom says it’s fate.”

As they set off again, Oscar intoned, “Luke, it is your destiny.”

“What?”

Empire Strikes Back.”

Oscar had watched Return of the Jedi that past summer and had filled Willa with the more-than-relevant details of 1980s childhood, with a particular emphasis on the great saga of his time.

“Right,” she said. “One of the Star movies.”

“The last I’ll ever see. When I think about it, I should be more afraid of you.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Murderer.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Sorry, my ass. With friends like you, who needs soul-sucking river monsters?”

It may have been at this particular moment, as they finally found their way through the wild brush and stepped onto the meadow, as he teased her and she laughed, that Oscar noticed Willa’s smile was quite pretty. It faded, however, like the sun behind a cloud, when they reached where Willa’s house once stood. Oscar stood in the centre of the ruins and slowly turned around to survey what remained, all the while avoiding casting his eyes toward the spot where he met his demise. “So, where do we start?”

Willa pointed at the foundations of the north wall, the one facing uphill. “This is where the kitchen was.”

She glided to a spot near the middle. “My parents kept a book in a box in the cupboards. I want you to dig around and find it.”

“Geez,” said Oscar. He was not one for doing chores. If he were watching TV or working on a model boat or plane at his desk and his mother called his name, he wouldn’t hear it. Of course, if she switched to calling his dad’s, well then, in a majestic feat of selective hearing, Oscar would rush to get to her before his dad did. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m the lookout.”

“For what?”

“I thought you said you wanted to help.”

Oscar could not dig with his hands. The ground, under the snow and bits of ice, was compact and hard. He found he could clasp a piece of wood and scrape at the rubble and debris: layers of soil, rocks, old roof tiles, and scorched and rotted bits of rafter. Soon the wood became inadequate to the task, but Oscar came upon a chrome table leg. He used it as a pick and crowbar. The work would have been back-breaking for the living, but for Oscar the problem was his mind going numb with concentration.

“If only I could do what you can do,” said Willa.

Oscar grunted, “It would speed things up, that’s for sure.”

The chrome leg slipped through his hands. Oscar stepped over the foundations into what was once the backyard and sat down on crumbling concrete steps. “Do you think I could do what you can do? Fly and appear and disappear?”

Willa kept her eyes on the woods and treetops as she answered. “Tough Tom says you can. I’ve tried, but he says I haven’t tried hard enough. He says there are different kinds of ghosts because there are different kinds of souls. How you become a ghost makes you a certain kind of ghost.”

“I see.” And Oscar did. He imagined Willa’s house bursting into flames. The smoke kills her and then the flames take her, turning her into smoke. What did death do to her soul? If Willa had her chance to deal with Maurais, what would she do to him? He thought of Maurais’ soul. He thought of Maurais haunting them. Oscar shivered. “At the end of Empire Strikes Back, Luke starts to be like his father.”

“You mean the old guy?”

“No, Darth Vader. The bad guy. He becomes like the guy he’s trying to beat.”

“Is this the one with the teddy bears?”

“They’re Ewoks, and that was Return of the Jedi.” He wanted to explain that Luke saved his enemy’s soul instead of destroying it, which he thought was kind of neat, but he knew Willa wouldn’t like to hear about it. Oscar sighed and stood. He glared at the table leg and tried to focus.

“Don’t move,” said Willa. As she started to fade, she pointed down the hill to the incongruous scene of a car driving on the wavy surface of the river that trapped them on Havenholm. Of course, Oscar knew from the driver’s perspective, that of the living, that the band of water was simply a road of gravel and dirt. “Have you seen it before?”

“I…don’t think so. No.”

The car was long and low, matte black. Long fins topped with chrome extended along the trunk. Though it was midday, the taillights smoldered like embers. The engine rumbled and the pulse air and its sound throbbed up the hill and through the veil between life and death, sending tremors through both Oscar and Willa. The car rolled slowly, as if its occupants were sight-seeing or going on a Sunday drive. It went around the bend towards Maurais’ side of the hill and disappeared from sight.

“Did you see who was driving?”

Oscar said, “No.”

“I think we should go back to the tree.”

“Do you think it was him?”

“I don’t know. We should go back now.”

Oscar took his makeshift tool and, in the way only a thirteen-year-old would, speared it through a layer of rotting floorboards. It struck something metallic and hollow.

Willa reappeared next to Oscar. “Dig. But hurry.”

He jabbed and scraped away until he uncovered a rusted cash box. Clumps of clay and stones clung to it like barnacles. “I can’t open it.”

Willa wasn’t listening. Her eyes were fixed on a nearby, leafless tree. On its branch perched a black bird. At least, that’s what Oscar thought it was until he noticed it had neither beak nor eyes. Its legs were made of dried twigs. It appeared to be a clump of black feathers that someone had twisted, tangled, and knotted with twine into the shape of flying creature. But it was no bird. It hopped along the branch until it reached the trunk and began to knock itself against the tree. It made the tock-tock of a woodpecker. From deep in the woods sounded a reply. Then another, then another, until a chorus rose, a hundred crazed cuckoo clocks, ticking and tocking from the walls of a madman’s workshop. Willa looked up to see a flock of black feathers swarming towards them. She grabbed Oscar’s hand and ran.

 

Q10: Albert Kamba: Building Community

Photos by Olga Zamudio

Passing along Twelfth Street, you may not notice Salon Elegant, particularly if you’re not in need of barbering services. But there’s more going on behind the black awning than one would initially guess. If you venture inside, you’ll find a lively space where you might feel drawn to sit down and hang out for a while. Albert Kamba, who runs the shop, is passionately building something of a community centre, a place where youth can be trained in the art of barbering.

There’s plenty of turnover along that strip of Twelfth Street and many shuttered businesses surround the salon, yet his business is clearly thriving.

Salon Elegant opened in 2006 as a two-chair service before expanding to the current location. Albert has a fascinating life story that includes life in the Congo and travels in Europe before becoming a one-handed barber after a car accident. There must be many stories to be told about these adventures, yet what really lights him up is talking about training young men and women. He’s surprised to hear that people have heard his story.

About eight years ago, he began by training his nephew who lived in his community. After finishing high school, the man was unsure what he wanted to do. College didn’t seem like the right fit. Albert took him in and taught him the trade. He says that young men need to be helped, they need guidance to find their way. It’s training and mentorship.

Albert calls barbering a noble job: “You meet everyone—lawyers, bus drivers, politicians…You get to know them. You help them.”

And not just with their hair. Albert tells of connecting people who need a ride from the airport and helping families who are moving. When you become a customer, you become a community member.

A visit to the salon shows the truth in his words. At 10:30am, before the salon even opens, people start to flood in. They perch comfortably in the hairdressing chairs and lounge on the couches. Albert says they often don’t want to leave after they get their haircut and hang out to continue the conversations. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed. He often adds little extras to the salon like TVs showing sports or hosting special parties. The salon is in constant flux, and this keeps it interesting.

Albert casually mentions that he’s a pretty superb barber, and there’s no reason to doubt his words. Customers flock to the salon from all over the Lower Mainland. He thinks Chilliwack, Surrey, and Maple Ridge need more barbers. He hopes that the youth he trains can one day franchise the salon to diverse locations.

“It’s not about making a million,” Albert says. “It’s about providing the service.”  

He emphasizes people from all different backgrounds come to the salon. His most recent trainee is a young woman from Vietnam. She’s already been working with him over eight months. Albert emphasizes the length of time his trainees stay with him repeatedly—eight years, six years, four years…They don’t take his training and leave, but stay on as staff and continue to work in the salon. They enjoy the lifestyle, he says, as well as the trade.

Relationships are clearly what Salon Elegant is all about. He speaks about his customers’ loyalty. They often hear about him by word-of-mouth and, he openly acknowledges, a one-handed barber is something of a novelty. But once they have their hair cut by him or one of his trainees they are hooked and become regulars.

“New Westminster made me who I am,” he says, without a hint of hesitation.

Clearly a man of ambition and vision, what is next for Albert? He has his answer at the ready: a barbering school. He has many young people requesting to learn from him and he’s not equipped to deal with the large number of requests. Without any formal or informal advertising, how do people find out about his low-key training program? Word of mouth, of course. The trainees tell their friends and those friends come to Albert requesting to be trained by him. He wants to take them all in, especially since there’s such a need for quality barbering services, but to do so he needs a formal school.

It seems obvious: the demand for quality barbers matches elegantly with the demand for his training. He can pass on what he knows about creating a strong relationship with customers and about cutting their hair just right.

The school isn’t currently in the works, but the idea is percolating. In the meantime, there are youth to be trained, the salon to be run, people to be helped with the day-to-day activities of their lives. And always hair to be cut.

Need a haircut? Check out Salon Elegant at 806 Twelfth Street or at salon-elegant.com.

Family Stories from Our City’s History

Elizabeth Irving Family Bible

This New Testament belonged to the Irving matriarch, Elizabeth Dixon Irving. It is one of many Irving and Briggs family Bibles in the New Westminster Museum and Archives collection. Four generations of the family lived at Irving House on Royal Avenue. Built in 1865, the house still stands and is one of the oldest intact houses in the Lower Mainland.

According to family legend, Elizabeth Irving obtained this Bible in 1872—the year her husband, Captain William Irving, died. Did it give her comfort in those early days as a widow?

Like the other Bibles in the museum’s collection, it lists family births, marriages, and deaths on its blank pages. This particular copy, however, only includes information about four family members. The first page of handwritten notes has the dates for Elizabeth and William. The second page records the birth of a daughter, also called Elizabeth, and her husband, Ernest Spencer. None of the other four Irving children are listed.

That the book includes the elder Elizabeth’s death tells us that this genealogy was filled in after she passed away. Elizabeth died in January, 1922, aged 90, in Portland, Oregon.

Missing from this information is that Elizabeth remarried in 1887 (or 1889, according to another Bible in the collection). Her second husband was Anthony George Ryan. Ryan was originally a gardener. He was also considerably younger when they married (she was in her fifties while he was about 38).

Elizabeth divorced Ryan nine years later. A clipping in a family scrapbook says he had squandered away her money—her investments around Portland, Oregon, had made her a millionaire. Ryan, however, blamed Elizabeth’s family for driving a wedge between theme. Court papers tell a more sinister story: He repeatedly verbally abused her, and once woke her at midnight to threaten her a gun.

An alcoholic, numerous guardians watched over Ryan during his last years. In 1904, even Elizabeth requested the courts appoint him a guardian. Ryan still owned one-third of a farm he shared with Elizabeth, the only property they bought together after their marriage. Ryan died on the last day of May, 1913.

William Allison ‘Death Plaque’

A next-of-kin memorial plaque like this commemorates those who died serving in British and Empire Forces during World War I. It is about the size of a CD and came with a brief message from King George V.

Around a million of these were sent to families in 1919 and 1920. Parents or wives could display these so-called ‘Death Plaques.’ They were also known as the Dead Man’s Penny, the Widow’s Penny, or even the Death Penny, as they were made of bronze.

The New Westminster Museum and Archives has a number of these plaques in its collection, donated by descendants of the soldiers. Each plaque reminds us of young people who died during the Great War. They are also reminders of the anguish families must have felt upon receiving one. Long after the war ended, newspapers remained filled with announcements of deaths, as wounded soldiers died from their injuries or infectious diseases.

This plaque commemorates William Roderick Allison who died on February 24, 1919, months after the end of the war. The former bank clerk was born in New Westminster in 1897. He worked at the Bank of Montreal in Port Coquitlam.

He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry at 19, along with his two brothers. His unit was immediately sent to Ypres, Belgium, and he fought at Passchendaele.

Allison was wounded in France in September, 1918, two months before the end of the war. He was run over by a truck, suffering chest wounds and a fractured right arm. He lived on for a few months at a hospital in Derbyshire, England. With his compromised health, he caught influenza and later pneumonia. He was 21 when he died.