Category Archives: Downtown

Food Truck Festival – Let’s Go Eat

The good news is the first ever Food Truck Festival is coming to New West, and it is already shaping up to be amazing. The bad news, for me, anyway, is I can’t make it! But you should be putting August 10 on your calendar and head to Columbia Street and make sure you go hungry.

Kaboom BoxThe first ever Food Truck Fest here in our city, dubbed Columbia StrEAT, will feature beer gardens (woohoo #brewwest!)  live entertainment, and 15-20 food trucks on a closed Columbia Street between 4th Street and 6th Street from 3 pm to 9 pm. Food trucks confirmed include Guanaco Truck, Casalinga Carts, Beljam’s Waffles, Aussie Pie Guy, Holy Perogy (who some of you might remember from Summerfest a few years ago – oh my!) and Kaboom Box.

With New West quickly becoming a bit of a food hot spot, a Food Truck Festival – long considered to be some of the best portable restaurant incubators -makes perfect sense.

Aussie Pie Guy

We all know that Robert Fung, of the Salient Group and developers of the anticipated Trapp +Holbrook, has committed to New West. He’s the lead sponsor for this Saturday’s Pecha Kucha Volume 3 (and seriously, you should be coming to that if you aren’t already – it’s free and open to all!) is signed up as a sponsor. “Downtown New West continues to catch people’s attention as a great urban neighbourhood and dynamic place to live. There’s a strong sense of community here that is filled with the energy that comes from people sharing the knowledge that they are part of something special,” says Fung.

JJ's Trucketeria“The Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Fest is an amazing testimony to how progressive this town is, and how ready it is to blow the culinary and entrepreneurial doors off! Salient is really excited to be a part of this event and, with Trapp+Holbrook, to be part of the Columbia Street evolution. If you don’t already live here, get used to coming to Downtown New West for great food and a great sense of belonging. This event is a wonderful example of the atmosphere and excitement people can expect in Downtown New West.”

Check out the BIA’s Facebook page for more info.

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Time To Get Curious

It’s no secret that we’re proud of our rich history here in the Royal City.  Our streets are laden with lovely heritage homes and we have some of the best antique stores in the Lower Mainland.

When Jenny Cashin of Mid Century Modern Home moved her shop into the River Market, it just made sense that the River Market then became home to a new type of flea market.  A type that had never been seen in New Westminster before.

And so the Curious Flea was born.

130416_CuriousFlea_Logo_Black

The Curious Flea is a flea market for the modern age.  It’s a social flea.  An event where people are invited to shop, hang out, engage and explore.  Traditional flea markets are a hodge podge of items ranging from the unwanted to the unloved to the hidden gem and everything in between.  They’re often in stuffy halls packed to the gills with bargain hunters of every size.  Get in, get out. Kinda gloomy and depressing.

Not so, the Curious Flea!  This flea has everything going for it.  Select vendors displaying their vintage, up-cycled and retro wares.  Incredible food from the River Market tenants, spectacular view and venue, buskers to encourage you to get up and party, facepainting for the kids (and the adults, lets be honest…I’ll be doing it) from 11:30-4 by The Stage New Westminster and dance parties both days from 1 pm – 2 pm hosted by Music Box.  And lets not forget the Battle of the Curious.

sauna pants

We all own something strange.  It could be a family heirloom…it could be a horrid gift from an ex…it could that thing you just found in your closet.  Bring it  to the flea on Saturday and take it upstairs to the Curious judging booth.  The Curious Flea ringmasters will take its picture (so you don’t have to part with your treasure) and your contact information and then a team of crack experts will choose the winner by end of flea on Saturday.The winner of the most curious curio, most vintage oddity or just most plain weird will win $100 to spend at the Flea on Sunday.  Hooray!  The item will then be imortalized forever in the Curious Hall of Fame for all to gaze on in awe.

The most important thing about the flea however, is that it is a community flea.  The River Market is an anchor point in New Westminster’s blossoming downtown community, and the Curious Flea is celebrating that fact.  Many of the vendors, including Belle Encore, Brick and Mortar Living, Flying Fox Art and Design, LoCalo Living, PAVA Creations and Robyn’s Vintage Nest  are New West locals.  There are even got some original Quayside residents bringing their collectibles from home. And because of the proximity and inspiration of Front St, there will be a special table featuring wares Front St merchants. Fleaers are encouraged to come to the Flea and then take a walk down Front St to complete their day….and their collecting.

We have built this flea to be a celebration of our community.  A celebration of New Westminster and its diverse residents, fantastic shops and incredible passion.  A celebration of why we, as a city, are awesome…and just a bit curious.

jackalope_2_2

The Curious Flea will be taking place on June 1st and 2nd from 10 am to 5 pm at the River Market at 810 Quayside Dr.  General Admission is free, but there is an $10 early bird rate for 9 am entrance. We’re going to hold the flea on a quarterly basis, so lets make this first one a great one!  And if you have any suggestions…be sure to find me and let me know.  We want the flea to keep getting better and better.

For more information, check out the River Market website and the Curious Flea Facebook page.  And come on…get curious with me!

 

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Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine: Keeping a Medicinal Garden at Westminster Pier Park

File this under “who knew?”: Western Canada’s only accredited naturopathic school is right here in New Westminster.

The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, located at 435 Columbia Street is a graduate-level naturopathic medical college. Students applying require a university bachelor’s degree from a recognized post-secondary institution, or the equivalent and once accepted are entered into a rigorous four-year, full-time doctor of naturopathic medicine program.

The school is also home to the Boucher Naturopathic Medical Clinic. Much like the student massage clinic at West Coast College of Massage Therapy a few doors away, this teaching clinic offers high quality, affordable health-care to the public, while equipping our senior clinic interns with essential hands-on experience.

They are also the tenders of a public garden initiative at the Westminster Pier Park. Bill Reynolds, the Store Manager for the Boucher Institute told us about his recent day of gardening at their plot in the Park:

The day dawned bright with promise as we gathered at the Boucher Botanical Garden in Westminster Pier Park on April 28th, the last weekend in April.  Armed with shovels, rakes, hoes, brooms, watering pales and other requisite gardening tools; members of the Botanical Garden Committee met and proceeded with the task of the day which was the planting of our Garden.

Everything went well.  The garden plot provided by the New Westminster Park Dept. was fresh and had no weeds so, with many hands, the work simply flew and well before noon we had planted every herb available, raked the ground smooth, swept the adjacent sidewalks and then stood for a few minutes, finishing the last bits of our coffee and admiring our work.

The Boucher Botanical has been a dream of the students for quite some time and so it is especially gratifying to see it become a reality.  To date we have planted: Lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Motherwort, Raspberry, Celandine, Marshmallow Comfrey, and Skull cap.  We expect to add a few more plants in the next month or so but now the job is to keep everything watered and weeded.  We want to invite all to come and visit our garden.  Westminster Pier Park borders the Fraser River just east of New Westminster Quay.  We hope you all enjoy and we will post pictures to show the progress of our plants over the spring and summer.

Boucher

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Hidden gems in Downtown New West

I like to support businesses in my neighbourhood of Downtown New Westminster. Many places make this easy for me to do: River Market, Zoom Hair Salon and Columbia Integrated Health Centre, for example, are active on social media and in the community and have curb appeal to spare. They are all fabulous and I can’t recommend any of them enough.

But then there are businesses that I walk past every day and never enter. They aren’t out there promoting themselves and they just don’t look like they have a lot to offer. But then, one day, I go in and realize how badly I’ve misjudged them.

These hidden gems that have been quietly providing a high standard of service to the community, at reasonable prices, without a lot of fanfare, and it’s about time they get some love. Here are three of my favorites:

Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut!

Agnes Barber & Stylist is the best place to bring a squirmy toddler for a haircut! Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Agnes Barber & Stylist
607 Agnes Street 778.397.0460

Agnes Barber might look like any other barbershop in the neighbourhood (which rival wedding boutiques in number) but it’s hands-down the best place to bring your squirmy toddler boy for a haircut.

I used to take my kids to a fancy-pants kids’ hair salon at the mall. They would get a 10-minute haircut and a balloon, and I’d pay $60 for the two of them, after taxes and tip. Ouch! So when I spotted the motorcycle chair through the window at Agnes Barber, I took a chance.

Our barber, Kal, was one of the most patient and pleasant people I’ve ever met. Despite having people waiting, he took his time introducing my four-year-old to the “scary” electric shaver and stayed upbeat and cheerful while my little guy squirmed and fidgeted. My two-year-old, meanwhile, HATES getting his haircut and was in full meltdown mode. Kal dismissed my apologies and wasn’t fazed at all. His skilled hands worked very quickly to get the job done while he remained calm and soothing.

Both kids got great haircuts! Despite their best efforts to walk out with bald patches, their hair looked flawless. They got to sit on a motorcycle, wore a Disney cape and each walked out with a lollypop. They also enjoyed counting the birds the huge birdcage by the window. And to top it off, kids’ cuts cost only $10! You won’t be seeing me at the mall salon again.

Agnes Barber & Stylist is open Mon-Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 10am-5pm

 

Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Columbia Square Law Office has very reasonable Notary rates, and great customer service. Photo: Linda M. Tobias

Columbia Square Law Office

833 Carnarvon Street
604.526.6352
tjhewitt@cslaw.ca

I needed some notary services recently. My husband called around for rates and, to our surprise, discovered that the most reasonable rates (for a variety of legal services, not just notary) were right in our own neighbourhood at Columbia Square Law Office.

I went down to the office with trepidation. The exterior really does leave something to be desired. The bars on the windows, the drawn shades… it was all kind of off-putting. My opinion quickly changed when I walked through the door. The receptionist, Barbara, was instantly welcoming and made me feel like my time was valuable and that I was respected.

My personal experience with lawyers has shown me that being listened to and treated with respect is the best indication of how happy I’m going to be with the outcome of my legal representation. In this case, my interaction with Mike Jukic, one of the firm’s two lawyers was brief, but my gut told me that if I were in need of legal representation again, I could count on him to come through for me.

For any future legal services, I’m heading straight to Columbia Square Law Office.

Columbia Law Office is open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, and Sat 10am-4pm

Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Unit 109-1015 Columbia Street (Columbia Square Plaza)
604.521.5572
columbiasq.ah@gmail.com

Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Dr Brar. Photo: Columbia Square Animal Hospital

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is tucked away in the northeast corner of Columbia Square Plaza, by the Rona. Open the door and you’ll see a desk covered in brochures and samples, there are hard-backed chairs and stacks of pet food for sale. Nothing about the place seems particularly warm or inviting.

And then you meet Dr. Brar.

Dr. Brar is an amazing vet. He handles my kitty with gentle, but expert hands. He asks lots of questions and takes the time to address any concerns. And, unlike, other vets I’ve encountered in the past, I never get the feeling that he’s trying to upsell me on products or services. In fact, Columbia Square Animal Hospital’s prices are very fair (about half of what my last vet charged!) When I’m there, I feel like the focus is on providing the best possible care for my kitty and not on making a profit.

Columbia Square Animal Hospital is open daily, 8am-10pm

What New West businesses do you feel are overlooked? Sound off in the comments!

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SpudShack: Fitting a Vision Into New West

You don’t know how bad French fries can be until you have amazing French fries. When a number of locals were all atwitter and agog to learn that the Spud Shack Fry Co. was opening up at the Shops at New West Station, I kind of shrugged my shoulders. I mean, I didn’t get why this was a big deal. They’re just fries, right?

Wrong.

Call them fancy French Fries or call them by their proper name of Belgian Frités, but either way, you need to head to Spud Shack and become one of the converted, just like me. Owner Dan Close has perfected the art of the deep fried potato stick; both crispy and fluffy, perfectly salted, and well portioned, the hand cut Belgian frités are, in a word, superb. The Spud Shack has quickly woven its way into my brain as one of the best places for a meal and a brew in New Westminster.

Nachos made with Belgian frites

Nachos made with Belgian frites

My frist trip to SpudShack I tried the cod and chips ($11). Served in simple metal trays, the meal featured a big portion of fish (Dan cuts and weighs each piece by hand), delectable batter, and a generous serving of frités, with a pretty amazing tartar sauce. I’ve tried the frité-chos ($10 for the small) – nachos on a tray with generous and unexpected toppings such as pickled red onions – and found them really satisfying. I’ve gone for the poutine ($5 for the small) and found it the perfect ratio of gravy:curds:potatoes. We’ve had the naked frités on their own ($4 for a medium), too, with a side of  bacon mayonnaise ($1) for dipping that was great.

The Spud Shack offers high quality craft beer on tap and in bottles, as well as craft sodas and juices, and just recently started serving desserts. Right now there are two on offer – a chocolate pot de creme with brown sugar whipping cream ($4), and a house made donut with almond praline served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce ($7). It is, as Briana said,  “the best dessert on offer in New West. Period.”

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Now, for me, what makes a place a favourite isn’t just the menu or the location. I think I’m a pretty decent cook, and I’m willing to travel to inconvenient places for good eats, so those factors are nice, but they aren’t the be all end all for me. What wins me over is a compelling combination of factors – selection and quality of the menu and liquid accompaniments, price, location, decor, and ambience are all standard criteria. The Spud Shack does a good job for me on all fronts. The wood decor and murals look good, there are multiple seating choices including a cozier low table set up and standard wood tables and chairs. I’m grateful they don’t succumb to the temptation to use styrofoam tableware and instead opt for paper cones and actual ceramic bowls and metal plates, metal cutlery, and glasses not made from cardboard, emblazoned with a logo, or featuring a plastic lid. While there are TVs (a pet peeve for me when I eat) the social atmosphere and high placement of the TVs make them mostly unobtrusive.

What will ultimately tip a place into “favourite” status for me is something a bit more than the food or how a place looks. I believe favourite haunts are welcoming and encourage you to visit rather than simply patronize. These are places we see in pop culture: Boston had  Cheers, the Friends cast had Central Perk, and The Beachcombers had Molly’s Reach (I’m dating myself with that one, aren’t I?). New West needs those, too.  A place where everyone is welcome, and where the ownership “gets” the community. Places that are open and receptive to feedback.

Cases in point: when I stopped in on my first visit, I asked about a kid’s choice on the menu. While my 4 year old is a good eater and likes fries, the fish and chips is a bit too big for him. Dan was incredibly accommodating, and said next time we were in to mention we wanted a kids’ portion and he’d fix us up. And he did – small fish nuggets on a smaller portion of fries at a reduced rate. He also picked up a couple of high chairs and is happy to put one of the TVs on the cartoon channel for his younger diners if requested. When we enquired if wine was going to be offered (thinking about future drinks-and-desserts potential), he showed us where the shelving was going to be installed. When we asked about a size between the small and medium poutine, he said he was hunting for the right bowl. When local vegan crusader Melissa approached him about keeping vegan “cheese” on hand so vegans could enjoy his poutine too, he said “where can I buy it?”

This is the kind of business I can get behind. There are others in our community doing it well already that I try to celebrate them, and I’m excited to have another one I can choose from. As an owner, Dan is positive, optimist, and welcoming. He’s not trying to fit New West into his vision, he’s trying to fit his vision into New West.

And he makes magic with potatoes.

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The Spud Shack Fry Co is located at 352-800 Carnarvon Street, on the east bound Skytrain platform at the Shops at New West Station. Give them a call at 604-553-2582, or check them out on their website, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.

We’ve organized a Family Day evening meetup at the SpudShack this Monday coming, February 11th, from 5pm onward. Dan’s agreed to offer some special combos and menu items. Check our Facebook event for details and to RSVP

 

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‘Royal City’ swag lights coming back to Columbia Street

Several weeks ago the City of New Westminster hosted an Economic Forum. The forum was intended to highlight the changes that have been occurring in the city and promote future economic opportunities. The keynote speaker at this event was real estate marketer Bob Rennie. At the end of his speech Mr. Rennie suggested that New Westminster ditch the Royal City moniker for something more contemporary. Although I was out of town during this speech, I could almost feel the collective groan in the community following this comment. Personally I do not agree that New West should ditch the ‘Royal City’ nickname, as it is engrained in the collective consciousness of our town. Having said that, and probably more to the point of Mr. Rennie, the city should be prepared to look at how and when this traditional moniker is used.

That same week on a seemingly unrelated topic, the City made the decision to install swag lights along Columbia Street.

Historic Seasonal Lighting over Columbia Street in the Downtown (Image courtesy VPL: 41806)

In the 1950’s swag lights hung over Columbia Street and contributed to a sense of pride in the community. During this time Columbia Street was known as the Miracle Mile for retail activity and drew in shoppers from all over the region.  The decades that followed were not so kind to this street though, as New Westminster largely became known as a small, old-fashioned, inaccessible community. Just as prominent retailers began to leave the street, so did the traditional crown swag lights.

Today Columbia Street is starting to make a rebound; one only needs to walk along the street to see that something is happening down there. So it seems only fitting that the city has decided to permanently install replica crown swag lights along the street. To be honest, I am not a big fan. I recognize that this is mainly a taste issue and my opinions are very subjective. I have spoken to many people and heard a range of comments from “I think they are going to look great down there” to “the design of the lights looks dated and old-fashioned”.  I am also probably the last person anyone should be getting style advice from. Having said that, I love cities and I take great passion in exploring the secrets behind what makes a city a great place.

I have been fortunate to visit a lot of great cities during my life and I don’t believe that these types of beautification programs are a key ingredient. I don’t need street banners telling me that I am in the big apple to appreciate New York. Nor do I don’t need signage indicating that I have entered the hipster capital of the world when I walk through Portland. There is something genuine about these cities and there is something genuine about New Westminster as well. Our historic buildings, our beautiful streetscapes and the river all tell the story of our community.

I also think we have lost an opportunity to allow ourselves to be inspired by the swag lights from a past era, but then to take this idea and design contemporary lighting that speaks to what the city is today and where we want to go in the future. New Westminster will always be the Royal City; I am just not convinced we need to put up ’50s-era stylized crown lights along Columbia Street to maintain our special place in the heart of Queen Victoria.

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What does growing income disparity in Metro Van mean for New West?

I read an interesting article recently from Atlantic Cities about income disparity in Vancouver, based on a research paper produced at the University of Toronto.

The report findings reveal three ‘cities’ within Metro Van. City #1 includes higher-status areas in historically upper-middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrified urban areas and redeveloped zones within areas like New West that are close to parks, views or the waterfront. City #2 includes the traditionally stable middle-class neighbourhoods and City #3 includes neighbourhoods where the average income fell more than 15% relative to the metropolitan area.

While we do have our own issues with income disparity in New West, I found it interesting to see where we stand in contrast to the region. The blue-shaded areas are the areas where household incomes have grown 15-288% more quickly than the metropolitan average between 1970 and 2005. The white areas are neighbourhoods that have seen an increase or decrease under 15%, and the red areas represent income decreases of more than 15% since 1970. If you zoom into the map (which is unfortunately pretty grainy, making details hard to see), New West shows up as largely white & blue, while large sections of nearby Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey have seen significant declines in household incomes since the ’70s.

Map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 - 2005

A map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 – 2005

A map illustrating the change in average household incomes between 1970-2005 in the Lower Mainland shows incomes in New West increasing in the Queensborough and the West End neighbourhoods, while remaining flat in Queen’s Park, Downtown/Uptown and other parts of the city. Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, affluent neighbourhoods seem to have seen incomes increase, while many formerly middle-income neighbourhoods have seen incomes decline.

According to the report, “The three neighbourhood groupings or “Cities” represent a dramatic transition from the old model of concentric social areas with poverty at the urban core and a solid band of middle income districts in the suburbs. Relative to metropolitan changes, significant income gains and losses are occurring in both city and suburban neighbourhoods. There is more inequality with 54 percent of the 2006 CMA population living in tracts that either gained or lost more than 15 percent of their income relative to the metropolitan average over the 35-year period. Equal numbers of people, about 565,000, lived in the gaining and losing tracts.”

So what does this mean for New West? Well, the report illustrates that in the current economic climate, to those who have, more will be given. And to those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away.

I think this illustration shows New West in a favourable position within the Lower Mainland. While the actual income numbers continue to show significant lower income populations here than in many other more affluent parts of the city, it shows that most citizens have either maintained their incomes or increased them – which is significant in an era when so many have seen incomes eroded. Income inequality in surrounding areas appears to be worsening, and that will result in social issues that will impact us all.

There are troubling implications when you look at who is gaining and who is losing. The report says: “City #1 is overwhelmingly the home of the native-born. In contrast there has been a marked increase in immigrants in the remainder of Metro Vancouver, and especially in City #3, which has shifted from a majority native-born in 1971 to an immigrant majority in 2006. City #3 also includes a plurality of visible minorities (61 percent) while City #1 does not (23 percent).” I don’t have enough information to be able to interpret this nugget, but it does raise questions whether opportunities for immigrants are shrinking or if some other factors are at play.

During New West’s renaissance, the City appears to have consciously tried to guard against simply pushing out lower income populations through protecting and supporting local nonprofits, protecting low-income housing and taking the initiative to house the homeless (rather than just complaining about how it’s the job of the Province to take care of that problem). As a result, we are likely to continue housing and caring for a large number of the region’s lower income families. Is that bad? While I think many people automatically think about the most abrasive marginalized people when considering the issue (those who are hardest to empathize with), we do well to remind ourselves that low-income families include seniors, new immigrants, single-parent families and others who have simply been dealt a raw hand. We can’t just pretend these people don’t exist, and we can’t write them all off as having ‘made their own beds’ to lie in.

Juxtaposed with regional trends indicating worsening income inequality, it’s good to remember that many of us in the middle risk sliding into that red zone, whether through corporate downsizing, developing health problems and being unable to work for a time, lack of financial literacy (leading to taking on too much debt – another significant problem), retiring with inadequate savings or any number of other misadventures. We all believe these things won’t happen to us, but the reality is that we’re not so special or so smart that it can’t. Every one of us could make a mistake or fail to spot and address a potential threat that could set our families back economically. Wouldn’t you prefer to live in a city where there was somewhere to turn for help, if the worst should happen?

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The shops I wish we had in New West

If New West's fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here's what I'd wish for ... (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

If New West’s fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here’s what I’d wish for … (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

I have many favourite boutiques and restaurants in New West, and it seems to me there are more opening all the time. But if I had a fairy godmother who would fast-track a few new businesses for me, here is what I would wish for:

A truly great coffee shop
New West does not lack for coffee shops, but it does lack for great coffee. A JJ Bean would be awesome, or better yet, something like Raw Canvas in Yaletown, which combines great coffee with a great creative space (and turns into a wine bar / lounge at night!). I want it down on Columbia Street, which just seems like the right place for a cool cafe.

An indoor play space for kids (that is also comfortable for parents)
While restaurants and cafes with adjacent play areas are popular in other parts of the city (Kinder Cafe in Coquitlam, Rocky Mountain Flatbread on Main, Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial), there isn’t anything in New West or nearby. There are also large indoor active play areas, Koko’s Activity Centre in Port Moody, Crash Crawly’s in Coquitlam and Jungle Jac’s in Pitt Meadows, but all of these are awful for parents – and far away to boot. I would love to see a fun place where kids can play on a rainy day and parents can sit in a comfortable chair and chat with each other over good quality coffee and snacks. Bonus points if the food is healthier / more interesting than just hot dogs and pizza. I had thought that the space where Dynamic Health and Fitness is now in Royal City Centre would have made a great large indoor play space, but River Market would be another good bet for a mid-sized space. A restaurant with a small play area could be done anytime by any of our existing restaurants. Yes, it’s fewer tables, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve overheard local parents (mostly moms) pining for such a space in New West.

A hip greasy spoon diner
Back when Will and I lived downtown (years ago!), we’d often head out to The Templeton for a hearty, hip breakfast on Granville St. This weekend when we were considering where to go in New West for breakfast, there was nowhere that quite fit the bill: independents like the Coming Home Cafe and The Hideout Cafe were likely to be closed (it was Remembrance Day) and we were left with various chain restaurants or the greasiest of greasy spoons (cheap, but no atmosphere and mediocre food). We ended up at The Boathouse for brunch, which was good in its own way, but we spent the meal daydreaming about what a great Columbia St. eatery would be like. Re-Up/Fathom sometimes has brunch on the weekends, and it is very good. Maybe the owners could be convinced to open a breakfast joint on Columbia next?

A brew pub
Last night Twitter erupted in disappointment when word got out that Brown’s Social House would be the pub tenant at the Brewery District in Sapperton. New West has a nascent craft beer community, including some intrepid home-brewers, and a local brew pub was on their wish list. I’m sure Brown’s will become a popular destination for a certain type of night out, but for now Hops remains the beer geek’s pub of choice in New West. But if there are any brew pub entrepreneurs out there reading this: Sapperton wants YOU.

A gift shop for men
We’ve got Brick and Mortar Living, Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Sonse Design (among others) where you can find a lovely little something for a woman, but men are much harder to shop for. I’d love to see someone open a Brick and Mortar-style boutique with little things for men to covet and women to gift. Ideally it would tap into the Art of Manliness movement – most men’s gift stores I’ve seen are full of unimaginative, uninspired garbage. In my opinion, this sort of store would do well on Columbia St., to tap into the wedding market and give brides something really nice to buy for their husbands, or grooms to select for their groomsmen.

An independent toy store
Yes, we had one of those (two if you count the oddly named & situated Kids Kloset), but since Pedagogy Toys closed, there’s been nowhere to go locally to buy gifts for kids. I love shopping at toy stores, and I would love to see someone give an independent toy store another go. I think a toy store would do well uptown. There are lots of parents and grandparents out and about during the day, heading to Moody Park and the Library, and I could see a lot of walk-by traffic from folks in the area to do banking, grocery shopping or other errands. A toy store in the vein of the Village Toy Shop in Port Moody would be perfect.

A neighbourhood coffee shop on 12th St
Poor, poor 12th St. It has struggled for so long and is in quite the slump right now. The hill really limits how far people will walk the street, especially without a chain of awesomeness to draw you up, one store at a time. Amber’s Choice is a nice cafe at the top of the hill, but if you’re around 6th Ave or below, it’s a long way to hike for a coffee and a muffin. John Ashdown’s old cafe, Village Coffee Lounge, was in a perfect spot for neighbourhood customers, and as a resident of the West End I certainly feel its absence. I’d love to see more tightly clustered retail on 12th St., particularly around the nexus of 12th St and 6th Ave, anchored by a great community cafe.

A large mixed-use development at 22nd St. SkyTrain
Here’s the biggest item on my wish list. I want to see 22nd St. SkyTrain station built up. Last year, three of the five or six houses immediately next to the SkyTrain were up for sale at the same time, and I was holding my breath hoping a developer would buy them – alas, not how that story turned out. Still, I think a smaller-scale Plaza 88 ‘Shops at New West Station’-type development would be great there. The proximity to downtown on the SkyTrain is awesome from that station, just 25 minutes to Waterfront and less than 20 to the edge of downtown. The price per square foot vs. travel time to downtown work would be ideal for many folks. Plus, it would provide some walkable and useful businesses for the existing local residents in the area – and potentially lift the fortunes of some of the 20th St businesses as well (which suffer from the same issues as 12th St).

There’s more of course. I’d love to see more wearable street fashion, not just bridal, and more of a visible arts presence. I miss having an art supply store on the street (years ago Full Spectrum Art Supply bowed to the bridal market and turned into Paper Poet, a wedding invitation & papercraft store), and I often wish for an independent bookstore of the type I enjoy in La Conner, WA (The Next Chapter, check it out if you are ever in the area. Fireplace, comfy chairs, decent coffee and an expertly curated selection of titles).

But that’s me. What would you like to see?

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New West Activities for September 29

This weekend is a hugely busy weekend in the Royal City – there is so much to do! And we’ve had such great weather that it is a perfect time to get out and about. Here are our top three picks for Saturday family activities:

Support Family Place at their first annual fundraising garage sale on Saturday from 9-2. They’re at 93 Sixth Street, and they tell me there will be lots of childrens toys, games, household goods and clothes. Money goes to help support all their awesome programs, and to continue to provide a warm and welcoming place for families with children aged 0-6.

Check out the awesome new festival mashup, River Fest! In celebration of World Rivers Day, the Hyack Festival Association and the Fraser River Discovery Centre have teamed up to produce a new giant event on the mighty Fraser. Check out the Facebook page for details, but activities include music, crafts, information tents, and all sorts of other family friend activities. On Friday and Saturday.

Stop by the Lantern Festival in Queensborough from 6-9pm on Saturday September 29. Activities include assembling an LED lantern, music, sparklers, and a scavenger hunt. it takes place at Port Royal Park, at the east end of Ewen Avenue in Queensborough.

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The value of ‘a pint’ in New West: a (semi) scientific exploration (AKA ‘pub crawl’)

It started like most scientific research: someone asked “why?” then sought the answer.

Except that I asked “how much”, and I was hardly the first to ask. As any scientist will tell you, most science is just collecting more data to confirm results already collected by others, so we boldly followed the trend to where many had been before.

In this case, the people we were following were the good people at the Campaign for Real Ale. Following a story that hit the regional media, a minor #NewWest Twitterstorm addressed important issues in the local pub scene: namely sizes of pints, and value for the money. This caught the attention of a few good people loosely affiliated with Tenth to the Fraser, and with many new options for the pub aficionado popping up in New Westminster, it seemed like a chance for a little compare and contrast exercise to better inform your summer pubbing. The actual research was performed on a summery day in early May, but now that summer has arrived, the results are ready for peer review.

Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

We assembled a cracked research team. At the first pub, attendance included no less than two PhD physicists, two MSc geoscientists, and two Professional Engineers. Our technical team consisted of stenographers, computer scientists, photographers, measurement professionals, teachers and poets. All would be put to test.

Being good scientists (or science fans… or science fiction fans…or poets) we sought to control all variables. All pubs were visited on the same Saturday night. We were rigidly consistent in our orders, and we used the same precise measuring tool at each pub. Being environmentally conscious, we would not think of wasting the beers we ordered, so they had to be consumed. This worked out doubly well, as it forced us into carbon neutrality, as it took driving between pubs completely off the table…

There were various ordering techniques amongst the assembled research party, but I attempted the greatest constancy: ordering “A pint of your second most expensive beer, please”. There may have been some discussion after this, as apparently it is an unusual way to order, but I invariably agreed to the first beer offered by the waiting professional, deeming that the Second Most Expensive Pint™. I’m not above mixing beers, and all this fluff about “starting light and moving towards fuller flavours” has no place in science.

Throwing caution to the wind, Research Team 2, code named “Tig”, ordered “whatever’s on special tonight” to provide an extra dataset for the less-beer- inclined. Mixing drinks in this manner is usually advised against, but science is not without its risks.

Dublin Castle, 7:30pm

Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the first week of May, the deck was remarkably crowded with what are presumably the denizens of Fraser View frolicking in their native habitat. The view is just short of really good, the food is above good, the waitress is named Kelsey.

Upon the warming up of the Graduated Cylinder of Truth®, I ordered the Second Most Expensive Pint™, which was apparently the Guinness-produced import “Kilkenny”, served in a tall branded glass. The service pint ordered by a member of our technical staff (Stanley Park Lager) was served in a standard BC-issue b509 “dimple” pint glass, served a little above the line to a measured 520mL.

All beers were enjoyed, including the one on special. The walk west began.

  • Pint: Kilkenny – 510ml for $6.75 ($6.62 per Metric Pint)
  • Special: Okanagan Springs Pale Ale: $4.75.

Brooklyn, 8:20pm

A crowd entered the Brooklyn to the dulcet tones of Huey Lewis and the News, which called for immediate occupation of the Billiards Room. The remarkable view of a non-eponymous bridge was hardly enjoyed, as a furious game of push-the-coloured-balls-towards-a-corner ensued. Certain River Market Staff displayed suspect caroming skills, while being stared at down the nose of more professional science-management staff. It seems dedication to data gathering has already begun to fade. Then Pink Floyd came on the stereo, and a more erudite discussion of the merits of ice-filled urinals ensued. I’m starting to like this team.

The Second Most Expensive Pint® was the quasi-local Granville Island PI, served in a glass of suspect volume but compelling pinty-shape. The B-team reports a Long Island Iced Tea of the vodka-coke-syrup variety, but with the “double” serving size on special, it was an easy choice (although, the fact it was a double probably bodes poorly for future data gathering).

  • Pint: Granville Island Pale Ale – 325ml for $4.24 ($6.52 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Double Long Island Iced Tea: $6.10

The Met, 9:00pm

Until the group sauntered into the Met at 9:02 on May 5th, this reporter had completely forgotten about both Cinco de Mayo, and that Lenny Kravitz, bereft of any irony, recorded a version of “American Woman” that grooved less than the original performed by Burton Cummings and his merry band of Mormons.

Further, the Second Most Expensive Pint™ at the Met, an India Pale Ale entitled “Green Flash” was similarly unknown to me. It was, to the concern of our data collection team, sold as a “sleeve” in a tulip glass (OMG, the variables are adding up…). I told them not to worry. Don’t let it frighten you, let it liberate you! Collect the data, we will worry about getting it through peer review later. If measured by hops per dollar, this would be the clear winner, but we had a graduated cylinder, not some magic bitterness-epiricizing device.

With conversation veering towards political and religious minefields, and the surprise appearance of a City Councillor in our midst, things had the potential to get seriously out of hand here. Not helped by the “theme of the day” special: a Cinco-de-Mayo Margarita. Good thing it wasn’t national Dog Bath day.

  • Pint: Green Flash IPA – 434ml for $6.25 ($7.49 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: a Tig-Approved Margarita: $4.50

The Heritage Grill, 9:45pm

I can only assume this is a Rock-a-Billy band. Lesee: Hollow-body Gretsch, skinny jeans and straw hat, drummer and bassist both standing up, bandana tied around a limb. Yep, that there is Rock-a-Billy. Where does Paul find these guys? I gotta hang out here more often.

At this point, it was probably prudent to put this rag-tag group in the back room, for the courtesy of the Rock-a-Billy fan base. Just how many cigars did Thurston Howell pack for this supposed Three-Hour-Tour? Did he have cigars? I seem to remember cigars.

It appears a poetry context has broken out on the little stage in the back room. A researcher is relating a rhythmic tale of “…a young man from Kent”.

Shooters? No-one said anything about shooters. Yes, those appear to be shooters. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Another funny-shaped glass, apropos for the Weisse-beer, I guess, but there are a lot of cloudy beers lately, they don’t cause headaches, do they? Don’t measure the orange! Fruit is good – gotta keep up the Vitamin C, but not part of the measure… damn variables. How am I going to get that out of the cylinder? Must think of peer review, they can be real jerks about stuff like that. What did you call that shooter again? Tastes like trouble.

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 503 ml for $6.25 ($6.22 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: The Julian (Rum & Coke): $4.50

The Drink, 10:40pm

Look, if you are out drinking pints as fast as you can- a hockey net in the urinal not only looks like the coolest idea ever- it helps with certain aiming situations that you ladies may not understand, OK? If you didn’t want to know about it, why did I come out of the bathroom encouraging you all to go look at it?

Man, this place is cool. They seem to have got the hipster thing down without the grimy bits. Like your hipster brother-in-law got showered and dressed up for a wedding, just enough tweed and leather to know he listens to Modest Mouse, but not drinking from a mason jar.

More cloudy white beer- these branded glasses are messing with our science, and my head. Orange is good, though. Eat the peel- that’s why Belgians never get hung over. That was Eddy Merckx’s secret: orange peels and amphetamines. Whattya mean Kronenbourg is French- Really? Eddy’s gonna kill me.

Special? That looks like some fancy cocktail. No crappy ounce-o-liquor-n-pop here: those are actual berries floating in a pool of vodka. This place is like a freaking Orange Julius with mood lighting, only fuzzier around the edges – actually, most of the edges have been fuzzed right off. Or is that me?

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 495 ml for $6.72 ($6.79 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Bliss: $7.28.

Hops, 11:25pm

Att his point, I am clearly getting smoother- at the peak of my charm. Seeing as how I strode into the place and ordered “a Pint of your second most expensive beer”, and the waitress said – I quote- “OK” [make note on pad, walk to bar to place order], like the last 17 people who stumbled in off the SkyTrain ordered the same thing – As un-nonplussed as I have ever seen. Actually a little creepy in her plussed-ness. How does she stay so plussed? What have I got if not a shock value? Is she onto us? Hide the Cylinder! They called ahead! They are all against us! The guy over there with the sombrero- I’ve seen him before, we are bring followed… or maybe he beat me to the punch, looks like the kind of jerk that saunters into a bar and asks for the second most expensive tequila….

This place is great- where are all the construction workers? Is that real wood? What did you say!?! Oh, Deschutes, I thought you were calling me names. This stuff is definitely the schute. In a good way. Pity the fool over there on Team B with the fruit-less martini.

  • Pint: Deschutes IPA (“Sleeve’)– 383 ml for $7.00 ($9.13 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Martini w/Grey Goose (but no floating fruit): $8.55.

Terminal Pub: 12:15

Depressing Halo song, then Cyley Myrus….starting to get me down. What!?! A Scientist never leaves his cylinder behind! This is unacceptable! Run Forrest, Run! Is that waitress giving me attitude? Hope she doesn’t spit in my beer… whattya mean I’m the surely one, you sure it wasn’t her? I just ordered… second most expensive beer TEE-EM… think she likes me? Cuz her 20oz. pint is actually 520ml… that’s like 21 ounces or something… don’t you double it and add thirty? Lemee countee my fingers. Where are my fingers? Dunno… maybe making up for it being Rickards… Not sure I can drink this whole thing… Red Bull? Who gave the B Team Red Bull and Vodka after midnight? They’ll be up all night. You ever hear the sirens in this town? Gimmie some of them Nachos…you sure are prettier than your twitter… than on the twitter… Loudest Bathroom Ever… I SAID LOUDEST BATHROOM EVER! What was that about an after party?

  • Pint: undetermined… technical difficulties… please stand by….
  • Special: Vodka Red Bull – It’s not what you pay, it is what it costs you…

Conclusion

... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the record, there only thing for certain about “the pint” is that it changes with location and product. It was once said “a pint is a pound, the world around”, but it was also said “a pint of pure water is a pound and a quarter”. Worse, they are both right. Almost. For those raised in the warm socialist cuddle of the Metric System, this all seems baffling, so I will use the Metric System to try to make sense of pints.

Canada, being a Commonwealth country, uses the Imperial Gallon (for most things), and one eighth of the Imperial gallon is an Imperial Pint: 568ml. When you sell things like drinks in Canada, the Federal Government regulates that a pint is 568ml. Anything else is not a “true” pint. This is equal to 20 Imperial ounces, which are 28.4ml each. It also happens to represent the amount of water that weighs about 1.25 pounds. Which is equal to 568g, but you knew that already.

Down in the Excited States, they invented their own, smaller US gallon, which comprises 8 US pints, which are each 473ml. Ever pragmatic, their pint weighs just a little over a pound, and when divided up liquid ounces, each weighs an ounce (allowing for spillage). Since there are 16 ounces in a pound, there must be 16 liquid ounces in a pint. So US liquid ounces are about 29.6ml each, slightly larger than the Imperial ounce.

Ever wonder why a can of beer is 355ml, but a bottle of beer is 341ml? 355ml is exactly 12 US fluid ounces. 341ml is exactly 12 Imperial ounces. I realise that doesn’t answer the question, but it’s gotta mean something! It is also a better explanation than the one I gave my nephew: that the little bit of beer you can never get out of the can because of the rim of the can is exactly 14ml, and they put that much more in the can to make it fair. I’m a favourite uncle.

None of this explains the hybridized “Metric Pint”, which is the defacto pint served in British Columbia and much of continental Europe, and measures 500ml. Those round glasses with a handle and deep dimples that make it look like a hand grenade- what we call a “pint glass”, is typically 500ml to the line (although more will fit, up to a full pint if filled to overflowing). As are most of the “branded” glasses in which you may receive your Stella, Kronenbourg, or Kilkenny. A “sleeve” is a straight-sided tapered glass, and it is anyone’s guess of its capacity, as glass thicknesses and base heights vary widely. The one person who almost certainly does not know the capacity of the sleeve is the waiting staff delivering to you, so take it easy on them.

I could go on at length, but I’d rather do this over a pint. Of any size.

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Dear Vancouver, I’m breaking up with you

The view from Deej's new condo.

The view from Deej's new condo.

Dear Vancouver,

There’s no good way to say this. I’m breaking up with you.

I know we can still be friends. Yeah everyone says that but there are still things I love about you. The seawall, West End, The Drive, Granville Island to name a few but you are just too damn expensive for me. I have a New city now, not only in location but in name.

New Westminster

I’ve always had a connection to the place. The early part I don’t remember much. After being born at Royal Columbian back in 1968 my family moved around a lot through Burnaby, Coquitlam and PoCo. I do have childhood memories of going there as my Dad always went to the now defunct Shaver Shop to get his shaver foils replaced. Baseball games at Sapperton Park with my Dad, even if we had to bus from PoCo to get to them. Back when monthly bus passes were introduced and you needed a photo, those were taken at the Woodward’s on 6th and 6th. My mother loved going to the Hawaiian Village and that was where I had my 16th birthday.

Time and a couple relationships later, I lived there for 11 years with a man. With the exception of the time the bus strike was on (the hills of New West were never my favourite) living here was pretty good. In the heart of Uptown I had plenty of what I needed close by. Rent was affordable and included basic cable. The Canada Games pool is by far the best indoor pool in Metro Vancouver. That relationship ended and I was back in the West End of Vancouver and eventually to the East Village. I had dreams of getting back to the West End and the closest I ever got back was being accepted at a co-op in Gastown. But almost two years on the waiting list had me frustrated and I was outgrowing my current bachelor suite.

A friend told me about the Home Buyers Plan. Me? A home owner? I had dreams of that but figured co-op life was good enough for me. I met with a realtor a co-worker had suggested and base on what I could afford I was discouraged in what Vancouver had to offer. Even settling for Grandview or Mount Pleasant, everything was way out of my range. It was pure curiosity that led me to look in New Westminster. What a difference! I would still have to make some financial sacrifices until a loan was paid off, but I could get so much more for less money.

On July 25 I take possession of my new condo over on Mowat Street, and it is a move for the better. I am somewhat dreading the 10th Avenue hill, but I am deciding to treat it as more of an opportunity to exercise away some of the weight I gained during a major depression. I’ve slowly been impressed with how much New West is building itself back up in revitalizing the downtown. There was worry when I lived there when half of Royal City Centre was turned into office space. The Zellers disappeared. Even Westminster Mall had a major office conversion as shops weren’t doing so well. New things are on the rise. Just Plaza 88 alone is a place I plan to do a lot of shopping at. Not to mention the refurbished River Market and the new park at the riverfront.

Part of life, especially being a single gal over 40, is occasionally having to reprioritize your lifestyle. The reality of my situation is, more people I know live in New West, Burnaby and beyond. New Westminster is a place I can truly call my home as it’s a good blend of suburban living with an urban feel.

Vancouver, our time together has been great. It’s time to move on.

Now if the electrical utility would do an equal payment plan, it would be perfect.

Deej is a singer, actor, bass player and percussionist soon to make New West her home. Her life blog is at thedeej.livejournal.com

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Show & Shine brings Japadog to New West

Japadog

Cult Vancouver eatery Japadog is bringing a food truck to New Westminster for the Key West Ford Show & Shine on Sunday, July 8. The event is 10am - 6pm in Downtown New West on Columbia Street.

When I started with the Downtown New West Business Improvement Association back in December, there were lots of familiar faces, projects, and issues. Of course a lot has changed since I worked for the BIA the first time around, but many things remained the same as well.

One big thing that hasn’t changed is that the BIA produces the largest event in New West – the Key West Ford Show & Shine. 100,000 people and 300 cars come out every year on the second Sunday of July to Columbia Street. Pretty amazing when you think about it, out of our small two person BIA office, supported by fantastic contractors and volunteers, we pull off this huge event annually.

My first reaction to the planning process was that not much had changed: the same faces, the same task lists, the same processes. Time to switch things up a bit. However I was reminded that if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. Fair enough. When you have 12 years of previous successful Show & Shines under your belt then I’ll trust you on that one!

So our strategy was to tweak and upgrade. What we have works, it’s just time for a little update.

To that end, we focused on forming more partnerships with organizations and businesses that would add an element of interactivity to the show. The biggest and most obvious update is partnering with Key West Ford, but we also went about forming a partnership with the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation to offer a 50/50 draw in celebration of their 150 years of service in New West. We brought in the new Bosley’s at Columbia Square Plaza to offer a “Pet Lounge” – Karima, the owner, will set up an actual lounge for your furry friends with cool beds, water, ice pops, and stylin’ giveaways like bandanas.

And we collaborated with the West Coast College of Massage Therapy, using the beautiful courtyard space at 611 Columbia Street to create the West Coast Wellness and Living Oasis – a sanctuary with mini spa services and shopping geared towards the ladies who attend.

But there was one thing I was focused on from the start. I wanted cool food vendors. With the recent additions of Chronic Tacos and Re-Up BBQ to Downtown New West we didn’t have to go very far to get a good start.

But, I wanted something bigger. I thought, what was the most high profile street food vendor in the Lower Mainland? Who has promotional power? What food cart would people travel to get to? Be willing to line up at? Clearly, it had to be Japadog.

Yep, I wanted Japadog. And I really had no idea how challenging that would be, but I was determined. I started the way anyone would, I googled them to try and find a phone number. Nope, no luck. I called a few contacts, was given a phone number that was basically a voicemail. Left messages, emailed them. Again, no luck.

Then I hired a very industrious and equally determined Summer Student Ambassador, Tia Dalupang, who wanted this as much I did. I won’t tell you how she did it, but after much time and effort she brought me a cell phone number. An actual direct line to someone, yay!

Lo and behold, I called Hideki, Catering Manager of Japadog who himself is a car buff. Lucky. All the planets and stars lined up and after some negotiating (and ok, maybe some pleading on my part) I got them. Japadog, for the first time, will come to New West.

So, after all our hard work, I hope that it pays off and that many of you are Japadog fans! Or perhaps you have never had the opportunity to try them out yet, well that opportunity has arrived and I hope you’ll come down to the Key West Ford Show & Shine on Sunday for a taste!

Kendra Johnston is the Executive Director of the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association

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The next decade’s downtown New West: cool, urban, alive and vibrant

This is a guest post by Robert Fung, New West booster and president of The Salient Group, whose Trapp Block redevelopment is considered a key element to the revitalization of our downtown. Robert founded The Salient Group in 2000 after a decade of development work with Concord Pacific and then the Narland Group. Actively involved in the community, Robert is currently a member of the UBC Board of Governors as well as a director of the UBC Properties Trust. 

An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.

An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.

It’s an exciting time for Downtown New Westminster. Metro Vancouverites are starting to realize what New West residents have known all along: that the Royal City is a great place to live, and the downtown is a cool and urban place, alive with the promise of a vibrant future.

Local businesses are taking notice. Media is also paying attention, as demonstrated by the recent Georgia Straight feature about New West.

I was initially attracted to the history and urban character of downtown New Westminster and by the potential of the area. What I saw was a beautiful large building that had been vacant for decades — a terrible “lost opportunity” to the economy of the downtown. We saw a chance to help bolster an economic revitalization by investing in and redeveloping a section of the lower mainland’s most important commercial centres. And, at the same time, to provide great homes at affordable pricing in a city that has the most accessible transit connections in the Lower Mainland.

Aesthetically, I was also attracted to the handsome historic Columbia Street buildings. The Trapp Block façade is among the most beautiful in our region.
As I’ve mentioned in a recent Royal City Record interview, the resurgence of downtown New Westminster is not unlike that of Vancouver’s historic Gastown. There’s always a few “early adopters” who choose to work and live in re-emerging districts. These people appreciate character and differentiation. They want something special and affordable. They also know that in an emerging area there is a strong potential for their investment in home or business will grow. New Westminster is on track for a similar experience to Gastown.

After years of neglect and dormancy, a huge commitment by the City is attracting new investment to the downtown. In turn, hip new retailers and residents have woken up to the amazing potential of downtown New Westminster. The new River Market is a great example of this energy and change. It’s thrilling to see exciting businesses like Wild Rice, Re-Up BBQ (which recently took home the VanMag Award for Best Food Cart), and The Network Hub establish a lively presence in New West.

Cities evolve, and Downtown New Westminster is on a strong upswing and headed for a period of strong growth. For current residents, new businesses will bring goods and services, and generate employment opportunities.

It is my firm belief that new home developments do more than just provide condos. Investments from these developments bring new people, who in turn bring pride of ownership to the community. Commercial demand follows. New homes need and attract necessities such as shops and amenities. A positive snowball effect occurs when critical mass of activity encourages further economic growth.

People ask me what should change about New Westminster. New West is already a vibrant city, and it is not our intention to change it. Rather, we hope to assist in changing some peoples’ perceptions about New West. We think that the Trapp + Holbrook redevelopment will go a long way towards demonstrating why both the history and the future of downtown New West are among the most exciting in Metro Vancouver.

I truly believe that in 10 years, downtown New West will be one of the most popular destinations in Metro Vancouver for living and shopping. It’s an exciting time for this historic city by the river, and I thank many of you for warmly welcoming the Salient Group to the community.

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Worth Saving

City Councillor Jonathan Cote has been busy this past little while up at SFU learning about Urban Studies. He’s recently completed a report on rental housing, and it’s an interesting read. Although I have owned a home for about a decade now, I was a tenant for a long time, and the availability and pricing of rental housing in the 90s is what drew me to New West when I left Vancouver Island in the first place.

I asked Cote how he chose to write a term paper about saving purpose built rental housing.

“Finding inspiration for my term paper on housing was not a difficult task,” he said.

“All I needed to do was look out my living room window to see a purpose built rental building being torn down on Royal Avenue. I am not trying to single out the developer on this project; given the economic situation, the property owner made a very rational development decision. The existing rental building was aging and facing expensive maintenance issues and the market was ready for a condo project in this neighbourhood.”

I lived in the very apartment Cote refers to. In its place a six storey wood frame building has been approved for construction. This is significant for a few reasons – six storey wood frame buildings were previously not permitted within the BC Building Code, but the code was altered in 2009 to allow for it after studies demonstrated they were safe in earthquakes. Secondly, this is the first one to be approved for construction in New Westminster and I think it is a sign of things to come.

New Westminster is such a tight, dense, and compact city. This is great for walkability (except someone really needs to do something about the hills) and for getting around without a car. We have lots of transit access points with five Skytrain stations in the city. But we’re out of land, and if you can’t build out, the only place to build is up.

By comparison, I visited Calgary about five years ago, and my brother and I checked out a new housing subdivision on the very outskirts of town. I went back only few years later, and discovered the City of Calgary had crept another 100 kilometers from the centre of the city with another 20 new subdivisions with made up names and cookie cutter houses. What had been sold as “on the edge of it all” was now billed as “easy commute to downtown”.

I don’t recall how many units exactly were in the now-demolished Royal Avenue apartments. I want to say about 40-50 altogether. The new building is approved for 118 units, which no matter how poorly I’ve estimated, is at least double. But here’s the big difference – these units will be individually owned as a strata building, and although the strata bylaws will likely allow for owners to rent out some of the units, this still represents a loss of rental housing.

Councillor Cote says this is a concern. “As I began to research the challenges facing purpose built rental units it became very clear that market rental developments cannot compete with market condo projects. Given the important role rental housing plays in housing low and moderate income earners in our region, this should be cause for concern. Our rental stock is aging and the economics simply do not work for the development of new purpose built rental buildings.”

With the recent news that New Westminster has been selected as a community the provincial government with pilot a poverty reduction program, Cote’s report is timely.

“As I continued my research I realized that there was no easy solution and a variety of policy tools would need to be implemented to change the economics of rental housing.”

So what does Cote suggest?

“We need to create incentives for developers to consider rental housing as a sound investment, and parallel that with more restrictive land use policies. We need to create an entirely separate housing market for rental housing. Only by addressing this issue will the region be able to ensure that low and moderate income earners have a place in Metro Vancouver’s housing system.”

Cote plans to present his term paper to City Council and also other municipalities. You can read the full report here.

 

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Hops a solid new addition to local pub scene

Hops on Urbanspoon

Dimly lit Hops, located beneath New Westminster SkyTrain, is ideally situated for stumbling home after a pint or few. Once the new movie theatre at Plaza 88 opens for business, it will almost certainly become a convenient spot for pre-movie drinks. But it takes more than just easy access to SkyTrain and a taxi stand to earn a new pub good customers.

There has been a pub in this location as long as I have been stomping around New West, and I remember more than one rowdy night spent here back in my college years a decade ago. Newly renovated in a similar style to the Terminal Pub or Drink (the latter is owned by the same company), Hops is clearly going after a different demographic than the rougher clientele the former bar served.

The bar at Hops

The bar at Hops

I came in for lunch to scope out the space and sample the menu, finding soft pretzels on the menu (they are a favourite treat of mine, and often don’t live up to expectations), free wifi and a nice selection of local brew on tap. Hops offers a few nice twists on the typical pub experience in New Westminster. I had the pretzels and a cup of chowder, and found both to be very tasty and nicely presented on the plate.

The space is significantly smaller, and includes some higher end decor choices including actual artwork on the walls, designer bar, leather booths, wood accents and upscale lighting. Yet, despite these touches, the space retains some features I associate with a more downmarket pub, such as gambling machines and an economical low-pile carpet flooring in a colour that won’t show stains (instead of a more appealing but less-resilient hardwood look). The service was pleasant, but when I asked for what I thought to be a minor detail (to order only one pretzel instead of the two listed on the menu), it was a non-starter. It is a minor detail, but one that matters to me. I would be more forgiving during the dinner rush, but for lunch when there are maybe five people in the whole place, I expect a waitress to at least ask the kitchen if they can accommodate a custom order.

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

It was all more or less as expected, which puts Hops in a “solid and predictable” category of pub. The menu features mostly comfort foods, including the expected sandwiches, wraps and burgers, but there are a few nice surprises, including a gorgonzola mac & cheese with short ribs that sounded pretty good. In addition to the now ubiquitous walls-of-televisions that unfortunately (to my mind) dominates most pubs, Hops has smaller wall-mounted flatscreens in several of the booths, which I assume could be turned to whatever channel you wanted. There are also a couple of nice nooks for larger group gatherings with larger televisions. Like most pubs, it’s hard to find a seat where you aren’t distracted by screens. Even my favourite local pubs, The Terminal and the Dublin Castle, suffer from television overload from the perspective of someone who comes to a pub to hang out with friends, not TV screens.

I left with mixed feelings about Hops. I will definitely return when the movie theatre opens, and I will probably enjoy my food and brew when I do. But all the televisions are a turnoff for me. And maybe it makes me a pub snob, but I just don’t feel the same way about a pub when I see a dedicated TV screen for Keno and a pull-tab machine. The pub is only two weeks old, so new it’s still listed as “coming soon” on Tag Pubs’ website and at the time I first published this review it didn’t yet have a listing on Urbanspoon. I plan to give it some time to grow on me, and I would recommend trying it out for yourself. Let me know what you think if you do!

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Le Saigonnais: Vietnamese Cuisine Served with Style

Pho at Le Sagonnais

Le Saigonnais serves great pho—as it’s pleasantly large, has lots of flavour, and isn’t too fatty.

Proper Vietnamese food has finally come to Downtown New Westminster—and Le Saigonnais has brought it with style! As a resident of the neighbourhood, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the first influx of this cheap and delicious cuisine.

Le Saigonnais isn’t your typical dive that you see lining the Kingsway corridors. Instead, the owners have clearly dressed this place up. The restaurant features its own bar, leather booths, and a modern, low light, almost Zen aesthetic—almost more suited to a swanky Japanese place on Robson. The space could still do with some new carpet, but it’s still one of the fancier Vietnamese restaurants around.

Aside from shiny splendour however, I usually measure the quality of a Vietnamese restaurant based on three key dishes: pho, lemongrass chicken (or pork), and spring rolls.

Lemongrass chicken at Le Sagonnais

The lemongrass chicken is a winner: delightful presentation, a nice cut of meat and garnished with a fresh and vibrant lemongrass seasoning.

The real make-or-break dish for a Vietnamese restaurant is the noodle soup, which is called pho. For those unfamiliar, the dish consists of a seasoned beef broth with rice noodles. All Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver offer a House Special Pho, where you always get a noodle soup topped with well-done flank, sliced rare beef, soft tendon, tripe, and beef balls. If any of these don’t yet appeal to you, don’t worry—you can also pick and choose various combinations. It also comes with fresh bean sprouts, basil, lemon, and jalapeno peppers—all of which I throw directly into the broth. And make sure to top it off with some hoisin and hot sriracha sauce.

Salad rolls at Le Sagonnais

Salad rolls at Le Sagonnais didn't impress. While they were a good size, the price seemed high and the rice paper was a bit too stiff.

Le Saigonnais serves great pho—as it’s pleasantly large, has lots of flavour, and isn’t too fatty. At $7.00, it’s slightly more expensive than what Vancouverites might be used to, but I’m willing to cough up the extra nickels.

Over time, I’ve learned that for many, the slippery noodles of pho can be tricky to eat. For those friends who have yet to reach a certain proficiency with chopsticks, I often recommend the lemongrass chicken on rice. There are several takes on this dish depending on where you go—and the meat can often end up fatty, or contain some unwieldy bones. Le Saigonnais, however, really comes through with this one. Aside from the delightful presentation, they provided a nice cut of chicken, garnished with a fresh and vibrant lemongrass seasoning. It is well worth the $8.00.

Le Saigonnais Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

What didn’t quite impress were the salad rolls. Filled with lettuce, vermicelli, bean sprouts, basil, pork ham, and prawns, the dish also comes with a peanut sauce and is usually one of my favourites. The rice paper that it came wrapped in however, was a bit stiff. I’m not sure if they were premade and sat around for a while, or if they just weren’t soaked for long enough. At $6.00, they might be a bit steep, but they were a good size, and if they get their rice paper right, it should be worth another try.

Overall, Le Saigonnais has a new upscale look that goes beyond your typical Vietnamese restaurant. The pho doesn’t disappoint, and fans of lemongrass chicken will appreciate their fresh take on the dish. You might have to bring a bit of extra pocket change, but in an area that’s been starved of Vietnamese for some time, it’s worth it. I’ll definitely be back to try the spicy noodle soup—and when I do, I’ll probably give the salad rolls another go.

Le Saigonnais is located at 634 Columbia St. in New Westminster.

Been to Le Saigonnais? Let me know what you think @BryceTarling!

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A royal love affair

“A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.” – Robert Frost

A bridge in fog. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

A bridge in fog. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

I’ve been a frequent viewer of Tenth to Fraser for some time now, looking over all the great articles focused around this town, which I have now lived in for over ten years. My partner’s family was born and raised here, in this city of heritage, this city of culture. It has always been in the back of mind that I was having an affair unlike many affairs. This was a strong, if not overpowering, love for a city that gets a bad reputation and is often overlooked.

The negative image of our beautiful city has begun to bubble up inside of me, inspiring me to put on display the inner beauty and character that the Royal City emanates from the century old buildings and remarkable landscapes. Of course, something this grand in scope cannot be completed in a single post, so I will bring this to you in segments. Each will look at a different aspect of New Westminster.

City By The River

The alarm didn’t go off. I rolled my head to the side and squinted at the clock. 7am. Why am I up at 7am? I began to stretch, my muscles screaming with rage, and walked over to the window. For a moment my brain tried to piece together what it saw, which was next to nothing. My usual crowded view of the SkyTrain bridge was obscured by thick fog tinged with a golden yellow from the emerging sun. My mind tried to rush the waking process, urgently telling the rest of my body that it needed to jump into action. I threw clothes on, grabbed my camera and rushed out the door. My first destination was the top of the Front Street parkade where I could get a better view. I anxiously waited for the elevator on the third floor of my building, thinking about how I would capture the fog. I descended to the basement and got in the car. I start the engine and slide into reverse, apologizing to the car as we rolled backwards. “I’m sorry girl, I know I should warm you up first.”

I was off down Royal Avenue on route to the parkade, mentally calculating plans of attack. Aperture and shutter speeds came to mind. Composition interrupted. It all had to be pushed aside. I was there, my car parked at an angle in the middle of the top level. I looked out the window in the direction of the bridges, which were covered in a thick formation of fog. My body shook with pure adrenaline. I jumped out of my seat, camera in hand, everything quickly dissolving from thought. I rushed to the edge of the parkade and looked down to see a tug pulling a hefty load of wood up the river towards the east. My head shook from side to side surveying the situation, looking for a new shooting location.

A tug hard at work on the Fraser. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

A tug hard at work on the Fraser. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

As I looked below, the new pier project came to mind. My eyes scanned the scattered mess that has characterized the river side for many years and I smiled at the thought of change. Quickly jumping back into my car, I took off towards the rail bridge that crosses to the other side of the river. There I knew I would find a pair of tug companies where I could park and find a suitable shooting angle – hopefully before the boat reached my location.

I drove to my destination, heart racing and hands shaking with excitement. I felt like Speed Racer in the classic cartoon, with rays of light flashing past my eyes as I sped down the iconic Front Street – well known to any movie aficionado for its dreary back alley look that I love so much. It’s just another example of the character that pours out of every corner of this fair city.

Arriving in the boat company lot, shots and settings still running through my head, I left the car running and rushed out to begin sighting my shot. I looked through the viewfinder of my Rebel XSi at the eerie sky-train bridge emerging from a thick fog as if it were a highway to the heavens.

I snapped away, not content to wait for my ideal shot to arrive. Down the river I saw the tug making its way up to me. My lens bounced from perspective to perspective, grabbing every possible composition that I could think of on the fly. As the tug boat arrived, I repeated my process and got a plethora of angles. Soon the boat had disappeared from view, leaving me behind to look through the display screen at my success.

Fraser Cemetery. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

Fraser Cemetery. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

I decided I had taken a decent number of photos and started the drive home, talking my girlfriend’s ear off about how much I love this city. Babbling like a gleeful little girl, I made my way down Richmond Street and looked to my left side. I couldn’t help but notice the fog blanketing Fraser Cemetery. Mid-conversation, I reared off to the side of the road with yet another target in mind. The thick cloud hugging the plots and head stones demonstrated the beauty that can still exist in a place meant for eternal rest. I had to be careful where I stepped, so as to avoid disrespecting the deceased, as I made my way through the cemetery, capturing one beautiful image after another.

I finished up and left behind the misty graveyard, no doubt any photographer’s bucket shot. As I made my way home I knew what I had to do. I had to share my love for a city forgotten.

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Thoughts on Freelance Camp

Freelance Camp at the New Westminster location of The Network Hub. Photo: Jeremy Lim

Freelance Camp at the New Westminster location of The Network Hub. Photo: Jeremy Lim

I was lucky to win a couple of tickets to this years incarnation of Freelance Camp, thanks to Tenth to the Fraser! Freelance Camp is billed as an unconference; where presenters are chosen by the audience to speak to all matters relating to the freelance industry.

This year’s event was held on the second floor of the newly renovated River Market. It’s certainly a nice change to see an event promoting freelancing, networking, and technology come to little New Westminster. I think our newly emerging downtown needs this kind of exposure; perhaps spurring the growth of some technology based sectors in the area.
So what was my impression of Freelance Camp? My worry was that there would be maybe three of us sitting in a large conference room awkwardly staring at each other. Not a chance; there were approximately 170 attendees from all over the Lower Mainland.

If I had one complaint (actually, I have a few), it’s that it was perhaps oversold. The second floor of the River Market is a large open space with a few conference rooms, a toy store, and of course a circus school.

Given the large number of attendees and presenters, it was decided to break the sessions into four groups. I was little confounded when two of those sessions were held virtually next to each other in the mezzanine, while a yoga session with boom box was doing their thing in the adjacent circus school. Needless to say the presenters tried to speak above all forms of background noise. I think the event should have been capped to whatever seating could be accommodated in both conference rooms – that, or book the circus school as well.

Small quibbles aside, I managed to pick up quite a few pointers regarding my own freelance career. I should stress that for many, a freelance career is serious business. It’s certainly not something that happens on its own. I think the people who chose this route do so in order to find balance in their lives. You often hear that the real money is working for yourself. I can’t yet venture to confirm this, but it would be safe to say most struggle with it for many years before seeing real money. But it does allow a chance to reestablish a balance between work and family life. Many freelancers, myself included, have young kids in school and the schedule of dropping off and picking up leaves a pretty hacked up day in which to “go to a job”.

I sat in on a session that talked about contracts and how to protect yourself financially; a handy skill to have when working for yourself. My last session was with an inspiring young woman who transitioned to sales training from working as an electrical engineer! Needless to say it was quite refreshing to learn that anyone, engineers included can learn the art of salesmanship. And while I don’t endevour to become a salesperson; when working for yourself you’d better get used to the idea.

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Burger Heaven

Many readers are familiar with Burger Heaven. In any city there is always one restaurant who uses their dishes to poll readers on hot button issues or elections, and in our fair city, Burger Heaven is that restaurant. But do their burgers boast yum factor?

The Tenth to the Fraser Editorial Board + 1 (Will, Briana, Jen and Ross) had a rare kid free night not too long ago, and we decided to start the evening off with burgers and beers at Burger Heaven.

My burger (or what's left of it)

The decor of Burger Heaven is pretty tired and I know the teems of photos of 70s patrons are meant to fill us with a sense of nostalgia, but I’d really like to see a makeover of fresh and light colours. But if decor is my only beef (pardon the pun) then a restaurant is doing pretty good.

The burgers are fresh tasting and flavourful, inventive and relatively well priced. They come with salad or fries, or, if you’re a “want it all” type of gal such as myself, you can request half and half. The fries are fantastic –  big thick wedges of potato-y yumminess. That up there is a bacon cheeseburger, sort of my baseline burger I’ll order in multiple places. I’d say Burger Heaven’s bacon cheeseburger ranks as one of my top 5 burgers. It’s consistently tasty and they don’t scrimp on the bacon or the cheese.

Ross tried the the lamb burger and reports it was “juicy, and not overly salty.” We all came away satisfied with the food, service, and the total on our bill.

Burger Heaven has been around since 1984, and is located at the bottom of Tenth Street and you can check out their website at www.burgerheaven.ca or call ahead at 604 522 8339. They are licensed, accessible, and kid friendly.

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NEXT New West fall kickoff event at Red Brick Oct. 5

Photo: Red Brick

Photo: Red Brick

If I had an HGTV producer’s blank cheque to go redecorate my living room, my first stop would be Red Brick. The arcane language of interior design escapes me, but suffice it to say that almost everything in the new-ish store on Carnarvon St. is just lovely – and in many cases, surprisingly affordable. In addition to sofas, bedframes, chairs and tables, Red Brick carries a carefully curated selection of lamps, clocks, mirrors, quirky knick-knacks, gifts and cards.

On October 5 from 5:30-7:30pm, the store will host the fall kickoff event for NEXT New West, a monthly casual social group for young professionals. Catered by nearby Quantum Deli & Bistro, the free event will be an easygoing opportunity to mingle and meet other young adults living or working in New Westminster, wine glass in hand. Plus, any purchases made that evening will be 10% off.

Unlike most networking events, there isn’t a lot of business card-swapping and smarmy sales pitches are strongly discouraged. NEXT events are social first, business second. There will be a brief pause in the party for the quarterly ‘members spotlight,’ in which three NEXT members will have two or three minutes each to introduce themselves and share what they do professionally in the city. That concludes the formal program.

If you’re planning to attend, please RSVP to nextnw@gmail.com.

Event Details:

  • What: NEXT NW Fall Kick Off Event, hosted by Red Brick
  • When: Wednesday October 5th, 2011, 5:30-7:30pm
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Westminster Pier Park: controversial, audacious and vital

The future site of Westminster Pier Park. Taken July 2010 by Dennis S. Hurd.

The future site of Westminster Pier Park in July 2010. Photo: Dennis S. Hurd.

The news came out today that the Westminster Pier Park project is a finalist in the Canadian Urban Institute Brownie Awards (Update: We won in the categories of sustainable remediation technologies and technical innovation!), which recognize leadership and innovation in sustainable remediation technologies and excellence in neighbourhood project development. It rekindled in me the pride I felt in our city when I first heard about the proposal for this project. I was also reminded, however, that no matter how successful the park might be, it is likely to remain highly controversial in the near future.

Perhaps nothing better symbolizes New Westminster’s often polarizing politics than the Westminster Pier Park project. The ambitious, even audacious, $25-million project involves reclaiming a long stretch of blighted brownfield bordering the Fraser River for a new public park.

A 3D visualization of the complete Westminster Pier Park

A 3D visualization of the complete Westminster Pier Park

Even with two-thirds of the project bill covered by the federal and provincial governments, critics of the project blanch at the price tag, and fear that the cost could balloon if the site proves to be more contaminated than expected. But even at this cost, even if the cost goes up, what better omen for the future of New Westminster than to transform a tragically damaged ecosystem into a verdant oasis downtown?

This isn’t just another local park project. Westminster Pier Park is another beacon of hope that transformation can occur, that the mistakes of the past can be reconciled if not undone. As one of the oldest cities in B.C., the New Westminster of today is burdened with many mistakes made in the past, not only contaminated sites but forgotten cemeteries, historic institutionalized racism, and more. The true test of our city’s (and citizens’) character is what we collectively choose to do about it.

As John Wooden famously said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” I don’t believe in heaping ashes on our heads over mistakes made by those who lived here long ago. All anyone can ever do is make decisions based on the best information available at the time. If our forefathers knew then what we know now, I’m sure they would have made some different choices.

Saddled with the mistakes of the past, it is up to us to decide whether we take responsibility to correct those things we do have the power to affect today. Ignoring New Westminster’s brownfields is an unjustifiable abdication of our responsibility to this place we love. I am proud to live in a city that has the chutzpah to take on the challenge of rehabilitating abused sites like these when it would be so easy to simply look away.

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Okonomi – As You Like It

There’s a little sushi joint in New West on Fourth Street, at Columbia, in the building that formerly housed Lafflines. Apparently it used to be an Italian restaurant, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything like that there. In a city with a billion sushi restaurants (okay, I exaggerate, but seriously, there are a lot), Okonomi has won me over completely with their inventive and interesting rolls, awesome service, and great pricing. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve just opened up a second location in the space formerly housing The Orange Room.

Okonomi Sushi (6th St) on Urbanspoon

What makes Okonomi unique in a sea of local sushi competition is the fact that both their downtown and uptown locations are enormous. There are always enough seats, I never feel crowded, and they can accomodate spur of the moment meet ups of 10 or 12 people with relative ease. Their food is fresh, delicious, and well made. The menu alone has something ridiculous, like 200 items, and it can take a good number of minutes to pick from the extensive menu. Tip: don’t go when you are starving and can’t concentrate.

Their rice is also pink, which threw me off at first. The server explained they boil organic blueberries and cabbage additives in the water they use to cook the rice to make it more nutritious. I didn’t notice a taste difference but one of my dining companions did. They also have burning stone tataki, a fun experience where you get to cook your own food on an incredibly hot rock.

The portions are great and I’ve over-ordered a few times. Their prices are very reasonable. I’m not really a fan of leftover sushi, but I’ve gotten used to their portion sized and so that happens a lot less these days. Okonomi means “as you like it”, and I definitely like it.

They have free delivery, free wifi, and are licensed.

Okonomi Downtown is at 26 4th Street downtown@okonomi.com or 778-397-0567

Okonomi Uptown is at 620 6th Street uptown@okonomi.com or 778-397-1003

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Urban farming: seeding a movement

A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Neal Michael

A view of Neal's urban garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway

“You look like you could use a beer man!”

Though I certainly appreciated the beer he promptly offered me, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, despite what it might have looked like. Kneeling on all fours in an overgrown planter in the parking lot of Burger Heaven, a small spade in hand tearing irregular sized chunks of weed infested sod out while a light rain fell, I was taking the first few steps to becoming part of the burgeoning urban gardening movement.

Since moving to the downtown area of New Westminster over three years ago, I had toyed with the idea of seed bombing one of the many derelict areas near the tracks or guerilla gardening in the unused parking lot across from our condo. The planter at Burger Heaven, however offered an ideal location given its proximity to our apartment and generous size. Motivated by an interest in urban farming projects in cities across North America and a promise to myself to be more action-oriented, I decided to indulge the itch to grow something and go for it. After a few e-mails to the owner of Burger Heaven and a couple of meetings, I began working on the garden.

A growing movement

Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Neal Michael.

Beets harvested from Neal's garden. Photo: Natalie Whiteway.

Urban gardening has been getting a lot of press these days, most notably for its role in helping cities improve their urban environment, while also providing fresh meat, fruits and vegetables to cash-strapped citizens trying to reduce their rapidly increasing food budget. With global energy demand rising, food costs around the world have also risen substantially making gardening an attractive and reasonably easy way to offset costs. Given that the average Vancouverite (and one can only assume resident of New West) requires approximately 7 hectares to feed him or herself, it would be next to impossible for an urban farmer to grow all the food he or she needs year around. However, what they do grow helps to lowers their household food budget, while also serving the city in a variety of ways.

An increase in green space provided by parks and urban gardens can help cool down a city by as much as 4° Celsius due to the cooling effect of water evaporating from plants. As well, food grown or raised locally cuts down on the emission of CO2 associated with the global food trade, as it doesn’t need to be shipped or flown in from another region. And though sometimes overlooked as an important factor, urban gardens improve the overall aesthetic of a community. With rich colours and textures, gardens bring to life what are sometimes lifeless urban areas that have been built with little regard to design or good architecture.

In the trench

Given that I knew very little about gardening, beyond some reading online and having attended a one-session balcony gardening course a few years back, the garden is doing surprisingly well. In terms of actual yield, I’ve got a bucket full of radishes, a few rows of lettuce that will be ready soon and some arugula that needs another week or so. The tomatoes, zucchini and beans need a whole lot more sun before they’ll start to really grow.

The benefits of the process have gone well beyond the actual yield. Many people, including the employees at Burger Heaven, notice that the garden has improved the look of the area and cut down on the amount of garbage. Interest from local residents has been great. Many people have stopped by to chat, to give a much-appreciated tip, or just to inquire as to what was going on. Its amazing to see just how many people are interested in gardening and have a real enthusiasm for it.

A call to spades

Though just a small project, the ability of a garden to build a greater sense of community is evident. As New West grows and increases in density, we will need to continue to improve our urban environment through small community driven initiatives and creative thinking. Blank walls, small patches of unused earth or a long abandoned rail line can be re-imagined as canvases, gardens or other projects that will improve the sustainability of the community. Who knows, if you look desperate enough while building your own garden you may just earn a few free beer out of it too. In the words of X-tina, “lets get dirty”.

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Beyond bridal boutiques and payday loans: re-envisioning downtown

Copp's Shoes on Columbia St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.

Copp's Shoes on Columbia St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.

Downtown New Westminster has it going on.

Well, it could have it going on if it could once again capture the vitality of its once historic past. From an urban planning perspective you could not wish for a better template; you’ve got history, great public transit, a waterfront, shopping, density. So what happened, why did the city turn its back on the downtown?

New Westminster did what almost every North American city did in the post-war era; it decided to re-invent the wheel. How many cities had a perfectly good urban core and decided a shopping mall in the suburbs was the way to go? We don’t even have a suburb, yet that didn’t stop us from building a huge mall just 1 km up the hill. While probably bustling with stores when it first opened, it is hardly an example of a thriving mall as we’d like to see it. The mall is tired, lacks interesting merchants, and doesn’t have the convenient access of SkyTrain, which is a must these days. It did not help that the mall lost its last anchor tenant with the closure of Woodwards. Uptown is probably not quite the gem urban planners had envisioned, but let’s leave that for another post.

So what else contributed to the demise of the downtown? Like with many cities, the decline of public transit combined with the introduction of the personal automobile changed the way people live. With a car you could now live in one city, work in another, and go shopping in yet another. Before the TransCanada Highway was built to the north of the city, Columbia Street was essentially the commercial hub for all residents east of the Fraser River. People would come here from as far away as Chilliwack on the interurban railway. With the construction of the highway and the discontinuation of the interurban line, Columbia Street’s importance as a retail destination was delivered another blow. No longer did you have to pass through New Westminster on your way from A to B.

So how does it look for the future of New Westminster’s downtown? People are once again moving to New Westminster, realizing the potential of living in the geographic center of the Lower Mainland. And they are moving to the downtown to be close to transit and other amenities. Certainly they deserve more than a couple blocks of bridal boutiques and payday loan shops. The city must promote the downtown not only as a place to live, but as a place to shop, and a place to work. More people moving downtown will bring more diversity in terms of shopping and employment opportunities. The building of the Civic Centre and (slow) emergence of the River Market are good examples. Companies may look to New Westminster as a location to open up their head offices. We need all levels of employment to once again make the downtown vibrant.

New Westminster is not a large city. It can support both a vibrant downtown and a thriving uptown. At the moment however, it seems like the downtown has the momentum in its favour.

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Aroka Vintage a treasury for unique decor

This is a guest post by Neal Michael, who lives with his wife in the ever-changing downtown area of New West. His favourite things about New West include running through the different neighbourhoods each weekend, the boardwalk, the market, the architecture and his neighbours.

Inside Aroka Vintage.

Inside Aroka Vintage.

Tucked back off Columbia Street, sharing a cozy retail space with quirky Arundel Mansion is Aroka Vintage, a recently opened vintage décor wedding shop. Owned and run by Dawna Graham, a resident of New West, Aroka specializes in the sale and rental of niche décor items and dresses.

Not sure what qualifies as niche décor? Think ornate tea cups and saucers, glass dessert cups, finely decorated china, pewter candle sticks, brass clocks, lamps and more. It’s like stepping into a beautifully curated antique shop minus the dust.

Graham started the business to fill the niche for an increased demand of vintage décor items for weddings and other functions. Having previously owned a home décor business, she witnessed the move away from impersonal, cookie-cutter decorating to a focus on the unique, intimate and classic. Though a long-time collector and self-confessed market junkie, Graham spent just under a year and half to source and select her offerings from all over western Canada. Her extensive selection focuses on what she calls ‘true’ vintage or

More vintage goodness inside Aroka

More vintage goodness inside Aroka

pieces from pre-1970’s. Those pieces that have a story, not an Ikea stamp on them.

Though her shop would easily be at home in a more trendy area of the lower mainland, Graham cited New West as an ideal location for a number of reasons. “I live in New West, my grandfather is in the museum, my grandmother is buried in Fraser cemetery and the architecture. New Westminster was a natural fit.” Anyway, Aroka would be out of place in a newer commercial space. The plank floor, large glass frontage and rear windows all help showcase Graham’s collection.

Whether soon to be married or not, pop by Aroka Vintage for a look at Graham’s beautifully curated selection of vintage items. Who knows, you may just find a reason to get married.

Aroka Vintage is located at 42 Begbie Street. To reach the store, call 778-397-7999.

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