Category Archives: West End

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?


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?


Outdoor movie screenings in New Westminster this summer

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen at Summerfest in Grimston Park. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen in Grimston Park at 2010's Summerfest. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Nothing says summer like movies al fresco, plus the price (free!) can’t be beat. There are a number of outdoor movie screenings coming up in New Westminster this summer. Here’s a list of the ones I have heard about so far. If you know of an event I’ve overlooked, please comment to let me know. All movies in this list are free. Remember to bring your own picnic blanket or lawn chair if you go.


  • July 14: The Princess Bride Summerfest in Grimston Park features a free screening of The Princess Bride. Swordfights, giants, princesses, magic potions, Rodents of Unusual Size … what more could you want in a movie? Festival starts at 2pm with classic picnic games, mini-Farmers Market from 3-7, live music from 5-9 and the movie starts at 9:30.  Movie sponsored by Derrick Thornhill of Park Georgia Realty. Free popcorn provided by Community Savings Credit Union.




Best playgrounds in New West: what are your favourites?

This Saturday, June 16, the new Westminster Pier Park will open with a celebration from 11 am to 3 pm. There will be lots of fun, family-friendly activities, food and live music.

The upcoming event makes me marvel at how lucky we are in New Westminster when it comes to outdoor play areas. The new Pier Park will feature two playgrounds, a concession, washrooms and playing fields, all in a beautiful waterfront setting. But it’s just the latest addition to many fantastic playgrounds around the city. Here’s the highlight reel of some others:

Moody Park

Located in Uptown, Moody Park has a playground, spray park, outdoor pool, tennis courts and playing fields. There are also washrooms and picnic benches along with lots of shade.

Why I love it: the location makes it the ideal place to stop off while running errands with the kids. Royal City Centre is right across the street and there are many eateries, businesses and shopping outlets — not to mention the public library — in the area.

Hume Park

Hume Park, located in Sapperton, was recently renovated. It features a large playground for school-aged kids with a separate area just for the little guys. The playground is nestled between an off-leash dog park (with plenty of trees and benches), an outdoor swimming pool and a spray park. There are also picnic benches, playing fields, washrooms, tennis courts and plenty of trees for shade.

Why I love it: the large play structure has a wide variety of challenges for older kids (it struck me as a decided response to recent criticisms that today’s playgrounds are too safe.) But my three-year-old was able to enjoy it as well. His younger brother, meanwhile, was happy puttering away in the toddler area, undisturbed by older kids.

Grimston Park

The West End’s Grimston Park has a recently rebuilt playground, a wading pool, tennis courts, washrooms and playing fields. The wading pool is open from noon – 4 pm, July to Labour Day, and has a lifeguard on duty during those times.

Why I love it: the climbing structure is very well designed. My two-year old can easily climb all the way to the top by himself (the look of triumph on his face after he completes this feat is priceless!) In fact, there is no part of the playground that’s not accessible to him. And yet, the school-age kids we see there are able to use the equipment in a way that challenges them as well. It allows all ages to play together.

Queen’s Park

Located in the heart of the city, New Westminster’s biggest park has one playground for little kids and another for the older ones. There’s also a spray park, a concession stand and washrooms, located among trees, picnic benches, grassy areas and flowers. But the highlight, from Victoria Day to Labour Day, is a petting farm filled with critters willing to have little hands tug at their ears.

Why I love it: the petting farm is fantastic with a variety of animals and knowledgeable volunteers, and it’s free (with a donation box at the exit.) The parking is abundant and free. And the size of the park makes the sights and sounds of the city fade away, letting me relax.

I lived in Vancouver for years before moving to New Westminster in 2008 and I’m hard-pressed to think of even one outdoor play space for kids that’s comparable to the playgrounds that New West offers.

What’s your favourite playground in New Westminster and why? Do you enjoy one of the ones I’ve listed here or did I miss a fabulous one that you want to share with everyone? Let’s hear it in the comments!


Preaching the gospel of community in New Westminster

Rainbow-spotting in New Westminster's West End. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Rainbow-spotting in New Westminster's West End. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

One of the things I love about New Westminster is that there is a very strong sense of community here. At times, local events almost feel like church revival meetings as we all come together to reaffirm our friendship and faith in The Church of New Westminster. We have been saved from the anonymous hell of suburban living, and escaped the perilous prices of downtown. Our congregation is diverse and evangelical, and will enthusiastically preach the gospel of community.

As I was walking through the West End on a recent sunny Sunday I felt again the deep pleasure and conviction that *here* is a good place to live. I felt grateful for the quiet, tree-lined streets, the children riding their bikes, the people walking their dogs and the pack of children I would find back on my block, deep in raucous front-yard play. It got me thinking about the elements of community. What builds community? And why is New West so successful at this, more so than any other city I’ve lived in?

New Westminster was planned in a time when people’s lives were not so independent and anonymous. The smaller city footprint, with its older homes and narrow streets gives us an environment that is more conducive to building community than some newer parts of Metro Vancouver.

Many parts of New Westminster are dominated by older homes. Mine was built at the end of the 1940s and many of the homes on my block are even older. There are a few ways I think older-style homes improve the sense of community:

  • The garages suck. They are inadequately small, tumbledown affairs stuck at the back of most older homes. It’s often more convenient to just park on the street in front and use the garage to store all the random crap that homeowners accumulate. Instead of entering and exiting your home encapsulated in your car, neighbours encounter each other as they go to and from their homes. You know when your neighbours are home or if someone’s home sick when their car is parked out front. I never realized how much this matters until we moved into our home with its dangerously leaning garage and awkward back gate.
  • There are few driveways in front of homes. Related to the first point, but offering a different suite of benefits. No driveways means safer, more walkable streets. When I go walking with my kids in my neighbourhood I can let them run ahead on the sidewalk for long stretches without having to worry that a driver will back in or out without seeing that there’s someone there. No driveways also means greener streets. Instead of a concrete pad and the faceless door of a garage, we see green grass, leafy trees, front stoops and flower beds.
  • Older homes need a lot of maintenance. Not so awesome for your wallet, but home repairs are great conversation-starters with the neighbours. We’ve swapped advice with our neighbours on roofing, landscaping, window replacement, plumbing, drain tile and more. When your house is new and shiny (or at least not falling apart) this stuff isn’t on your radar yet. Interior cosmetic repairs have less neighbourly conversation value: we see the outsides of each other’s homes more than the insides.
  • Porches. Sadly, my home has no front porch, but many of my neighbours do. Porches contribute to a front-yard culture of informal conversation, and add eyes to the street, improving safety.

Pedestrian-friendly streets are another huge factor in building community. When people pass each other face-to-face, each little nod and smile builds familiarity over time. This doesn’t happen when you pass another driver in a car. Several factors impact how pedestrian-friendly a street is:

  • Short blocks. In older cities like New West, blocks are short. For pedestrians, this means that you feel progress when you’re walking – long blocks *feel* long. It also provides more options to vary your route, which makes walking more interesting and allows more ways to avoid walking on busy streets.
  • Small city footprint. It doesn’t take that long to walk or bike from the West End uptown or down the hill to the edge of downtown, from downtown to Queen’s Park, from Glenbrooke to Sapperton. In most parts of the city, it’s only a short walk to get to a business district to buy milk, indulge a craving for sweets, meet a friend for coffee or select fresh vegetables.
  • Frequent, (mostly) reliable public transit. In our wee city we have five SkyTrain stations. For most trips, the wait to catch a bus is 15 minutes or less. Our system is not perfect. There are dead zones in the city that are awkward to access via transit and I know some there have been problems with some community shuttles serving the Quay. Still, it is easier to take the bus or SkyTrain in New West than anywhere else save Vancouver’s downtown core.
  • Green boulevards. Maybe not all our streets are as green as they could be, but New Westminster’s network of beautiful streets covers a huge part of the city. On most walks, sections of ugly streets don’t last long.

Aside from the city’s physical traits, I think there are a few other elements that help connect us:

  • A single high school. Almost all the children who reach their teenage years in New Westminster end up at NWSS. Grads who choose to raise their own families in New West end up with a large network of local friends and acquaintances.
  • Twitter. Holy cow, what a network. Vast groups of New Westies have met and formed new social groups over Twitter. If you’re not there yet, check out the #NewWest hashtag to meet some new friends.
  • NEXT New West. It’s a new group, but is a very powerful way for younger adults to make new social connections in the city and explore new things to see and do. It’s awesome.
  • Kids. Through school PACs, activity programs and organizations like Little League and Scouts, parents get to know each other through their kids. After a few playdates, the parents make friends too.
  • Dogs. Almost as good as kids for helping their ‘parents’ make friends. Particularly in neighbourhoods like the Quay, where most dogs are walked along a single route (such as the Quay boardwalk), dogs can be a great boon to community. You get to know the other dog owners in your neighbourhood over time.

And, of course, you can’t forget the diverse efforts of individual community boosters. There are a ton of them in New West, managing clubs, creating events, volunteering to run festivals, blogging about different aspects of city life, and organizing events to bring people together, from pub crawls to art shows to house parties. New Westminster is lucky to have more than its share of people actively working to make our city a better place to live.

What do you think contributes to New Westminster’s strong sense of community?


Family Place opening satellite drop in at 12th Street

My friends at Family Place sent me this note I thought I’d share:

New Westminster Family Place is pleased to announce that we are opening a new program at 1170 – 8th Avenue (corner of 8th Avenue and 12th Street, on the main floor of the building that has Sprott Shaw upstairs).

This program will run every Friday morning from 9:30 – 11:30 starting April 1st.   Join us for fun and games, circle time and wonderful crafts.  Meet your neighbours and make some new friends.  For information call 604 520-3666.


Poplar Island: A History as Thick and Colorful as the Trees

Poplar Island and the original trees before 1890 as New Westminster grows in the background (NWPL-1912 Web Database)

Poplar Island and the original trees before 1890 as New Westminster grows in the background (NWPL-1912 Web Database)

People looking down to the Fraser River from the West End and enjoying beautiful views from the River Walk at Port Royal or the Esplanade at Westminster Quay always notice the cottonwood trees growing tall and wild on Poplar Island. It appears untouched by anyone, but it actually has a long history. Many things, people and struggles have lived for 150 years on or about the unique island.

150 years ago, when the Royal Engineers first arrived in what was to become New Westminster, they found a strong community that had successfully been living here for thousands of years.  To establish the new colonial capital Col. Richard Moody chose to segregate these people, known as the “New Westminster Indian Band” by Col. Moody and now the “Qayqayt”, to one of 3 places called “rancheries” . One of the rancheries was located on a small island on the North Arm of the Fraser River just downstream of the new community. Col. Moody named it Poplar Island for the trees that grew on it. The Colonial Government maintained this and many other rancheries as reservations until B.C. joined Canada in 1871.  The reservations were then turned over to the administration of the Federal Dominion of Canada.

Unfortunately, with the European settlers in B.C. (and throughout North America) came diseases such as smallpox causing several epidemics that affected the native population. As settlement spread up the Fraser River an epidemic occurred in 1889. Because it was not connected to any other part of New Westminster, Poplar Island was chosen as a place to quarantine smallpox victims.   In July, New Westminster Mayor John Hendry reported to council that “prompt steps had been taken to prevent the spread” and that a “good hospital had been created on Poplar Island to which patients as far as known had been removed” (City Minutes-July, 1889). $100 was spent to build the hospital.  It is believed that many native people from around Vancouver were transported to Poplar Island during the epidemic and many may have been buried there. Because of its association with smallpox, most residents of New Westminster looked sadly upon Poplar Island and it was ignored and became uninhabited for a number of years.

The War Comox being launched from Poplar Island by the Samson III in April of 1918. The War Edenshaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen were also built on Poplar Island (from Samson V Museum Collection)

The War Comox being launched from Poplar Island by the Samson III in April of 1918. The War Edenshaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen were also built on Poplar Island (from Samson V Museum Collection)

During the First World War, a place was needed to build War Ships in New Westminster. Most of the waterfront was already used for mills and shipping, so New Westminster Construction and Engineering was founded in 1917 and within a month, they had totally cleared Poplar Island, built a rough foot bridge across from the foot of 14th Street and built a working shipyard for the Imperial Munitions Board. Four warships were built in the next year and launched from Poplar Island. About 600 workers earned $4-10 daily and built some more coal carriers for France shortly after the war. Because the island easily flooded, not much more work was done to continue industrializing it. From Port Royal and the Quay today, part of the dock where the ships were all launched from can still be seen at the Eastern end of Poplar Island.

A Fisheries warden lived on the island but in 1940, the city zoned Poplar Island for industrial use and the city bought it in 1945. Not many ideas came up, so in 1948 the city sold the entire Island for $20,000 to Rayonier Canada Forestry. For about 50 years tall trees grew back on the island as big booms of logs were anchored around it while they waited to be processed at the lumber and paper mills around Poplar Island. Much discussion about what the use of it might be and native land claims were discussed and so Western Forest Products sold the Island back to the Province of British Columbia in 1995 to be preserved.

Not much more has been done to decide how to use Poplar Island because of its history. It is now the only large Island on the North Arm of the Fraser that remains without dikes. It was suggested as a connection point for a pedestrian bridge between Port Royal and Downtown without decision a few years ago, homeless people took up residence about 5 years ago for a while and treaty negotiations have continued. Poplar Island is now mainly a place that people look upon in contrast to all the busy and rapidly changing places that surround it.


Urban Monsters

This is a guest post by Remo Pistor. Remo grew up in South Burnaby.  He moved to the West End of New West in 2003.  He’s passionate about the community he lives in and is interested in seeing New West have successful growth in areas such as small business and development while staying true to its heritage and character of its neighbourhoods.  Remo is an IT Manager for a small software development company, the tech guy behind his girlfriend’s fashion blog and all around tech wizard.  You can find Remo on twitter @remop

Edinburgh St. character homes. Photo: Remo Pistor.

Edinburgh St. character homes. Photo: Remo Pistor.

I bought a house in New West about 8 years ago, just as the housing prices were starting to rise and just before the market ballooned and went crazy.  I bought in the West End of New Westminster which I always describe to people as a mini Queens Park; a quaint, quiet neighbourhood with large lots and a lot of old character homes.  Even now you can find a nice house with a large yard for around $600,000.

In spite of City council being as progressive as a community of Amish, there are lots of positives to living in New West and I have really enjoyed living here.  You’re 30 minutes from everything, and you don’t need to cross a bridge or tunnel to get to Vancouver.  The neighbourhoods have lots of character, they’re quiet, and there are lots of parks and community areas.

I felt New West has always remained somewhat of a hidden gem, until lately.  Seems the word has gotten out to those interested in building new homes, and the word is that New West has reasonably priced lots (relative to other areas) and their building codes are far more lax than anywhere else.

Vancouver Special, coming up. Photo: Remo Pistor.

Vancouver Special, coming up. Photo: Remo Pistor.

Now I don’t want you to get me wrong; I’m not against new houses being built.  There are some absolutely beautiful homes being built, in keeping with the style of the neighbourhood. My problem is with the character destroyers or urban monsters that are being erected.  They have foundations wide and deep enough to support a small condo high-rise and even though you are legally allowed only one rental suite the basement has 2 entrances.  The giant wood cube structure built on top are built to their maximum allowable height with flat roofs and every window boxed out to avoid violating the maximum square footage bylaw.  They make no consideration for the character of the neighbourhood or their neighbours.

In my case, the house next to me, although it was built not long before I bought my house, it was built to maximize every last square inch.  On top of being a giant ugly box that destroys the character of the neighbourhood, it was built so close to the property line and so tall that even at the peak of summer it casts a shadow covering a quarter of my backyard.  In the winter my “lawn” has enough moss growing in it that I could keep the local craft stores supplied through to the next season.

What bugs me is that all the while that this destruction of our neighbourhoods is happening, the city does nothing to curb it (bad pun not intended).  Compounding the situation is an Official Community Plan that is disjointed and poorly put together.  In section 2.6 Heritage and Neighbourhood Character, New West identifies the importance of its heritage but really that’s it.  It states that residents and community need to be involved in the conservation of New West’s history and heritage buildings.  But, once again the city falls short in doing anything about the most important part, and that’s making sure there’s a policy that addresses new developments and construction staying true to the neighbourhood’s character.

In contrast, in Burnaby, they have a strong Official Community Plan that’s succinct and covers all aspects of the city.  In section 4.0 Residential, goal number three is: “To maintain and improve neighbourhood liveability and stability.”

It states in goal 3 that, “Residential neighbourhoods are important sub-units of the City. They serve as ‘building blocks’ creating a community through their diverse and distinctive characteristics.”  It goes on to state in the final point that, “Future plans for residential development, as they relate to residential neighborhoods, need to recognize the following… new development should respect the character of the neighborhood and protect those aspects that make each area unique.”

Why New Westminster is unable to take the same approach to protect the character of their neighbourhoods, which they so prominently display on their website, is beyond me.
At the end of the day, I don’t mind you building a large new house; I hope to be able to do the same one day, just have a little respect for your neighbours and your neighbourhood.
In the mean time, another house on my block has been knocked down and replaced with another Vancouver Special.


12th St. Festival celebrates community spirit with music

Kids ride their bikes at the 2009 Twelfth Street Festival in New Westminster. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Kids ride their bikes at the 2009 Twelfth Street Festival in New Westminster. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

The West End’s annual 12th Street Music Festival  is coming up on Sunday, August 1, and will feature free live music from local bands on two stages, children’s entertainment, displays by local businesses & community groups and events for kids and adults.

Bands will include:

  • Rainshadow
  • Mike Van Eyes
  • Mojo Stars
  • Maffie & Crew
  • Real Canadian Rock Band
  • Syndicate
  • Really Rod

According to festival organizers, highlights will include:

  • Kiwanis salmon BBQ
  • All Star Wrestlers (get an autograph!)
  • Wine tasting
  • Doggy wash.
  • Kidz Zone
  • Martial Arts Demonstration
  • AM 650 live radio broadcast from the street.
  • Car show
  • Dunk tank

“It’s going to be fun for everyone,” said festival coordinator John Ashdown in a media release. “We have a great line-up of entertainment, exhibits, events and a wide variety of foods.”

During the festival, 12th St. will be closed between 6th and 8th Ave., and there will be booths stretching all the way up from Stewardson to 10th Ave.

After the festival, there will be a wind-up party at the Terminal Pub at the foot of 12th St., from 4-8pm.


  • WHAT: 12th St. Festival
  • WHEN: Sunday, August 1, 2010, from 11am – 4pm
  • WHERE: 12th St. in New Westminster, between Stewardson and 10th Ave.

First annual Summerfest in Grimston Park a big success!

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen at Summerfest in Grimston Park. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Crowds gather to watch E.T. on an outdoor movie screen at Summerfest in Grimston Park. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Well, Summerfest in Grimston Park was a great success! Thanks to everyone who came. The turnout surpassed our expectations. We estimated that we had about 500 people at the movie alone, and maybe 1000 over the course of the afternoon. Our sleepy little West End park was packed with happy families!

The organizing committee for the 2010 event (MaryAnn Mortensen, Gavin McLeod, Renee Chadwick from NWPCR & me) are planning to do it again next year. We’d like to hear feedback from those who attended. If you were there, or even if you weren’t, we’d appreciate you letting us know what you liked about this year’s event, and share any suggestions on things we could add or change next year. You can comment on this post, or email us at

Here are some photos from the day:

Kids frolicking in the new playground at Grimston. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Kids frolicking in the new playground at Grimston. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Ron Ulrich, performing at Summerfest. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Ron Ulrich, performing at Summerfest. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

My family was among many who gathered for a picnic & some playtime in the park before the movie. Photo: Richard Tomkinson.

My family was among many who gathered for a picnic & some playtime in the park before the movie. Photo: Richard Tomkinson.

A happy customer (my husband's second cousin) shows off facepainter Allyson Grant's handiwork. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

A happy customer (my husband's second cousin) shows off facepainter Allyson Grant's handiwork. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Settling in to watch E.T. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Settling in to watch E.T. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Another view of the movie crowd. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Another view of the movie crowd. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

And here is a slideshow of photos shared on Flickr. If you want to share yours with us, please tag them “Summerfest” and “New Westminster” and they will appear in the slideshow below.


Free music, movie & family fun at Summerfest in Grimston Park July 17

Exploring the new playground at Grimston Park, on 7th Ave. at 19th St. in New Westminster. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Bring your swimsuits and a picnic blanket to Grimston Park on Saturday, July 17 for Summerfest, a new community celebration in New Westminster’s West End. Enjoy a family-friendly evening of play and live music, shop the mini-Farmer’s Market, and finish the evening off with a special free screening of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial under the stars.

The festival kicks off at 4 p.m. with the opening of the mini-Farmer’s Market, run by the Royal City Farmer’s Market, featuring fresh produce, artisan bread, hot samosas, unique beer-infused hot dogs and more. Papa Dave’s Pizza will sell fresh pizza on site, and Village Coffee Lounge will offer coffee by donation.

Summerfest will feature free live music including Royal City Farmers Market favourites Ross Werlick on steel guitar, Chris Messytone on accordion, Ron Ulrich’s classic pop-rock covers, blues band Delta Blue, and folk singer-songwriter Gillian Hobbs.

Grimston Park boasts a brand-new playground for kids to explore, as well as a large wading pool, open late this day only. There will also be water play activities and kids’ crafts led by New Westminster Parks, Culture & Recreation staff and preschool activities by School District 43’s Strong Start program. Kids and grown-ups can also lend a hand in completing the final piece in an award-winning series of mosaic art installations on 12th St.

Finally, at 9:30 p.m., families will gather on the grass to munch on free popcorn from Community Savings Credit Union and enjoy the classic Steven Spielberg film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and view the Fraser Fest fireworks.

As the only public gathering place in the West End, Grimston Park is the heart of the community, says Summerfest organizer MaryAnn Mortensen.

“For me, Grimston Park is the West End’s meeting place for adults, kids, nature and dog lovers alike,” says Mortensen. “It’s so much more than a park, it’s a place to connect with others.”

Summerfest is brought to you by Tenth to the Fraser, the West End Residents’ Association, the West End Business Association and New Westminster Parks, Culture & Recreation.

Sponsors of the festival include Derrick Thornhill from Park Georgia Realty, The New Westminster Newsleader, Community Savings Credit Union, and New Westminster MLA Dawn Black.

WHAT: Summerfest in Grimston Park, a community picnic & celebration featuring a free screening of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, live music, mini-Farmer’s Market and children’s activities.
WHEN: July 17, 2010 from 4-11:30pm
WHERE: Grimston Park, 7th Ave. at 19th St., New Westminster


What are your memories of Grimston Park?

18-month-old Wesley shows off an autumn 'treasure' found at Grimston Park. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

18-month-old Wesley shows off an autumn 'treasure' found at Grimston Park. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

New Westminster Museum & Archvies’ Rob McCullough is working on creating an interpretive panel about the history of Grimston Park to be unveiled at the inaugural Summerfest in Grimston Park, Saturday, July 17. Rob is currently seeking photos, stories and comments from those who have enjoyed the park over the years since it opened. Please comment on this post, share photos on our Facebook page, or email your comments to if you’d like to participate.

For 150 years the City of New Westminster has achieved much to be proud of. Mainly through the dedicated efforts of City residents like Douglas Grimston, New Westminster can boast a broad variety of green spaces, parks, arenas and playing fields. Many of these spaces would not exist had he not decided to act as a community voice; speaking to the needs of the City for healthy recreation opportunities. The City acknowledged this by renaming a park after Grimston in 1955.

West End residents rally in 2008 to preserve Grimston Park after word gets out that it could be the site of a new school. Photo: Will Tomkinson

West End residents rally in 2008 to preserve Grimston Park after word gets out that it could be the site of a new school. Photo: Will Tomkinson

Just over 50 years later a group of New Westminster residents rallied together to save Grimston Park as it might become the site for a new school. Their voice was heard and today the park is experiencing a renewal. The new adventure park with its play structures are being unveiled on July 17, 2010 and the voices of those residents who rallied to save the park should be heard alongside the rest of its story.

Our City’s history is the voice of its community and dedicated residents. All too often key components of our story have been missed or overlooked simply because no one thought to record them. Please take some time to put a few brief sentences together on what Grimston Park means to you and your family. These words will become part of the legacy you leave behind as members of our community. If you have any images of you and your family enjoying Grimston Park or rallying to save it please include them with your words so they might be incorporated into our interpretive panel for the park opening on July 17th.


Revamped Grimston Park playground & wading pool open for play

New playground at Grimston Park

New playground at Grimston Park

The new playground at Grimston Park is now open, and it is AWESOME. The park’s designers have done an incredible job creating a welcoming and imaginative space to play for kids of all ages. While the temporary fence is still partially up, and there’s still some work to do (laying sod, painting the wading pool), the playground and pool are now open for play.

As the organizer of a new summer festival in the park (Summerfest, on Saturday, July 17), I am relieved to say that the new playground is far better than the old!

The wading pool feels more integrated with the overall playground. Instead of two separate play areas, elements of water play continue through the park. When the wading pool drains at 4pm, the water goes sluicing through an artificial “river” channel. The channel is dammed in two places with gates for the kids to open and close.

The tires from the original playground have been integrated into the new design

The new playground is safer, but it does not sacrifice fun. For kids who want to push the limits of their bodies, there are two climbing walls, and lots of ways to climb up high and jump back down. It’s simply much harder for smaller kids to get really hurt during ordinary play. As a mom of a three-year-old and eight-month-old, I am very thankful for this.

I always felt that the old park wasn’t very good for small kids, because the adventure playground was so high off the ground. The new adventure playground is a series of stepped platforms – far safer than the old one megaladder. Inside the playground are hidden a number of sweet little features to trigger imaginative play: quiet nooks, windows, a steering wheel, little seats, and more. The new structure also reveals a better view than I remember from the old park. The equipment is placed in such a way to draw your eye in a kind of view corridor, whereas the old playground kind of blocked the ground-level view.

A play area geared to younger kids includes a giant sandbox, bouncers, swings and diggers.

A play area geared to younger kids includes a giant sandbox, bouncers, swings and diggers.

Having two to care for, I’m also pleased that there are several good spots to play closely with the younger one while being able to keep an eye on the eldest. For instance, the toddler area is also a giant sandbox where kids of any age can play. Located next to the wading pool, and bordered with a “boardwalk” it feels very beach-y. There are two diggers, a couple of bouncers and a set of baby swings in the sand, and lots of room for free play to dig, roll, scoop and dump.

I love living in New Westminster’s West End. It’s such a neighbourly place. That said, this part of New West lacks amenities. In a city of only six square miles, it doesn’t take long to access other neighbourhoods’ parks, pools, community centres and so on, but it’s important to provide spaces where neighbours naturally meet and grow closer. In the West End Grimston Park is that place. It’s nice to have it back.


New summer festival for New Westminster’s West End

Boy, it sure doesn’t feel like summer outside. As some of you know, I am in the midst of planning a new summer festival for New West, appropriately called Summerfest in Grimston Park. It hardly seems possibly that we’re only a little more than a month away from the July 17 event with all this rain!

Happily, things are ticking along. I’ve made a new page for the event on, but I’ll also post some updates here for those who like to follow along. Here’s the short version of what’s in store:

Tenth to the Fraser is proud to present a new community festival in New Westminster’s West End: Summerfest in Grimston Park. Meet your neighbours, explore the new playground at Grimston Park, enjoy free live music and activities, and, at dusk, watch a movie under the stars. Bring the family and pack a picnic or bring a little cash to buy food on site. Summerfest is brought to you by Tenth to the Fraser, the West End Residents’ Association, the West End Business Association and New Westminster Parks, Culture & Recreation.

We’ve got a couple of major sponsors on board now (thank you Derek Thornhill and Dawn Black!) and a number of other individuals and organizations that are chipping in money, time and services to help make this thing happen.

I have always used Tenth to the Fraser as a catalyst for deeper personal connection to my community, but this is taking it to a whole other level. I’m not just making new friends through the blog, becoming involved in existing events or supporting others to launch new events. I’m starting something new, something I’ve never done before. Honestly, it’s a little scary. Thankfully, I’m not alone. Working with me on the organizing committee is Gavin McLeod from WERA, West End-er Mary-Ann Mortensen, Renee Chadwick from New West Parks, Rec & Culture, and John Ashdown from the West End Business Association. With their help, things are taking shape nicely.

It may be cold and rainy now, but I am envisioning the hot sunny days ahead, and looking forward to playing with the kids in the Grimston wading pool, hearing my fave RCFM busker Ross Werlick work the frets on his steel guitar and laying back on a blanket at dusk to watch E.T. phone home.


Volunteers needed for June 5 Twelfth St. cleanup party

New Westminster MP Peter Julian and MLA Dawn Black will be hosting the sixth annual Twelfth Street Clean-Up on Saturday, June 5. Dawn & Peter will be there with their crew, with rubber gloves on and garbage bags in hand, and they hope you’ll join them in cleaning up litter along the street.

“It is not heavy work and many hands will make the job go quickly,” wrote Dawn in an email call for participation.

The cleanup crew meets at 10am in the parking lot at 1170 8th Avenue at 12th Street (behind Community Savings Credit Union) and will go out in the neighbourhood for an hour or two. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. All equipment such as garbage bags will be provided.

A free barbeque lunch will be given to all volunteers at 12 noon back in the parking lot, courtesy of the New Westminster Firefighters Charity Fund. In addition, each participant will receive certificates of appreciation from the MLA and MP.

If you are able to help out or need further information, phone 604-775-2101.


20th St. to 7/11: Please don’t you be my neighbour

Sometimes I wish New Westminster would block new pizza joints, sports bars and dollar stores from setting up shop in the city. It’s frustrating to see shiny new retail space taken over by these kinds of businesses. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with pizza, beer or Made-In-China junk (ok, maybe that last one), but I think there are already too many of the same. I want New West to have a more varied, and well, ambitious, mix of retailers and restaurants. I want our city to stop being such an economic underachiever and create shopping districts for real shoppers (not just ramen-eating Douglas College students and blue-haired seniors).

[Ed. note - a few commenters have said they were offended at that last comment. I didn't write it to make fun of seniors and students. I'm well aware that most students eat more than ramen, and that most seniors aren't afflicted with blue hair! What I tried (and apparently failed) to convey was that too many local businesses, in my opinion, are catering to these stereotypes instead of occupying a distinct niche that appeals to the variety of shoppers I observe here in New West. I don't just mean that I'd like to see more shops targeting younger and more affluent shoppers (though that would be nice to see too).]


7/11 logo

While my somewhat elitist prejudice is aesthetic and (admittedly) rather passive, Connaught Heights homeowners are actively trying to block a specific business from setting up shop in the sleepy commercial strip on 20th St. just uphill from the SkyTrain The target of their opposition: 7/11.

“This will be a gathering place for street people, prostitutes and drug dealers,” area resident Peter Saran explained to me via email. “It will bring the wrong kind of people into our quiet family orientated community. Not to mention hurt the other local businesses already there and will make the 20th Street traffic situation even worse – if that is possible. There are already numerous 7/11s in New Westminster, but this one will be in a residential neighbourhood.

“We do not oppose business at all but if the city is trying to enhance the area is this the right choice? Not at all! Put in a Starbucks etc… We are not happy and no one cares about the safety of our children.”

Saran says he has talked to various folks at the city, including planners and councillors, but to no avail. I can see why. I mean, should the city really be telling commercial property owners who they can and cannot lease or sell to? There’s sure a slippery slope to fear there. But at the same time, I can see why neighbours would wish to have veto power over what is built in their neighbourhood – especially if they believe a particular business would make the area less safe.

What do you think?

Update: Peter Saran emailed me some comments he wanted me to share with you. Here’s what he has to say upon reading your comments:

Hi Everyone, this is the person that asked Briana to post my concerns on her blog & I thank everyone for their feedback, most of which I agree with. Yes I am the direct neighbor to this project & yes Briana I have spoken to many of my neighbors who do share the same sentiment, as they have approached me. I do have a personal interest, of course I do! I live right beside the project, as would all of you. I am pro business & would welcome one into this space, just not this particular one. I think 7/11 is a fine business in the day, it’s at late night that raises my concerns. My pub shares back streets & alleys with 7/11 & I have seen first hand the affects this business has on its community. We’ve had to call the city to get them to install flood lights around the 7/11 to clean up the drug dealers, street people etc…as our staff were afraid to leave. The city then had to ramp up police enforcement around it to try & take care of the problem, because they wouldn’t deal with it. That is why I had to speak up, not because of being afraid of change, property value or Ozzy- although I thought that was funny:) – Peter

I work closely with the police dept, fire dept & city hall, ask them what happens at 7/11 late night-the stats don’t lie! I have 2 young children & want to protect them, as well as our community. Those of you who know me or my pub-The Rivers Reach- know we are anything but envious non-achievers, we raise thousands of dollars every year for this community & the people & businesses of New Westminster. Last year alone we supported over 200 local causes incl. The Salvation Army, United Way, Justice Institute, Police Dept, Fire Dept, City Hall, Monarch Place, Cops 4 Cancer, the Purpose Society etc… because we care about our community! And Robert if you think these people whom we’ve supported & our customers are bad people then you’re right we invite questionable characters- I think your wrong though, these people are the backbone of this city & the Reach is the exact opposite of a bad influence. I bring these same community first ideals to the West End & will do what is best for my family & the people who live here. My personal opinion is that 7/11 doesn’t do enough to ensure the best interest of the community. Thank-you all for your time & thank-you Briana!! – Peter

I wasn’t expecting quite so many opinions on the matter, but it’s been interesting to see how y’all have responded!


Montessori, Early French Immersion programs to be relocated

New Westminster parents of preschoolers and gradeschoolers who hoped to enroll their kids in programs of choice may need to adjust their plans, as School District 40 prepares to shuffle the locations of so-called ‘Programs of Choice’ – Early French Immersion and Montessori. It all comes into play in the fall of 2012, or when the new elementary and middle schools are ready.

Despite vocal community support for retaining ‘triple track’ status, Tweedsmuir will lose its Montessori program. The the program will be discontinued one grade at a time or whenever class sizes shrink below 18 students. Montessori will be moved to Connaught Heights, but will not begin there until fall 2012 or when the middle school is opened.

I was concerned this might mean that some would-be Montessori students might miss out, but SD 40 Director of Instruction Sandra Pace told me via email, “Nothing is being discontinued in 2010. A Kindergarten will be started at Connaught the year before grade 1 is discontinued at Tweedsmuir, so that the transition can be smooth. Parents will all be informed of the move ahead of time, so there will be no surprises. There will not be a cohort that has no Montessori program in the West End.”

The other school losing a program of choice is John Robson Elementary, which will see its Early French Immersion program move to Lord Kelvin in fall 2012.

All Early French Immersion grades will move at once in 2012, or when the new schools are built.

McBride Elementary will keep its Montessori program, but catchment boundaries will change when the new John Robson Elementary is opened. McBride students living in Victoria Hill will then move over to John Robson. The new boundary between John Robson and Kelvin will be Queens Ave instead of 4th Ave.

A major change for New Westminster will be the establishment of catchments specific to programs of choice. Beginning in 2012, there will be three equitably distributed catchments for Early French Immersion and two for Montessori. There will remain only one district-wide catchment for Late French Immersion. Under the new system, admission to programs of choice will give priority to students living closest to the schools as well as by application dates.

Said Pace, “Catchments will be devised, and all parents who have applied will be placed into those catchments based on their addresses on file, keeping their priority order. In other words, if you’ve applied for three schools for EFI, you’ll be considered ‘in-catchment’ for the one in whose catchment you’re living, and ‘in-district’ for the two in whose catchments you don’t live. Out-of-district residents come last in all catchments. When offering placements, we will first go down the in-catchment list, and when that’s exhausted, we’ll go to the ‘in-district’ list, and when that’s exhausted, we go to the ‘out-of-district’ list. This is exactly the same as the regular program is now, except that lists are not kept in priority order, because all students registering by the first Friday in June are accepted. The Montessori list at Tweedsmuir will be the Connaught list, and the EFI Robson list will be the Kelvin EFI list as of the fall of 2012. Parents won’t need to do anything for that. Of course, they may not accept an offered placement because the program has moved, but that will be at their choice. It will be offered none the less.”

The recommendations also included catchment boundaries for the new middle school, which will begin at 7th St. and continue west to the edge of the city (excluding Queensborough), and also include all students below Royal Ave. EFI students from Robson & Kelvin will continue at the new school. Late French Immersion will continue to be offered only at Glenbrook Middle School. Timing of the new middle school’s opening also affects most of these program and boundary changes.

The review of locations of choice began last year, with the intention to balance the student load. While schools like Tweedsmuir are bursting with students, others like Connaught have space for more students. It’s hoped that relocating programs of choice will draw new students to underutilized schools. While feedback from parents indicated that most did not want programs of choice moved, in the end the Board of Education voted to accept all the recommendations put forth by Pace in her review of Programs of Choice in the district.

Said Pace, “It’s difficult to allocate programs to existing facilities and student numbers in catchments while still meeting everyone’s desires. We feel that these program allocations will assist the district to balance its offerings over the long term and provide for the space needed for our programs of choice. We look forward to continuing our excellent working relationships with the parents and organizations supporting programs of choice.”


Electronic speed reminders coming to Stewardson

A new electronic speed-reader sign will be installed on Stewardson Way just south of 6th Avenue for traffic heading eastbound into New Westminster from the Queensborough Bridge and Marine Way.

The Gordian knot of exits, on-ramps and highways at Stewardson and 20th St. near the Queensborough Bridge is one of the gnarliest intersections in the Lower Mainland, let alone New Westminster. I live just blocks away and regularly end up in Burnaby when I mean to go to Queensborough, or vice versa.

So it’s no surprise to me that Stewardson Way is a high-crash location in New West. Drivers are distracted and frustrated, and just want to slice through as fast as possible. In an attempt to calm the Mr. Wheelers among us, the City of New Westminster and ICBC are placing an electronic speed-reader board on Stewardson Way,  just south of 6th Avenue for traffic heading eastbound into New Westminster from the Queensborough Bridge and Marine Way.

Said Mayor Wayne Wright in a city media release, ”Our location in the centre of Metro Vancouver means that a lot of traffic funnels through New Westminster. The new speed-reader board on Stewardson Way will remind drivers to slow down as they travel through the Royal City and drive safely.”

The new electronic speed-reader board will display and record the speed of passing vehicles and the time of day. Information gathered can help pinpoint when excessive speeding is likely to occur and when to deploy speed enforcement.

New Westminster now has five speed-reader boards in operation throughout the city, with four placed adjacent to elementary schools in the Heights, Sapperton, Downtown and West End neighbourhoods.

The new speed-reader board at Stewardson Way will be rotated between two other high-risk locations in the future: McBride Boulevard at the approach to the Pattullo Bridge and along Brunette Avenue.

For those of you who didn’t get the ‘Mr. Wheeler’ allusion (and didn’t click through the link), here’s the classic Goofy toon, ‘Motor Mania.’ Watch it and I’m sure you’ll see why it came to mind as I wrote this post …


Free Strong Start program for preschoolers expands to West End

Strong Start, a provincially funded, free program for children under six and their parents, is expanding with a new afternoon program in New Westminster’s West End. The program is a gentle introduction to school for preschoolers through play-based learning.

We’ve written about Strong Start here before. The Cole’s Notes version of that post: Strong Start is awesome.

The new Strong Start centre will open March 29 at Connaught Heights Elementary, at 2201 London St. in the city’s West End. Strong Start will share space in the school with New Westminster Parks, Culture & Rec’s long-running Tiny Tots preschool program.

Among the three programs, there should be a time to suit every parent/child schedule. The new program at Connaught will be open 12:30-3:30pm, Monday to Friday. Meanwhile, the program will continue to operate in Sapperton at McBride Elementary every weekday from 9am-12pm, and in Queensborough at Queen Elizabeth Elementary on Monday and Friday from 9am-12pm and Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday from 4-7pm.

Strong Start follows the regular school schedule, which means it is closed on professional development days and school holidays including spring break (which is this week).


Montessori, French Immersion consultation on ‘options’ meaningless

The school district is currently gathering feedback on a series of “options” for where to locate New Westminster’s programs of choice (French Immersion and Montessori).  The deadline is tomorrow, and I haven’t yet written in my opinion because I’m not sure what good it will do.

The author of the report, Sandra Pace, has been very careful to say “I’m not making recommendations, I’m just presenting options.” Yet based on the information I saw at the Tweedsmuir presentation of Pace’s report, there are good reasons why this review is going on. It is dishonest for the district to ask parents to comment on all these “options” as though they are all equally viable.

The locations of the programs of choice impacts the district’s efforts to balance enrolment at our schools. For example, Tweedsmuir, a “triple-track” school with Montessori, French Immersion and a “regular’ program, is overpopulated and surrounded by portables. Down the road and still in the West End, Connaught is practically empty. An easy way to solve the discrepancy on paper is to move one of the programs of choice from Tweeds (almost certainly Montessori) over to Connaught, and presto! Connaught gets a boost in enrolment and some of the pressure is off Tweeds.

But talk to the Montessori and EFI parents at Tweeds, not to mention those of us with preschool kids who chose this neighbourhood in part because Tweedsmuir is a triple track school, and it’s clear many if not most Tweedsmuir parents would not support moving Montessori to Connaught. The same follows for other schools in the district. No one wants to see kids uprooted from their school.

The district admits that most parents say they don’t want to see programs moved from their current schools. Does the district really think that parents would choose fewer options for their kids at the schools they attend? And if they know what we’re going to say, why are they asking us to bother sending in feedback forms?

Just be honest about it: if we need to move programs of choice, so provide us with the recommended options and tell us why. If we don’t need to, then why raise it at all?

It’s a waste of time to ask parents to reiterate what you already know: we don’t want the schools who have these programs now to lose them. If you think they should be moved, make the case for it. Give us real choices, not fairytale “options” that you can’t really consider given the budget and space constraints in this district. For the feedback to be meaningful, parents must be aware of the district-wide repercussions of these decisions.

Perhaps the idea is that this public consultation will offer some measure of transparency in the process of moving programs of choice, but I have trouble seeing how this feedback process will do anything other than inform trustees which schools’ parents will protest most loudly about these changes. And that’s a cowardly way to make hard choices.


Strong Start a haven for preschoolers (and their mums)

A few times a week, I pack the kids across town from our home in the West End to Strong Start over at McBride Elementary in Sapperton. Wesley love, love, LOVES to go to “school” and I love, love, LOVE that it’s both free and fun for all of us.

Wesley at play in the StrongStart sandbox. Photo: Briana Tomkinson.

Wesley at play in the StrongStart sandbox. Photo: Briana Tomkinson.

Strong Start is a free, provincially funded, parent-participation preschool prep program for babies and children under five. It’s a great way for parents and caregivers to get the kids out of the house and socializing with other children while also getting preschoolers a small taste of school routine.

There are currently two Strong Start centres in New Westminster: McBride in Sapperton(9am-12pm Monday-Friday)  and Queen Elizabeth Elementary in Queensborough (9am-12pm Monday & Friday; Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday 4-7pm). A third centre is planned to open in the West End at the end of March, at Connaught Heights Elementary (drop-in times haven’t yet been announced).

A typical Strong Start day begins and ends with free play in a room full of toys, art supplies, books and costumes. Sandwiched in the middle is a simple “school” routine: clean-up, snack, gym, and circle time.

I can’t say enough about how awesome it is. I can’t even pick a favourite activity. My son adores the free play, but I think the snack/gym/circle routine is really cool and good for him to experience.

The snacks are healthy and yummy, typically including fresh fruit pieces, cheerios and fishy crackers with water to drink. Gym is a lifesaver during the cold and rainy winter months. Parents and kids trek over to the school gymnasium and the little ones run wild with bouncy balls, hockey sticks, wiffle balls and hula hoops. And during circle time, Wesley not only gets to hear a story and play some silly circle games, but I also get to learn a few new tunes & tricks to deploy when he gets too squirrelly at home.

I also appreciate that the Strong Start teachers have no fear of messy activities. My son can choose to be up to his elbows in flour, mash shaving cream all over a table, shake glitter all over a picture, mush around a goopy cornstarch-powered paste or cut construction paper into teeny-tiny pieces – all things I’d been a little afraid to try at home!

Plus, while all this is going on, parents, grandparents and babysitters can enjoy coffee or tea and commiserate about the crazy things small children do. Of all the kid activities I’ve tried, Strong Start has been the best environment for meeting other local parents. The only downside is that the program is so good that it’s very popular (and therefore can get so busy that it can be overwhelming).

I’ve got to give the B.C. Government, our local school district and the others behind this program full props. It’s amazing, and I’m so happy to see it expanding here in New West. In my opinion, it would be a worthy addition to every neighbourhood school. Then, kids could actually attend the Strong Start at the school they will enter in kindergarten, which could go a long way to relieving kids’ (and parents’) anxiety on the first full day of school.


Positively 12th Street


That’s the sound of a ‘B’ string breaking on my Fender acoustic guitar. There was a sound that followed it which issued forth from my mouth which we can’t print here, this being a family blog. In any case, I had no replacement, and with no idea where to find one.

image courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd

So, I turned to Twitter, where a fellow New Westie (well, an ex-New Westie) directed me to where a local guitar/music lessons shop could be found (Neil Douglas Guitar Shop ). It is located on 12th Street, just above 8th avenue. It’s very close to me, a guy without a car. And so, on a cold and sunny day in New West, I was off with my Whistler WordCamp 2009 toque on my head, and with a spirit of exploration in my heart.

After skirting past the guy ‘looking for cash on the ground’ on 11th (Me: Sorry, not seen it, man. He: well, do you have any cash to donate? ), and bathed in the wintery sun, I negotiated my way down the gentle incline towards 12th street. I’d meant to investigate this region a long while ago, with references to it on this very blog – Mom’s Diner, Amelia’s Restaurant, and other local spots for good, and inexpensive breakfast repasts) – firmly in mind.

As explained in another post of mine, 10 notable places in New West, I love a high street, a main drag. And 12th street certainly offers that feel, albeit with a slightly faded veneer. Yet it feels very local if that means something to you, with a seeming defiance to any zoning laws, with residences and light commercial spaces living comfortably side by side. And most importantly, there is a sense that this place is built up due to the efforts of its residents, which gives it a certain charm, almost old-world in the way it strikes me.

The variety of goods and services to be obtained up 12th street, between 6th and 10th, are numerous and decidedly ‘niche’ in some cases. Get your antiques, your second-hand futons and night tables. Get your used cars, complete with the spinning signs encouraging the sale and purchase of automobiles, each sale or purchase entreaty with a dedicated side of the sign depending which way the wind is blowing. Get your comics and pop culture figurines (Tor Johnson featured in Plan 9 from Outer Space, Boris Karloff in 1932′s The Mummy, and many others). Find a chartered accountant. Find a place to groom your pet. Get your palm read, and your future revealed. Get a tattoo.

And watch the people.

The young couple loads their second hand furniture into their car, full of the good feelings of money saved and empty spaces filled. A man walking his dog looks up, and the lady above in the top apartment in a street-facing lowrise says “there’s a handsome puppy”. For a minute, the man thinks she’s talking about him, and he’s momentarily full of hope. A little girl dances on the sidewalk out in front of the Taekwondo dojo. Inside, the sensei is playing bhangra music while the young trainees do their jumping jacks on the inside while she dances outside.

I stood outside the guitar shop while on my way. It is closed today. It didn’t matter. What a day it was for a walk, drinking in the spirit of the place, unique if not entirely genteel. By the time I’d reached the borderlands of Burnaby, it felt like I’d seen an entire town rather than just a single street. It felt as though I’d absorbed its life and taken on some of its spirit. On the day that I was there, a sunny sunday after so many weeks of rain and gloom, there was a kind of peace that pervaded the street, rising up gently from 6th to 10th.

Coming back home, turning off 12th street, and onto 8th avenue, walking by the houses, most of which look as if they were built circa 1950, and thought about how important history is to a place. I thought about how important that that history be sensed, noticed, remembered. There are ways to improve places like this, and make them commercially scalable, and I can certainly think of ways to do so on 12th street. Yet a vital element to any community is the human element, a place where slices of the human experience can be observed, experienced, celebrated.

I came away without my guitar strings, but with a greater experience of my city.

And as is my custom, here’s 5 Songs about streets to finish this up:

Respectable Street – XTC

Across 110th Street – Bobby Womack

Cypress Avenue – Van Morrison

On Green Dolphin Street – Bill Evans Trio

Galbraith Street – Ron Sexsmith


Demolition underway to make room for new Grimston Park playground

Grimston Park playground demolition. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Grimston Park playground demolition. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Demolition is underway at Grimston Park, as the work begins to replace the aging adventure playground with safer, more modern equipment. After a series of public consultations, the final design seems to be pretty much settled.

Here’s what will be included in the $230,000 upgrade:

  • A new tower
  • Slide utilizing the slope
  • New swings, including a platform swing
  • Spinning net
  • Climbing wall
  • Water feature stream that operates using a hand water pump supplied by surplus water from the wading pool.
  • Refurbish & incorporate existing monkey bars, slider track and teeter totter
  • All salvageable lumber and gravel from the existing playground to be reused

The existing wading pool, sports fields, lacrosse box and washrooms will remain untouched.

New Grimston Park playground plan

New Grimston Park playground plan

While the demolition work goes on, the playground at Grimston Park may be closed for up to two weeks, according to the information on NWPR’s website. There will be a gap of a number of weeks between the demolition and the installation of the new playground.

Over the winter, West End kids will have to make do with less. Last time I walked by the park, it looked like the metal monkey bars, swings, bouncers and two slides would remain, but the tearing-down was still underway. The spiral slide, fortress/walkway and log bridge were all gone.

It sounds like there will be a more extended playground closure after the new equipment is delivered. Expect about eight weeks of limited to no use of the playground while it all gets installed.

The new playground is expected to open in Spring 2010. After seeing the final designs on NWPR’s website, I am feeling more excited about the park to come. It looks like it tries to balance a more traditional ‘adventure play’ style with exploratory and imaginative landscaping. For example, the refurbished monkeybars appear to be placed so they cross a new water feature, so the kids could be climbing over or swinging above a little stream (or dry gully if no one is pumping water). The tires are also going to be reused to add a bit of playful architecture to the retaining wall, though they won’t be quite the same as we’ve been used to.

New Grimston playground design (Image: NWPR)

New Grimston playground design (Image: NWPR)


New West SkyTrain safety stats challenge assumptions

Photo: Mark Bek

Photo: Mark Bek

I was raised to be a bit paranoid about personal safety. Like many kids raised in the 1980s, it was impressed upon me that the world was a dangerous and unpredictable place. I was taught to fear strangers, to look both ways (and then look again) before crossing the road, to lock the door and close the windows at night, and to be wary of walking the streets after dark. The cautions took, and I am one to triple check the locks before going to sleep,  refuse to cross when the red hand is flashing and get nervous when the sun goes down.

As a dedicated transit user and pedestrian, I have not bought into the popular belief that taking SkyTrain is unsafe, but I do carry with me a mental ranking of which stations feel more or less safe. I was surprised to discover that many of my assumptions were just plain wrong.

The latest crime statistics challenge popular belief of SkyTrain safety in New West. New Westminster SkyTrain, for example, was ranked as the second least secure in a 2008 survey of transit riders, but the actual rate of crime places it 13th on the list. I would have assumed that my home station, 22nd St. SkyTrain, would have ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it’s actually the third-worst station on the line for crime after Surrey Central and Gateway. Columbia Station ranked 10th for crime activity, Braid 11th and Sapperton 19th. The gap between the rate of crime at Surrey Central and Gateway compared to 22nd St. is pretty big, however – the crime rate is almost twice as high at those Surrey stations.

Interestingly, in the 2008 survey, Waterfront was the station where people were most likely to feel safe – but it actually has the fourth highest rate of crime, just behind 22nd St.  Columbia and Braid are about as safe as Scott Rd. New Westminster Station has almost the same rate of crime as Main St. Sapperton is safer than Gilmore, but has a slightly higher rate of crime than Metrotown.

The rate of person crime incidents in or near stations, per 100,000 passengers for New West’s SkyTrain stations are:

  • 1.38 at 22nd St.
  • 0.80 at Columbia
  • 0.79 at Braid
  • 0.71 at New Westminster
  • 0.55 at Sapperton

I do think it’s important to measure the drop in crime as well, however. Some stations have seen huge safety gains in the past year. Biggest improvements:

  • King George & Brentwood (tied) – 78% decline in crime
  • Rupert – 66%
  • Edmonds – 64%
  • Waterfront – 50%
  • New Westminster – 47%

And the stations that saw an increase in crime:

  • Braid – 980% increase
  • 29th Ave – 73%
  • Main St. – 27%
  • Granville – 11%
  • Gilmore – 3%

I’m no statistician, but I do find it interesting to compare the rate of crime to other life risks to get a bit of context in terms of just how “dangerous” it is to commute by SkyTrain.

First of all, B.C.’s overall crime rate in 2008 (notably excluding motor vehicle offences) was 9,600 per 100,000 people – which was an 8% decline from 2007, and the lowest recorded crime rate in 30 years. The average rate of crime on SkyTrain across the system was 0.71. SkyTrain’s overall crime rate dropped by 33% year over year.

I am often frustrated at the perception that taking transit – and in particular, SkyTrain, is less safe than driving. Yet the risk of death related to driving is 16.8 per 100,000 for B.C. males (8.4 for females). That’s about six times higher than the risk of being a victim of any sort of crime in or around the least safe station on the line.

Another big takeaway from reading all these reports on SkyTrain crime is how the safety of the surrounding neighbourhood impacts the rate of crime at any given station. This is something all of us have the power to impact. Whether you’re passing through a station or living nearby, if you see crime, report it. Those of us who live near SkyTrains can paint over graffiti, pick up trash, and take action to correct other minor property damage – research shows that people are more likely to litter when they see litter on the ground, and that leaving graffiti encourages hoodlums to return and add more.

So, do your part to improve the safety of your neighbourhood. And let’s all just get over misplaced fear of SkyTrain.


NW Firefighters keep the city cool

(Today we are live-blogging from the 12th Street Festival – come find us in front of Village Coffee at 7th avenue and 12th Street!)

NW Firehall #2 firefighters turn the hose on a joyful crowd at the Thirsty Duck’s raffle – part of the 12th Street Festival here in New Westminster. Even the photos are refreshing…