A case study of hope

Like many other places in the Lower Mainland, New Westminster has a homelessness problem. The problem isn’t just a lack of money for shelter, of course. Many, if not most, of the people huddled in doorways on Carnarvon and shuffling along Columbia are also struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

These people can be very scary. The worst of them are so full of rage that it boils around them.

This is the story of one such angry woman, called “Crow.” She took out her pain on both friends and foes until the day she turned her life around, calmed down and got clean.

She didn’t do it alone. New West Union Gospel Mission volunteers persisted through her black moods and their efforts were not wasted.

When she came for a free meal at the UGM, she was offered more than soup and sandwiches by her angels.

Eventually they helped her realize her spirit was starving. Drugs and alcohol were her way of numbing the pain she secretly felt.

“Most alcoholic-addicts are spiritually starving because of the trauma they suffered in their lives. Most of us escape that trauma through alcohol and drugs so we don’t have to feel, we don’t have to remember, we don’t have to do anything,” she said, surveying the crowded New Westminster mission following a pancake breakfast.

As she speaks, there’s a violent outburst from a man who’s come to eat, perhaps because he’s missed the meal.

“That used to be me,” said Lagarde, who describes herself as an animal when she lived on the streets.

It’s reassuring to hear of examples like this, of people who seemed hopeless and yet came through on the other side. And it’s a good reminder that those of us who are lucky enough to have opportunities others lacked need to overcome apathy and give back.

New middle school could be built on parkland

And then there were none...

A small geographical footprint is both one of New Westminster’s charms and one of its challenges. Density is inevitable. Sprawl is not an option. This is great, if you’re assessing public transit feasibility or walkability within the city. It means, however, that options are limited when it comes to new development.  

New West has long known it needs new schools. The current high school is in need of upgrades and isn’t adequate to house all of the city’s kids. The original idea was to rebuild on the same site. The catch? Our secondary school is built on an indian burial ground
It’s like something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I keep expecting some kind of monstrous hell-beast to emerge from a Hellmouth deep in the bowels of the school, threatening to bet all the city’s kittens at poker and cursing the local mallrats with syphilis
So, we need new schools. And we can’t build them on the site where NWSS has stood for 60 years in case executed Tsilhqot’in warrior Chief Ahan was buried there 144 years ago. 
Something has to give. And that ‘something’ seems likely to be park land. Three parks are currently being considered for a new middle school site, all in the West End:
While residents would lose some park space (and potentially see more traffic), we have it on good authority that if land for the school is carved out of a park like Grimston, the site would also see upgrades that could offset the loss. 
In any case, this is all still tentative. The city is gathering feedback now, so if you want to learn more about the ghost of Chief Ahan or share your opinions on the new school site, there are some important dates to know (all events at the NWSS library):
  • Oct. 25 (11am, 1 & 3pm)  & Oct. 30 (7pm) (just in time for Halloween!) – Historical research on the cemetery at NWSS. 
  • Nov. 1 (11am, 1 & 3pm) & Nov. 4 (7:30pm) – Public info sessions on middle school options.

Heritage Walks from SkyTrain Stations

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

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

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

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

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

Tenth to the Fraser

New Westminster was the ideal location for a bustling metropolis, built up by the Royal Engineers as British Columbia’s first capital. Today it is known as that suburb you drive through to get downtown.
My family is from here. My great grandfather came to this city through Montreal from Manchester, England. He raised a family in a duplex, still standing, on the corner of 10th avenue and third street. He was a carpenter at the BC Electric trolley factory at the bottom of 12th st. My grandfather studied at UBC and was a biologist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the Fraser. He and my Grandmother, a head nurse at Riverview, raised their family in a house on 7th street, across from Lord Kelvin Elementary. It was only recently torn down and replaced. My Grandfather shot the photograph on this post; the construction of the Putello Bridge in 1937.
I was raised on First Street with my family and now I raise my children in the West End, near Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary. This website is to illustrate just what kind of town New Westminster is. It has often had an undeserved reputation but I have always known it as the perfect jewel in the center of the Lower Mainland. Tightly knit, self sustainable yet fully a part of the greater metropolis around it, New Westminster sits at the intersection of our regional commerce and the heart of our regional identity.
Here, I hope, you will read interviews with notable personalities within ours, the Royal City; explanations of current events, political goings-on and a place to showcase features of our city in our past and present. It is an interactive site, so feel free to contribute.
There is a lot to look forward to! We have an upcoming civic election, featuring for the first time the newly formed Voice New Westminster slate. We have seen a vast change in the city since 1986 and certainly in the last five years. In my view, New Westminster could be the jewel box of the lower mainland. With defined, tightly knit neighbourhoods, heavily integrated transit options and a distributed commercial base, New Westminster is a city for its Citizens. I invite you to explore it with me.

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New West links