Residents Associations meetings aren’t generally associated with a rockin’ good time. One cup of community engagement, a teaspoon (or more depending on your taste) angry-guy-yells-at-a-cloud, a loosely packed tablespoon of neighbours talking about local issues, with a dash of obligation thrown in, RAs are a recipe that is constantly changing—sometimes delicious and sometimes a tad too salty.
Well, it’s the Thanksgiving long weekend. And I thought that it might be a good idea to look around me, and take stock of all of the things that I have to be thankful for, particularly here in my adopted home of New Westminster.
Here in Canada, our Thanksgiving is based around the Anglican calendar, a liturgical festival that quietly mirrors the pagan Harvest Festivals in Britain, and those festivals celebrated very similarly by First Nations peoples who engaged in harvest festivals for many thousands of years. Over the centuries, the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving has come to mean many things to many people .
What does thanks mean to me, here in New West?
Like many things in life for me, it’s the details, the simple pleasures for which I give thanks. I don’t have to face hypothermia, typhoid, fighting off a bear with a skinny branch, or injuries sustained in clearing a patch of land to build a log cabin like our early Canadian forebearers did (and for which I also give thanks).
But, thanks are thanks, no matter what era in which one finds oneself. And here are some of mine.
Libraries are a sure sign that civilization is alive and well. At the risk of sounding like a very, very old man, libraries democratized information long before the Internet came along to claim the crown. And they’re still important, you young whippersnappers.
Ours is a five minute walk from my apartment. I have celebrated the New Westminster Library here before, of course, as have a number of writers here on Tenth To The Fraser. But recently I’ve discovered yet another treasure it provides me – classic movies on DVD! Netflix this!
Although it’s been under attack recently, public transit in New West still kicks all manner of butt, and was one of my reasons for moving here. Then, I was without a car. I am therefore in favour of, and thankful to, any city that empowers its citizens to choose not to own a car if they don’t want one, or can’t afford one.
Since my little girl lives in North Delta, and it’s such a big deal to cross a river around here (with only 3 buses crossing a river, only one of which stops at a SkyTrain Station during regular service hours), I’ve since had to buy one. If only New West was looked to as more of an example of how public transit should be integrated into a community.
Toward the end of the summer, I got off the 155 bus on 6th Street, between 10th and 9th. It was fresh, sunny day. There was a gentle breeze. The bus pulled away, and I looked across the road into Moody Park. The trees cast cool shade onto the grass, awash as it was with cheery sunlight. Dogs played. People gathered, laughing around picnic tables. It was life! And people were out in it, enjoying it together. It made me feel grateful to be here.
Rainbow Market on 8th street at 4th is the convenience store very close to my apartment – even closer than the Library! When there’s no milk for coffee, it’s been there for me in a pinch. But, it’s not just about the convenience. It’s about the time my daughter got a free candy (with my permission) when it was noticed that she was feeling a bit disappointed that day by the chap behind the counter. That kind of stuff counts.
Some of the oldest houses that I’ve seen in New Westminster are just around the corner from me here on the Brow-Of-The-Hill. There is something about a house that is over a century old that really makes one feel very connected to a place that celebrates such an illustrious history, existing in a form that is both wonderful, and somehow alien too across the span of decades. It feels, at times, when walking in historic neighbourhoods like this one (as I’m wont to do), that time itself is something of an illusion.
I suppose too, I am in a state of constant admiration of those who live in those houses along 9th street. I am amazed at how devoted they must be to have made themselves so actively a part of that ongoing history just by taking care of a house like that, preserving that shared history for us all.
Drink Urban Lounge
I consider Drink Urban Lounge on Columbia Street to be my local, with a fine selection of beers, great food, and friendly wait staff. There’s something that is both cozy and sophisticated about it that I noticed the moment I stepped in there. I know The ‘Drink has been compared to a Yaletown place, but I actually think it’s its own thing.
When they played David Byrne on the box, along with some cool jazz, a spot of Bob Dylan, a touch of Wilco, they really had me. And one time recently, our hostess made us nachos even after the kitchen was closed. How great is that? Great enough to at least say “Thanks!”
My favourite meal of the day is brunch. And when I crave it, Eggs Benedict is the first dish that leaps to mind, with strong coffee, fried potatoes, and freshly-squeezed orange juice – comfort food. All of this is mine at Angelina’s, a breakfast and lunch place down by the Quay (115 – 960 Quayside Drive ) which has become a fast favourite, for which I’m thankful is here in our city. It’s owned by a couple who are extremely friendly and know their trade. It feels kind of like a B&B without the first B. But, show up early, ’cause it’s cozy.
I believe that human beings draw a strong psychological lift being near water. And to have a place to walk near it, with greenery, a pub, a playground, a River Market, and grocery store along the way, that lift is made all the more a thing for which to be thankful.
Army & Navy
This is one of my favourite places on Columbia Street, not just because of the wide range of fashions and household items at very reasonable prices. But, because it reminds me of my childhood in the 1970s, when all department stores were set up like this. The soundtrack helps. When you’re in the Army & Navy on Columbia Street, your soundtrack will be pop music of all kinds, as long as it was released between 1956 to 1976. It’s like being a kid again! Well, for me it is.
Queen’s Park and surrounding environs
Like I touched on when speaking about 9th street, history fascinates me, and with many homes dating from the early 1900s in this extraordinarily pretty neighbourhood, there is plenty to soak up. In addition, quiet, tree-lined streets in a neighbourhood that still passes the pint of milk test (15 minutes to buying a pint of milk without climbing into a car) once again shows me a big part of what makes a great place to live, and how neighbourhoods should be planned.
Really, I just enjoy walking around this neighbourhood, admiring the individual beauty of each house, admiring the aesthetics of another age, and once again being made aware of how important history and a sense of continuity is in New Westminster, and how I feel I’ve been invited into it.
Friends, of course.
I sure have made a lot of friends in this town, ones I love to chat with, to hoist pints with, to share stories with. There is nothing quite like a support network, with “support network” perhaps sounding a bit too clinical for what it actually means to me.
As we grow up and get older, our relationships become more selective, perhaps. And being Canadian, we’re a bit more guarded as to who we let in than perhaps our American cousins are. But, like our other cultural cousins, the British, once you’re in, you’re in. How can you not be thankful for something like that?
BOO! Ah, autumn. I love it! The leaves… the smell… the pumpkins… the little ghouls! Halloween is one of my favourite events of the year, with a bit of something for everyone. Now that my son is getting to an age where he gets it (wear this, knock on door, say “tickoteet”, present candy holding device and be rewarded!) I’m started to realize how fun it can be. With a 150+ years history, New Westminster offers a lot in the way of creepy spots and stories, outside of the knowns like cemetaries. With that in mind, I present seven spooky spots here in Hyack Town, in no particular order. Feel free to add yours in the comments.
1. Galbraith House
When I first moved to New Westminster, I lived only a few short blocks away from this fantastic building. I used to walk home from college and eye it suspiciously as I passed. I am fairly certain something watched me from its highest windows. Today, it houses one of my favourite spas, has conference rooms for rent (hello, theme wedding?), I credit witnessing its restoration as the catalyst for my developing interest in the preservation of New Westminster’s old buildings. Here it is, today – decidedly less spooky but still amazing. I’d imagine a Halloween Party in there could be some serious fun.
2. Boot Hill
I ran across this website some time ago, and find Deborah’s well thought out and well researched collection pretty amazing. Boot Hill is the name of the cemetery for the forgotten folks who died at the BC Penitentiary. These are the people with no family to claim their bodies and so they were buried, with only numbers to mark their lives. I find Boot Hill poignant and sad, and very, very spooky. This cemetery doesn’t really exist – although the piece of land is owned by the City of New Westminster, and a fence is around it, you cannot access it without trespassing, and unless you have a legend, you have no way of knowing where any of the buried are as the headstones are only numbers.
5. The former Railroad Station (now the Keg Restaurant)
I’ve been told by more than one person that has worked at the Keg that there is no doubt this building is haunted. Supposedly, the sounds of footsteps can be heard with regularity as staff are closing up and no one is upstairs. It’s an amazing building, with an interesting history. The Great Fire destroyed the original railroad station, so this is the replacement. Here is a little article about it’s architectural history. I keep hearing tell of tunnels under downtown New Westminster that start at the Railroad Station… I just wish I could get confirmation. Regardless, my imagination rates this place “spooky”.
6. The BC Gas building on 12th Street
To be honest, I love this building. I’d truly love to have the opportunity to walk through it, dirty though it may be. But, when I asked a number of people for spooky spot suggestions, this one came up a few times. Perhaps it’s the chain link fence or the scrubbly shrubs poking their way through the concrete surrounding the building. Perhaps it’s the odd way the paint has chipped. Perhaps it is the non-action and the marching of time that prevents this building from waking up. But it slumbers, and it spins legends and spiderwebs with each passing day.
And here’s a link to the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society with a great article about why this building is in danger – so much so that the Society has deemed this the number one most endangered heritage site.
7. Poplar Island
Poplar Island is a beautiful little slip of land that you see if you look past Kruger toward Queensborough from most anywhere along Stewardson Way or the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood. Here’s a gorgeous photo of it by Flickr member boybleu.
The Georgia Straight ran a great article a number of years ago about the history of Poplar Island. It rates its own Wikipedia page (entertaining since ALL the rest of New Westminster combined seems to be mashed on a single concise page), and there is a nice article on Rhonda Larrabee, the chief for the Qayqayt, the New Westminster First Nations band for whom Poplar Island is a traditional burial ground. But it’s uninhabited by living people. Which in my book means it is likely inhabited by not living people. Spooky.
I’m sure there are many more spooky spots in New Westminster. What’s on your list?
I popped by a Public Information Session a few weekends ago at the Admiral Anson Bed and Breakfast. I’ve never stayed at the Admiral Anson, but it’s a pleasant member of my neighbourhood with a well kept yard. As a fan of B&B’s, I think I’d like it and although I’ve not slept there, I do recommend it frequently to family and friends and have heard no complaints. According to the website, rooms are offered at $45 – $75 a night – which is incredibly reasonable – beyond reasonable, to be honest, when plain Jane hotel rooms in this city go for an average of $100 a night. The owner of the Admiral Anson, Allan Greenwood, held the Public Information Session because he is seeking City approval for a three-fold application: a Heritage Revitalization Agreement for the existing home, approval for a secondary suite below in the basement, and the subdivision of his lot into two separate lots so he can construct another house.