Queen’s Park Garage Sale: Family Style

Fresco with his Queen's Park garage sale guitar
Trombone with his Queen's Park garage sale guitar

The first year we paid any attention to the Queen’s Park Neighbourhood Garage Sale (which happens annually all over the Queen’s Park Neighbourhood on the Saturday before Mother’s Day) was 2008, the year my son Fresco was a month old. My partner Saint Aardvark, took our older son, almost-two-year-old Trombone out and they came home with a plastic microphone and a book. Fresco and I stayed home and probably slept, as you do when you are either a month-old infant or that infant’s mother.

Last year, we went all together. Trombone was delighted to get a bunch of trains for fifty cents and Fresco was delighted to sit in the buggy and be handed random items to look at. SA almost bought a manual coffee grinder and has regretted not buying it ever since. We came home happy with a pop-up playhouse / puppet theatre and a spice rack. Sweeter days we never knew!

This year, wrapped up in nostalgia for wonderful garage sales past, (SA was sure he’d find his coffee grinder again) we made some crucial errors in judgment.

1. I let SA sleep in until 8:30. While a lovely gesture, it also meant I was the one to get up stupid-early with the kids. By the time we were all ready to walk around the neighbourhood for 4 hours I was a little cranky. The children, of course, had been ready to go at 7:00. By 9:00, they were not at all about “listening!” or “holding my hand crossing the street!” or “putting That DOWN!” Or, frankly, being rational and yes, I do sometimes appreciate rationality from my under-Fives.

2. We only took the single seat for the buggy, thinking Trombone could walk. OK, yes, he should walk more but 4 hours of walking? Is beyond an almost-four-year-old. It was practically beyond me.

3. We kept forgetting to restrain two-year-old Fresco, who, every time we pulled up to a new house, made an exaggerated gasping noise and launched himself out of the buggy to touch/knock over/covet/tantrum about not getting everything within his reach.

4. Let’s consider the concept of “garage sale” from a child’s point of view.

First, your mom talks it up all morning so you’re more excited than Easter X Christmas + Unicorns! X Trains!
Then, you have to walk 5 blocks before anything happens.
You don’t remember last year because you have the long-term memory of a goldfish at this age.
Finally: you get to a house and there are toys all over the lawn! But you can’t touch them.
Your mom buys you a frog umbrella for $1. You like that part! Then it’s time to keep walking.
You get to another house, with more toys. You forget about the frog umbrella. (short term memory: selective at best)
Your mom keeps telling you that the things on the lawn cost money but the lawn isn’t a store! Why do the things cost money? Why are they on the lawn?

It was like all the over-stimulation and blind obsession with Where’s The Next Thing! of Christmas. But outside. On other peoples’ property. Without the rum and eggnog.

5. Thinking that if we just got them each something to look at at the first table, then we would be able to browse undisturbed for another 6 blocks. It would seem that those days are over.

6. Buying a giant set of plastic blocks that, when put together, make a 4 foot square castle, but deciding we could carry it home. Hindsight says: GO BACK LATER WITH THE CAR.

Yes, that was us you saw struggling down 6th Avenue, laden with two tired, heavy children, an orange buggy, three garbage bags full of plastic blocks, an electric guitar, an umbrella, two unnecessary jackets and a Richard Scarry book. At noon.

But we only spent $8.25 on everything! And we got lots of exercise! And it was a beautiful day!

Next year we’re getting a babysitter.

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.

Cloth diapering 101

Cloth diapers, drying on a clothesline. Photo: pierrotsomepeople (via Flickr)
Cloth diapers, drying on a clothesline. Photo: pierrotsomepeople (via Flickr)

This is a guest post by Clara Cristofaro and Kerry Sauriol, two local moms who have successfully navigated the sometimes confusing world of cloth diapering!

Kerry’s hold on sanity is her computer and the world of mommy bloggers. She can ignore the chaos created by three kids, three cats, a dog and patient husband and find the peace it takes to come up with her latest post at her personal site Crunchy Carpets. Apart from obsessive Tweeting and Facebooking, she can also be found haranguing people to post on her other site Wet Coast Women.

Clara is a writer, mother and compulsive wisecracker currently enjoying an extended leave of absence from her boring office job. A recent transplant to New Westminster, Clara is an only child, a dog person and prefers her coffee, beer, and chocolate to be as dark as possible. She is also quite tall. She documents her life for the Internet at her personal blog, the cheeseblog and tweets the details as torturedpotato.

Talking Cloth with Kerry (mom of 3) and Clara (mom of 2)

We are two Metro Vancouver moms who banged our heads together and let all the information about cloth diapers fall out – into this post. We both believe that whatever works for you and your family is the only absolute best way to do things.

Clara: I started using cloth diapers when my first son was born in 2006. We used a diaper service for the first three months and then I bought our own supply from various local and online stores. My second son was born 18 months ago, when my first was almost 2, so we had two kids in cloth diapers for about a year.

Kerry: I am a cloth diaper newbie. I never even thought about them until this third child was on her way. My sudden interest in them was due mainly to the cost of disposables and the whole icky landfill thing. I started talking to cloth diaper users and surfing the net for more information. I even checked out a workshop done by Vancouver Company New and Green. It was very helpful, but I still found the whole thing a bit daunting. I still do. I think we are now spoiled for choice. The biggest issue I find in cloth diapering is the initial cost. Getting started can put a dent in your wallet. There are options though..used, renting out starter kits, and the millions of ‘types’ of cloth diapers.

Talking to ‘pros’ about cloth diapers helps you narrow your choices!

Clara: I believe there are as many ways to deal with your child’s excrement as there are stars in the sky. I am a part timer: we use cloth at home during the day and disposables overnight and when we go out for more than two hours or on vacation. (What? Oh you caught me. Of course we won’t be taking a vacation until well after these kids are out of diapers.)

If I was starting with cloth diapers right now, this is what I would use, based on what I’ve learned over the past three years:

Disposables until the baby is 10 lbs

My reasons:

  • newborns have runny, watery poop and lots of it. There were no cloth diapers I could find for a 8 – 10 lb baby that didn’t somehow gape or leak, necessitating frequent costume changes and you just don’t want to change a newborn any more than you have to because they scream like nobody’s business.
  • I also found that the diapers and covers combination rubbed against the baby’s umbilical stump and irritated it. The stump is supposed to stay clean and dry and having a moist cloth against it didn’t seem conducive to healing (to be fair, the disposables did this too but they were easier to manipulate so that they were just below the stump)

Kerry: I agree with this even though with my giant baby (9 lb 7 oz) I didn’t really have to ‘wait’ till she was over ten lbs, and found the fitted diapers that I had to work quite well.

And the insane amount of changes means you would need a crazy amount of small cloth diapers to get through this part anyway.

Fitted diapers with covers from 12 weeks – 6 months:

My reasons:

This is the easiest and fastest way to get a diaper on a baby. The fitted diapers are elasticized or fitted around the thighs and this helps prevent leaks.
No folding involved, which becomes important when the baby starts rolling and then crawling away from you. You need to move fast and diaper faster.
I found this to be the bulkiest form of cloth diapering and when the baby is this young, I don’t feel so bad that its butt is so big and padded. When babies get more mobile, from 6 months and up, I like the diapers to be more slim cut so that they can experiment with movement.

Pocket diapers from 6 months until switching to training pants or underpants

My reasons:

They are slim and trim and allow the baby as much freedom of movement as a disposable
They are as fast to apply on a squirming, screaming toddler as a disposable
They wash and dry beautifully because they separate into two parts – in fact they can air dry in an hour, which saves dryer energy.

I also recommend:

  • Flushable diaper liners for 6 months and up or whenever you start solid foods and start getting solid waste as your reward. These liners are like 10-ply toilet paper. If dirty, they can be dropped in the toilet and flushed away. If they are only wet, you can launder them with your diapers and re-use them until they start to fall apart. (My personal record for re-use is 3.)
  • A way to store the dirty diapers until laundry time. I use these drawstring, nylon bags (bummis) and one of these – they pull closed to keep the smell in and they go right in the washing machine with the diapers. I like the bag method over the diaper pail because then I’m not fishing around in a pail with my hands, pulling out soiled diapers to put in the washer. I just up-end the bag, toss it in too, shut the door. Granted, this would be easier with a top loading washer but it’s not impossible with our front-loader.

Diapering routines

Clara’s routine:

The dirty diapers go in the drawstring bag hanging from our stair railing or in the bag-lined pail at the top of the stairs, near the washing machine. I empty the bags into our washer and run the diapers through with hot water and a tablespoon of detergent (any kind you like but the less the better as the soap can leave a film on the diapers and then they won’t absorb as well) as well as ¼ cup of white vinegar for the rinse. On the rare occasion that the diapers still smell when the wash is done, I run them through another cold cycle with more vinegar. Then, into the dryer or on to our drying rack.

I would have thought that leaving a bag full of wet & soiled diapers for a day or two would have created an almighty stench but actually it does not. I have heard of putting a few drops of tea tree oil in the diaper pail to neutralize odour. That sounds lovely and I’m sure it would work. But I found that unless I was standing right over the diaper pail, inhaling, it wasn’t a problem. Not nearly as stinky as one dirty disposable in a garbage can. Seriously.

Kerry’s Routine: The cleaning of these things so far (with a 10 week old) has been easy. I tend to just toss the fitted diapers and cloth liners and covers right into my top loading washer. I have a button on my machine to fill the tub with water (cold) with as much water as I need and I soak them in there until I get around to actually washing the whole load. I don’t have a big supply of diapers at the moment so this is every other day right now. Disposing of the poop is easy too…specially if you use the biodegradable liners.

As the poop and so on gets worse, I know I will have to follow more stringent washing procedures.


Clara: I have heard of people padding their kids up with extra cloth diapers overnight. My kids are heavy wetters and I never managed a combination for overnight that didn’t result in night waking (to be avoided at Any Cost) so we use a disposable overnight.

Kerry: I swing between disposable and cloth at night. Depends how sleepy I am. All those snaps get complicated in the dark.

Out and about

Clara: When I had only one child I had a diaper bag stocked with cloth diapers. I was very well organized. It is possible to do it if you carry a small wet bag to put the dirties in. When the second child was born I had to make some decisions about how to streamline my routine and ensure that I was not running around like a headless chicken. One of those decisions was to keep the diaper bag / accoutrements / stuff that prevents me from getting out of the house before noon as simple as possible. For me, that means disposables.

Kerry: I have a bag for the dirty diapers and usually one or two cloth and a wad of disposables stuffed in my too-small diaper bag.

Hidden Advantages of Using Cloth

  • Kids feel when they are wet, which helps when it’s toilet training time
  • You can make your own diapers if you’re handy – there are tonnes of patterns and resources online for this. My friend even designed her own pocket diaper for her kids. This saves a loooooot of money – assuming you have the time.
  • You can re-use laundered wipes. When a disposable wipe gets washed it gets really soft. I use mine to wipe my children’s noses. I tell them they are special tissues.
  • If you opt, as we did, to buy 50 prefold diapers (like these) you can use them in perpetuity to clean floors, wash windows or soak up spilled coffee. After they’ve been washed 100 times they are the most absorbant paper towel you will ever meet: and bonus! they’re not paper! In fact, I recommend everyone go out and buy 10 prefold diapers (they are about $2.50 a piece) just to have around the house in case your cat throws up or your children get into a yogurt fight.

Kerry: I too have found the prefolds to be great dusters and window washers…just a bit em…awkward for their actual use!

The greatest hurdle for me has been FINDING the diapers. Finding them easily and cheaply and in person. The vast selection of online stuff is great, unless you are like me and need to see and touch the things to figure out if you want to buy them.

Clara: Totally true. I did the majority of my research when my first child was not even sitting up yet. I had the luxury of time and a paid maternity leave to fund my cloth diaper purchases. If I were just starting out with cloth diapers now, with 2 kids, I would definitely be frustrated by the lack of local, affordable options.

Kerry: As I mentioned before, my biggest issue is the initial cost of setting yourself up with the cloth diapers. I think this expenditure is detrimental and discouraging to many, especially those on a tighter budget. Each diaper can range in price from $12 to $20 each. Times that by 30 and yowza. Add liners and covers and then add the thought of special bags, detergents, etc etc and I think many would-be cloth diaper users run for the simple allure of the disposable.

I have seen used diapers being sold on Craigslist. If you don’t have a friend who can donate or sell them to you, I highly recommend this as the way to start. Also, just buy one or two of the different types out there to start. You have to figure out what works for you and your baby and the less spent and potentially wasted, the better.

I don’t feel guilty for the using the disposables with my cloth diapers. I am still sending less of them to the landfill, and one of these days, when I figure it all out, will actually spend LESS money too.

Online Resources

Where to buy

Local “in-person” Stores

  • Kids Kloset in Sapperton (420 E. Columbia Street, New Westminster) carries a selection of cloth diapers, including my faves, the Bum Genius 3.0 and the Kushies diaper liners.
  • Unlimited Discount Diapers in Point Grey (4330 W. 10th Ave) has a vast selection of fitted diapers and covers, prefolds in bleached and unbleached cotton.
  • Room 4 Two (1409 Commercial Drive) has a great supply of the Kushies liners
  • TJ’s Kids World (various locations in the Lower Mainland) has a variety of Kushies cloth diapers and covers for reasonable prices.

Online Stores:

  • New And Green (Vancouver) http://www.newandgreen.com/index.php
  • Jamtots (Victoria) http://www.jamtots.com
  • Weecare Diaper Company (Langley) http://weecarediapercompany.com


Flat Diaper – This is the “old style” large rectangle of cloth that the last generation of cloth diaperers used. A flat diaper must be folded so that it is thicker in the middle, then into a kite or triangle shape and pinned or fastened around the baby. Add a PUL or wool cover and you are ready for action.

Prefold – Prefold diapers , pre-folded and stitched in multiple layers of cotton or hemp so they are more absorbant. This saves you one step over the flat diaper; you only need fold a prefold into a diaper shape and pin or fasten around the baby. I bought a supply of these to use with my first son because they are economical ($25 a dozen) and we used small ones when my second son was a newborn. After a certain age, trying to fold, pin and cover becomes prohibitively exhausting.

Fitted – A fitted diaper goes one step further than a prefold and is sewn in diaper “shape.” Fitted diapers often fasten around the baby’s waist with velcro like these Kushies or sometimes require fastening with diaper pins or a fastener like a snappi (see below). A fitted diaper is just cloth so you still need a waterproof cover.

Cost: you’re paying for two pieces, the diaper and the cover. Fitted diapers range in price from $10 – $20 each. I am still using some Kushies fitted diapers that I bought three years ago, a five-pack for $40. Covers are about the same price, $12 apiece, but you only need 2 – 4 of them, since you can use the same cover until it gets dirty.

Pocket diaper – A pocket diaper is two parts: the pocket, which is made of a waterproof material and which fastens using velcro or snaps, and the stuffer, which is a long pad that goes into the pocket and absorbs the pee. Pocket diapers are expensive. The ones I like are called and I paid $21 each. But if a pocket diaper is made well it can last at least two years. (I say at least because that is how long I’ve had mine.) Some pocket diapers are sized (ie: S,M,L) but others, like the Bum Genius 3.0, are adjustable so that they fit kids from 7 – 35 lbs.

Snappi Fastener Someone invented this as an alternative to diaper pins and it is pretty sweet. I stole this definition from the website because I couldn’t define it any better without saying “doohickey” a lot.
“An EASY to use fastener that offers a PRACTICAL and RELIABLE way to fasten a cloth diaper, replacing the diaper pin. It comes in a variety of colors and is made from a stretchable non-toxic material, which is T-shaped with grips on each end. These grips hook into the diaper fabric to ensure a snug-fitting diaper with enough natural movement for the baby.”

Cover – A cover goes over your favourite cloth diaper to prevent your child’s clothes from getting soaked with pee. They can be made with PUL (polyurethane laminate), wool or fleece. They fasten with snaps or Aplix/VELCRO® or if wool, just pull up like underpants. these covers and these covers were my favourites because they were breathable and not too stiff. I also loved my wool cover, which was miraculous (waterproof! Breathable!) and expensive ($30!) and got eaten by moths. If you can knit, there are patterns for wool covers out there.

Family Place: Good Times for Families

Kale  has started recognizing the place as we open the door and go in, a soft whoosh as the air transfers and the sudden cacophany of child play noises replaces the traffic whizzing by on the street. He starts kicking his feet and arching his back, straining mightily to get out of the stroller and get to the TOYS and the FUN as fast as possible.

We go to Family Place, located at 101 – 93 Sixth Street, probably twice a week these days. In the world of  one year old busy little bees, distraction is the key between Breakfast and Snack, and before Nap and Afternoon Errands take up the rest of our day. When he was first born, I just couldn’t get my exhausted act together enough to get out of the house anytime before 1pm, but now that we have a routine established, it’s a rare morning when we aren’t out and about by about 9am.

Among other things, Family Place is a drop-in play centre aimed at the 0-5 set (Monday to Friday 9:30-11:30am and also Mondays and Tuesdays 1-3pm), and that’s the main reason why Kale and I hike down to Family Place with regularity. But it’s considerably more than that. It’s mandate is “to promote, encourage and provide family related services and learning skills programs with a preventative and educational focus aimed at low income individuals”. While Kale and I don’t necessarily fit the target demographic, we are welcomed with open arms by all nine employees, and the 20 or so regular volunteers. They greet Kale and I and know us by name, and we are regularly offered a spot in programs run by Family Place. Even the man hired to do some maintenance was pleasant to Kale and got down to Kale’s level to let him check out a full face beard, a sight Kale’s never seen and was fascinated with.

Kale plays blocks with volunteer Katie
Kale plays blocks with volunteer Katie

You can find a calendar of events at the check in area at the Sixth Street site, or on their website here. It outlines the schedule for the month, including the offered programs. Programs like: a monthly birthday party for all children who have had a birthday that month; the Toy Lending Library, where you may borrow a toy to try out at home (Kale loves this one); or a twice-monthly Clothing Exchange where parents may fill a bag full of clean, usable clothing for their growing sprouts. Other programs are aimed at helping parents expand their skills – programs such as Nobody’s Perfect, a free parenting course to help parents overcome some of the more challenging parts of being a parent while their children are being watched by qualified Early Childhood Educators. Plus, Family Place offers monthly visits from a Public Health Nurse, an Infant Development Specialist, a Supported Childcare Specialist and a Speech Therapist in a relaxed atmosphere where questions are encouraged and you don’t have to wait months for an appointment or feel intimidated in a sterile office.

Family Place Regulars
Family Place Regulars ham it up

Marjorie Staal, Executive Director of Family Place, came to her position through a series of events:

 “I came to work here as a result of my involvment on the Board of Directors.  In the late eighties, there was a working group formed from people in the community who saw a need – the school board, P arks and Rec, Family Services, Purpose Society, et cetera  – and with the Health Unit.  I had worked at Lord Tweedsmuir and knew the nurse personally and she phoned one day and asked me to come to a meeting because they needed a parent to “keep us real”.  So we formed a Board, I became Chair, we applied for and were granted some funding, and we hired an executive director.  Staff changed, and eventually the rest of the Board asked me to take it over temporarily and the rest is history!”

Kale loves wandering around the play area, playing with the many fun and interactive toys. Favourites include the kitchen with play food, this weird fabric elephant funnel thing that you put balls in the top of it’s head and they pop out the bottom, and a bead rack toy – his fascination with this one led to a purchase for one at home. But he’s not picky and likes to play with dolls, dinky cars, trains, blocks, and any other number of brightly coloured sturdy toys. He loves it, and I really enjoy talking to other parents and having a destination we can get out of the house to go to that doesn’t cost us anything.

Elepahnt Head Toy
Action Shot of Weird Elephant Head Toy

Staal says “Family Place is important for New Westminster because it is a family-driven program. It’s a program not just for parents or just for children, but a program for both. Both parent and child are important to us. We are the first point of contact for a lot of families. We do a lot of referrals to other organizations or activities in New Westminster, like the library or Parks and Rec. In New West we are experiencing changing demographics with families of young children and this is often the first place they come to visit.”

Young girl and her Grandma
Young girl and her Grandma

The usual drop-in play session is about 90 minutes and if I need to take a break and use the washroom, a staff member or volunteer can spell me off for a break. They also offer coffee and tea to parents in a special parents only room, which can provide an important brief rest for stressed out parents.  A song to signal clean-up time (“Clean up, clean up, everbody everywhere, clean up clean up everybody do your share”), and afterward, we all line up and wash our hands in the two non-gender-specific spacious washrooms. Then comes Snack Time where we get some toddler friendly finger food  like cut up apples and cereal pieces on brightly coloured plates with juice, or if requested, water. To cap it off, we have Circle Time and sing songs and do actions while sitting peacefully in laps. Kale’s an active little goober, so this last bit can be a challenge for him, but with repetition, he’s getting much better at sitting and clapping along.  

Family Place offers membership, although it’s not mandatory to be a member to take advantage of their programming. Members do get some privileges – for example, to access the Toy Lending Library, you do need to be a member. Memberships are inexpensive at $10 annually, and Staal estimates that there are currently about 60 members.

Staal says Family Place’s largest challenge is funding – getting it, managing it, and getting some more. They are funded largely by the Ministry for Children and Family Development, Fraser Health Authority, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General – Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, and various forms of fundraising events as well as donations.  They also receive funding from the United Way of the Lower Mainland and are registered under the Society Act and have charity status with Revenue Canada.

The future of Family Place is hopefully to grow and expand. In addition to the main site on Sixth Street, Family Place operates a drop in centre Uptown, at Royal City Centre on Fridays from 9:30-11:30am, and, says Staal, “our future is hopefully to expand into some more neighbourhoods. I would like to see an offsite program in Sapperton and Queensborough.”

It’s a lot to juggle. But it’s worth it, according to Staal. ” I”m most proud of the parents here who use our services and then go back to work, or make friends here, or who go back to school.  I’m also really proud of the parents who are just more confident in themselves as parents after they take a program here, or just observe other families.”


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Controversial vision for new Grimston Park playground

This time next year, Grimston Park could look substantially different.

The summer wading pool and winter toboggan hill will remain untouched, as will the lacrosse box and tennis courts. But the towering adventure playground with the plunging slides and the rattling drawbridge will be gone. So too the iconic tires cupping the border of the playground at the edge of the steep slope to the lacrosse box. Replacing these will be … well, we don’t know exactly what yet.

Grimston Park adventure playground today

Today was the day of the first public consultation about the park. After the brouhaha over the proposal to build a school in the park, the city’s Parks & Rec folks have wisely decided to engage in some reasonably well-publicized community outreach before messing with the West End’s biggest park. Present were Andrew Banks, the city’s parks maintenance manager, and Richard Findlay, the landscape architect hired to re-imagine Grimston’s playground.

In the photo below (click to enlarge), you can see an aerial map of the playground that shows which section is under consideration. The whole playground area is coming out (though Andrew told us the city will try to recycle materials if possible), but the rest of the park will remain largely untouched. One option that is being considered is to take over a portion of the current playground footprint for a toddler-oriented space, and claiming some of the hill below (between the playground and the lacrosse box) for a more physically challenging ‘big kid’ play area. The traditional sledding area between the ‘Welcome to New Westminster’ garden bed and Nanaimo St. will be preserved.

Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.
Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.

As fun as Grimston’ s current play equipment may be, it is both far too expensive to replicate (approximately two to three times the $250,000 budget) and fails to meet current playground safety standards due to the fall risk from those tall towers. So, Andrew and Richard are hoping the West End will get behind some out-of-the-box ideas for a park. Here’s the idea board they showed at the playground consultation:

Grimston Park playground ideas
Grimston Park playground ideas

Inspired by Richmond’s Garden City Park, New Westminster’s planners are exploring the idea of integrating non-traditional play structures that integrate existing landscape features, from the Stewardson-facing slope to the beloved wading pool.

Playscapes, a blog about playground design, describes some of the unique features of Garden City Park:

This is my new favorite playground…it has all the things I like to see.
A creek bed, water play, jumping stones, an outdoor theatre, natural wood and rocks to climb on, plenty of sand…and colored poles stuck in the ground for kids to play tag through are a personal favorite design feature.

And, here’s a video that illustrates the concept behind parks like Garden City:

Garden City – shaw segment – May 2008 from space2place on Vimeo.

With the caveat that at a cost of approximately $1 million, repeating Richmond’s celebrated park is out of scope, Richard and Andrew are hoping that a similar approach could bring a fresh style of play to New Westminster parks. Some of the ideas they’re kicking around include integrating an artificial creek winding down the hill that would use water drained from the wading pool in summer and possibly collected from rainfall or pumped by hand in spring and fall. Or a tightrope with handholds (think Y-shaped) to practice balance. Or climbable, slide-able sculptural pieces that could serve as both public art and play structure.

In our household, we are split on whether these ideas are the way to go. There are some good examples of free-form play equipment and sculptural parks, but there’s definitely a risk that the final structure could be too stark and simple for kids to enjoy. I am relieved to hear the new design is going to be safer and include at least some toddler-friendly equipment (the current park is geared for older kids, but our two-year-old is easily tall enough to climb up the adventure playground – and does whether or not we are there to spot him. Yet, I don’t want the park to put such a focus on “safety” that it’s no longer a fun place to play.

It seems some of our neighbours have the same concern. As I was just finishing this post, I received an email from Maryann Mortensen, who successfully led the campaign against building a school in Grimston Park. She and Trevor Frith have sent the following letter around to West End residents and City Hall (emphasis mine):

Hello all,

City Hall staffer, Andrew Banks and the playground designer Richard (last name fails me) met with the public today at Grimston Park from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. to discuss the demolition of the playground and construction of a new playground for September 2009.  The time line is tight and our input should be swift if we want our wishes and concerns to be taken into consideration.

After talking with Andrew Banks, of City Hall and Richard (designer) tonight, we have some thoughts.

On the whole we believe the City is trying to give us the best bang for our dollar with the available funds for the replacement of the playground ($230,000).  I also believe that the City is genuine in its expressed desire that we are on board with whatever is constructed in place of our beloved wooden structure and tires.

We also understand that playground equipment is ridiculously expensive and that Canadian Standards Association requirements seriously limit the creativity of playground equipment.  It should be obvious to most that Grimston’s playground requires extensive work.

The concern we have is that the current playground at Grimston Park is already a downgrade from its last version.  The playground used to have a second tier at the top of the wooden structure with twin slides traveling down the large slope, a zip line and a cool digger with a dumping truck.  In recent months, according to Mr. Banks, we lost our fireman’s pole due to vandalism (someone sawed it off).

To replace the existing playground as is, according to Richard, would cost in the order of $750,000.  The suggested September 2009 model, with the best intentions of Andrew and Richard would not come close to the uniqueness, usability and value of what we currently have, due to budget constraints.  One has to question why our playground keeps getting downgraded. We believe that Andrew and Richard brought some decent ideas forward but the costs will prevent us from attaining a playground on a similar scale to what we have come to enjoy.

Some ideas we are floating are a request to City Hall for a phased approach with additional funds made available at a specified later date.  Each year the City has a budget of $700,000 to manage all its playgrounds.  Another possibility is petitioning City Hall now for more money or making requests for donations from private industry.

We would appreciate your thoughts on this and any suggestions you might have.

Warm Regards,
MaryAnn Mortensen & Trevor Frith

What do you think? What kind of a playground do you want to see in Grimston? Would you support asking for donations from a corporate sponsor if it meant Grimston had adequate funds to replace the play equipment without downgrading?

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Garden Nerd Series: Seed Bombs

The Garden Nerd series will look at gardening issues in New Westminster. Suggestions for topics, guest submissions, and questions are all welcome. We’ll try and address it all! You can find other posts, as they are added, by clicking here.

This past week I popped out to my favourite seed store, West Coast Seeds, and picked up 225,000 mixed seeds in a blend called “Pacific Northwest”. It contains a mix of 17 different annuals and perennials, and all of the plants are indigenious to BC and our zone. They are also low-to-no care once sprouted. I like saying I picked up 225,000 seeds, but really, it’s a teeny paper bag with 225 grams of seeds, about the size of a healthy Rice Krispie treat. I bought this wee little bag of gold in preparation of making seed bombs.

Seeds bombs are a little act of green terrorism, also known as “Guerrilla Gardening”. The idea is that you make this little packet (recipe below) and you toss them into empty lots or in little green spaces not being tended to increase the green in your community. Great targets are those closed down gas stations with horrifically boring fences around them for years at a time, or perhaps property being held for future development by offshore owners. I also like traffic circles not being looked after, orphaned pieces of civic property… the possibilities are endless. 

Here’s my disclaimer: guerrilla gardening is technically illegal.  But you don’t need to trespass to plant a seed bomb – you just chuck them over a fence. But if you decide to make some bombs, and for whatever reason you get arrested, you did so on your own accord. But as I said to one friend, what are they going to do? Charge me with selflessly beautifying my community? The act is not one of defiance, rather, it is one of beautification.

There are lots of recipes out there, and lots of activists out there, too. This is the one I am going to use:

  • 1 part seeds
  • 1 part really good high quality compost
  • 5 parts clay – some use terra cotta, some use the grey stuff. You can use premade or powdered. 


  1. Mix your seeds and compost together. 
  2. In a separate bowl/box/container, mix your clay up, if using powdered.
  3. Pinch off a piece of clay, form a ball about the size of a big walnut, or perhaps a smallish fig. 
  4. Using your finger, make a cavity in the ball, and fill with the seed/compost mix.
  5. Pat the clay together, so that basically, you have a seed/compost filled clay Timbit. Mmmm…. delicious!
  6. Let the balls air dry for a few days. 
  7. Drop the bombs in your targeted area. A good time is just as its starting to rain.  The balls will likely crack, but not totally burst when you toss them, and the rain will weave its way into the seed/compost mixture, providing a nice little semi-together environment for the seeds to germinate and do their thing. 
  8. Secretly enjoy the site when you pass in the future, knowing you are a little green terrorist and you contributed to make your community a nicer place. 
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