Shopping locally this Christmas is a gift to the Royal City

Presents around a Christmas tree.
Presents around a Christmas tree.

As the Christmas shopping season arrives with Black Friday in the US, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than camping outside of a store in order to buy stuff. Except for shooting, trampling or pepper-spraying your fellow shoppers in order to get at said stuff, of which there were many reported instances this year.

In reaction to the frenzy, the Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters has created Occupy Christmas. It builds on the magazine’s long-running campaign, Buy Nothing Day, a day of rest from consumerism, as well as Occupy Wall Street, which the magazine also started.

Despite the recent controversial Occupy camps in various cities, including Vancouver, Occupy Christmas isn’t about setting up tents at the mall or harassing shoppers, or even, as the Retail Council of BC alleges in a recent CBC story, putting elves, er, retail workers out of a job. It’s about using your resources to “make the conscious decision to fuel your own local economy” during the holidays, and to “really become a part of the holiday spirit.”

In other words, supporting and giving back to your community while you celebrate what I like to call “Non-denominational gift-giving holiday!” So this year, I’m Occupying Christmas, here in New Westminster.

My holiday round usually starts with making greeting cards, and luckily, the best little paper shop around is Paper Poet (665 Columbia Street). They’ve got stamps, papercraft supplies, envelopes and loads of ideas for projects.

If you’re enthusiastic about crafts, but like me, suck at it, there are plenty of places to support others who are talented at making and growing things. Such as the Royal City Winter Market on December 3 and the River Market Holiday Show on December 10, 11, 17, and 18. The Van Dop Gallery, always amazing, is especially sparkly at Christmas (local jewellery, hint, hint to my honey).

For other gifts and decor, there’s a whole slew of local gift shops like Cadeaux, Red Brick, and Lofty Living. I wouldn’t turn down something vintage from Mid-Century Modern Home either! And for kids, Pedagogy Toys has lots of toys and books that encourage creativity, not battery use.

Presents don’t have to be stuff either – the older I get, the less stuff I want or need, so experiences make great presents. A class at the Circus School is good for all ages, or a wine club membership at Pacific Breeze for the over-19s. Then there are gift certificates for local restaurants or perhaps a ticket to a Christmas concert at the Massey. And if anyone wants to get me a ReUp BBQ Founders Crew membership to help crowdsource the funding for a New West location, the moaning you hear will be of pure bacon-filled happiness.

Which reminds me of another important part of Occupy Christmas – giving back locally and generously. From donating non-perishables to the local food bank at the Hyack Christmas Parade on December 19 to sponsoring a family in need to making a Christmas gift bag for a homeless person, there are many ways to help someone in the community have a brighter Christmas.

For me, Christmas isn’t about a bunch of obligatory presents. (Actually, it’s about 90% about the food!) You can think about what you’re shopping for and where the dollars go, and still enjoy Christmas with those you love. Doesn’t that sound sane? Then it must be crazy.

Christine Rowlands is a writer and editor in New Westminster. Her articles have appeared in alive and Momentum and she regularly writes reviews for Yelp. Her least favourite place in the world is Metrotown in December. 

The Santa challenge: Adopt a family in need this Christmas

Fraserside volunteers wrap presents to be distributed to low-income families in New Westminster through the Adopt-A-Family program.
Fraserside volunteers wrap presents to be distributed to low-income families in New Westminster through the Adopt-A-Family program.

A drug-addicted single mother of a 10-year-old girl trying and failing to hold her life together. A father of two, the sole breadwinner in the family, laid off from his job and desperate for work. Families like these struggle to scrape together money for groceries, let alone presents. As evidenced by the long lines at Metro Vancouver’s largest food bank here in New Westminster, many local families need help. They need you and me to step forward and offer it.

The families described above are real New Westminster families helped by the Adopt-A-Family program coordinated by Fraserside Community Services Society, which pairs low-income families with sponsors who step forward to give them a Christmas. Sponsors typically spend between $200-500 (depending on the size of the family) on groceries and toys for the kids. Unlike other programs, sponsors don’t just donate money but are paired with individual families and have the option to personally select the gifts and groceries for the families they adopt. The first 100 families to apply are guaranteed a spot in the program, and after that they go on a wait list. The more donors who step up to play Santa, the more families get helped.

The effects on the families is significant. The father who lost his job left their Christmas decorations up until February because seeing other families step forward to take care of them in their time of need made Christmas so wonderful that they didn’t want it to end. The drug-addicted mom didn’t say thank you to the family who helped her, but when she closed the door behind them, she sat on the stairs and cried, as she suddenly realized that these complete strangers were taking better care of her daughter than she had been able to do. Five years later, sober and employed, that woman joined Fraserside as a volunteer for the program. According to Fraserside program director Diane Cairns, many people who have been ‘adopted’ later return as sponsors or volunteers.

As I mentioned, the Adopt-A-Family program pairs donors with families based either on how much the donor wants to spend or the ages of the children they want to sponsor (many donors participate as a family and have their own children select the gifts for the kids they ‘adopt’). Fraserside asks donors to spend $150-200 on groceries for each family, plus $50-75 in toys and clothing for each child. Donors can be as hands-on as they wish: they can personally shop for and deliver gifts or give Fraserside money and let their volunteers make the purchases and delivery.

The adoptees are all low-income families living in New Westminster, and almost all are first-time participants in the program, as priority is given to new participants. Last year 134 local families (about 600 people) benefited from the program, and sponsors came from 17 different communities in the Lower Mainland. Donors are asked to deliver their gifts either to the families directly or to Fraserside to distribute on their behalf by December 18. If you’d like to participate, you can find information on the program and the application form online.

People struggle all year round of course, but at Christmastime it seems especially sad. I am not a Christian, but I find my own meaning in Christmas traditions and I am inspired by the Christmas story. Religious people have their own deep significance for the holiday of course, but I see it as a beacon of hope in cold, dark times. It is a reminder that even when your nose is ‘froze and you can’t see your own feet, you can trust that light and warmth will return to the world. If you’re looking for a way to offer a little hope to a family facing dark times, consider adopting a family in need this Christmas.

Buy local this Christmas: Here’s where to shop in New Westminster

This is a guest post by Sheila Keenan, a local blogger who has committed to shopping only in New Westminster for one year. She is chronicling her experiences on her blog, My Year of Shopping Locally. If you have some local shopping tips for Sheila (and the rest of us!) please share your suggestions in the comments!

Presents around a Christmas tree.
Presents around a Christmas tree.

I like Christmas presents that get used up or used often. My husband just brought up the Christmas decorations from our crawl space and somehow we’ve become the kind of people who have 13 Rubbermaid containers full of them. (13!) Trying to find room for everything made me realize how cluttered our house is getting, so I’m not into giving or receiving gifts that are just going to take up more space.  Since I’ve committed to shopping locally for a year, I’m also interested in finding gifts that are made as locally as possible. Here are some of the places I will be doing my Christmas shopping this year.

Van Dop Gallery 421 Richmond Street

I wasn’t sure how the gallery would fit with my “use it up or use it often” philosophy, but it’s hosting  “Spirit of the Season” open houses every weekend before Christmas, so the gallery is full of lots of extra goodies, like soap and candles. Besides, I think art does get “used” often—if it’s in your home, you get to enjoy it every day.
It was my first time visiting the gallery. I think I have been hesitant to go because I thought art must equal expensive, but I found a wide range of prices.
There’s also a wide range of things to look at, from silver-plated salad servers with a Tsimshian First Nations design to the bright and colourful art of Grant Leier to charming “tinsel” ornaments. I went through each room twice and I’m glad I did because I saw many things I hadn’t spotted on my first go-round. I’m planning to return next Saturday too, when three jewellers, including Joanna Lovett, will be in attendance.

Queen’s Park Florist 619 Carnarvon St.

I was so pleased to find out Queen’s Park Florist is offering workshops this Christmas season. I’d like to do the Christmas garland one. There are also workshops to create a Christmas planter, flower arrangement and wreath centrepiece, which would all make lovely gifts. Cost is $40, which includes materials. Register by Dec. 1.

Black Bond Books at Royal City Centre 610 Sixth St.

Books are always on my Christmas shopping list. Black Bond Books is one of the few remaining independent book stores left in the Lower Mainland. Their New West store has a regional section with some New Westminster titles such as Royal City: A Photographic History of New Westminster, 1858–1960 by Jim Wolf and The Life and Destruction of Saint Mary’s Hospital by New Westminster author and city councillor Jaimie McEvoy. There weren’t any copies of A New Westminster Album: Glimpses of the City as it Was by local historians Gavin Hainsworth and Katherine Freund-Hainsworth in the store when I visited, but it is a title they also usually carry.

Giving an experience is a good way to ensure your gift doesn’t end up collecting dust in a corner.

Pacific Breeze Winery 6-320 Stewardson Way

Pacific Breeze Winery has intriguing sounding “Private Tasting” packages that start at $25 per person for a minimum of four people. Contact Meaghan Spencer at ( 604) 880-0582 or by e-mail at for information on how to book. The winery also has a wine club and sells gift baskets.

Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours #139 – 810 Quayside Drive (east side of Fraser River Discovery Centre)

I used to work at an office on the Quay and I loved watching the river from my window. There was always something interesting going on—barges going by, tugboats pulling endlessly long log booms, seals splashing around during fish runs. This year, I’m planning to take my family on a river boat tour so we can get a view of the Fraser while actually on the Fraser. There are several Christmas season cruises available and the 2011 schedule is already posted online if you are interested in purchasing a gift certificate for someone to use later.

There are many unique boutiques in New West, which Tenth to the Fraser has explored before , but here are two more worth visiting.

Essence Home Decor Suite 118 – 960 Quayside Drive (next to Inn at the Quay)

Owner Lorna Stewart has stocked her store with many local and Canadian items, including crackers from Gone Crackers and Edible Gardens oils, vinegars and spreads, along with a good selection of Olde World Fudge products. There’s also funky jewellery by Canadian designers like Anne Marie Chagnon of Montreal and Canadian-made handbags.

Fraser River Discovery Centre 788 Quayside Drive

The Fraser River Discovery Centre has a small, but well curated gift shop that includes many local and Canadian-made items including art, jewellery (cool glass rings!), candles and Bramies soft leather baby and toddler shoes. Celina Strachan, FRDC’s Operations Assistant, said her goal is to eventually have most of the items in the store be from artisans who live along the Fraser River.

Tree-chipping Jan 9 & 10

Tree-chippin' in New Westminster in 2009. Photo: Will Tomkinson
Tree-chippin' in New Westminster in 2009. Photo: Will Tomkinson

We have luxuriated in the lovely pine scent of our Christmas tree for the last month, but the time has come to lift the ornaments from its weary branches and pack it off to the annual firefighters’ tree-chipping fundraiser on Saturday Jan. 9 & Sunday Jan. 10. from 11-4 in the parking lot at Canada Games Pool. To my toddler, the tree-chipping is a fitting crescendo finish for the holiday season: firefighters, face-painting, loud machines, BBQ and music from the NWSS Jazz Band. The tree-chipping is by donation.

This year there’s no easy way out of hauling your tree out to be recycled. There will be no curbside pickup, to keep within the Zero Waste Challenge (though to my mind, not picking it up doesn’t mean it’s not there …). If you miss the fun times at the firefighters’ event, the city’s recycling depot at Sixth & McBride will take your tree.

White Christmas was lovely … but enough already!

When the first fluffy flakes fell before Christmas, New Westminster was postcard-pretty and everywhere I went I could hear people humming to themselves “… where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow … ”

Once Snowmageddon hit in full force, it wasn’t so cute anymore.

A local blogger, Daniel from, was one of many of us who felt frustrated by the two-foot snowdrifts that remained on side streets in the days following Snowmageddon 2008:

Admittedly, even by Canadian standards we did receive a lot of snow. However, does that excuse the fact that not a single street in my whole neighbourhood was plowed five days after the snow began to fall?

I’m beginning to think that the City of New Westminster (my hometown) doesn’t even own a plow. What else would explain how the act of a simple snowfall transformed our quaint streets into something reminiscent of an end-of-the-world Hollywood film?

For heavens sake, days after the storm, there were still cars abandoned everywhere. And I mean literally everywhere. Sidewalks were impassable while back alleys were complete no-go-zones unless you owned a Hummer or a snowmobile.


I did try to venture out of my back lane once, only to get stuck there for three hours before my neighbour got home and used his truck to set my car free. When I finally did make it out of the back lane, I realized I had damaged the undercarriage of my car due to all the snow left on the streets. Did I mention New Westminster doesn’t own a snowplow?

The streets were in such poor condition that I was even forced park my car about 5 blocks away in our neighbhourhood shopping district where one main drag was at least somewhat passable.

According to the Christmas Eve edition of the Record, New Westminster had already depleted its snow removal budget before the holiday:

In January 2008, the city spent one-quarter of its snow removal budget. By last week [Dec. 19 -ed.], the budget had been depleted.


“It was a little hectic Saturday night and Sunday. We just keep plowing,” said Sheldon Rigby, acting manager of engineering operations. “We spread a bit of salt. We hope the weather changes.”

Rigby estimated the weekend’s snowfall cost the city about $55,000, which includes staff time, supplies and equipment. On Sunday, crews were clearing main routes and making progress – only to have to plow again after being hit by another dump of snow.

Once the crews have cleared commuter and emergency routes, they move onto side streets. Six vehicles have been on the roads around the clock.

“We will get into areas and side streets as time permits,” Rigby assured residents.

As I commented on Daniel’s post, I found the reaction to the first snowfall timely and appropriate, but when the real dump came our streets were also unplowed for days. We were nearly without water over Christmas (with 15 dinner guests expected!) due to a burst pipe in the basement suite – and a plumber who couldn’t get his truck down our snowy road! Later in the holiday, one of our co-authors (Jocelyn) slipped on the unshoveled street in front of the Starbucks on Columbia street and found herself flat on her back with her wheels in the air!

Despite these misadventures, we actually felt lucky that the snowfall happened over Christmas. We had nowhere pressing to go once Christmas shopping was complete, and so we remained happily housebound save for a few jaunts over to Grimston Park to take the toddler sledding. 

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Shiloh’s ‘Blue Christmas’ service reaches out to the grief-stricken

Shiloh Sixth Avenue church offered a special “Blue Christmas” service yesterday for people coping with loss and grief. Aside from a minor flood in our basement this season due to a burst pipe (eek!) and the occasional family tiff we have not yet been faced with adversity at Christmastime. We have been lucky. I imagine for those who do experience tragedy at this time of year, it must be especially hard because everyone around you seems so happy. Songs of joy and peace, and all that.

Writes the Burnaby Now :

For those struck by tragedy, the most wonderful time of the year can be a season of pain.

“Everything tells you that you’re supposed to be happy and excited and getting ready for Christmas, and there’s just this place inside of you that says, ‘I’m not there,'” says Shannon Tennant, minister at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church in New Westminster.

Last Sunday, Tennant led the church’s annual Blue Christmas service, a time of peaceful reflection – and a refuge from the bright lights and shopping mall Santas.

I was particularly intrigued by the description of the service later in the article:

The Blue Christmas service at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue has much in common with ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, held on the shortest day of the year, Tennant says.

“In ancient times, people would actually gather in the morning to invoke the sun, because they weren’t absolutely sure it would come up without them.”

The service is also a reminder that the first Christmas came at a time of hardship and uncertainty for the Jews.

“At that time, the Jewish people were heavily taxed. They had Roman soldiers stomping around being annoying,” Tennant says.

“So (Jesus) was born partly to give people hope, to so show them that God is with them.”

This is exactly one of the reasons why I love Christmas. As the days grow darker and the nights get colder I find it weighs on me. When the lights go up on the houses and the Christmas tree comes inside, it’s a reminder that no matter how dark it gets, the light will return. It is a reminder to keep up hope when life is difficult, that good things are just around the corner. We are not a religious family, but I find this symbolism very meaningful.