Three New Public Art Works, All Created By Community

Over the summer I have seen underappreciated spaces in New Westminster become increasingly more exciting, personalized and playful. Three new artworks that are contributing to what I last called the placemaking of our city’s public sites include the “Stop and Stare” portraits in the New West Skytrain station, the Eco-Art works in Moody Park, and the Columbia Street mural.

What ties these three works together is the involvement of members of our community in the initiation and process of creation. Each project allows residents and people who populate the space to gain a new perspective on our environment and how we might activate it in a positive and creative way. They teach us how derelict or underused spaces and materials around us can be given new life and interest.

Stop and Stare

Walking through the New Wesminster Skytrain station concourse level, you now come face to face with some familiar faces.
Walking through the New Wesminster Skytrain station concourse level, you now come face to face with some familiar faces.

In October 2012, Neal Michael called out to New Westies to help create a space of identity and playfulness by encouraging the creation of more Public Art in the unused spaces around us (read his blog here). Neal’s inspiration from the global InsideOut Project has brought about a series of pasted portraits that are now installed in the New Westminster Skytrain Station.

These portraits are all simply pasted to the temporary walls that conceal skytrain station renovations.
These portraits are all simply pasted to the temporary walls that conceal skytrain station renovations.

These portraits are not glamorous, colourful or glossy like the faces seen on nearby advertisements. These are akin to small concert posters or personal ads sloshed up along the temporary plywood walls. This immediate use of materials does not take anything away from the Public Art Project: if anything it only separates it further from something that might sell to our desires. It confronts us with its jarring difference. Taking a walk on the concourse level, you might come face to face with a black and white blow up of a familiar face: there are no models here, only community members. This is a series that maps New West as a place built by people, and it presses these very human faces (some passport deadpan, some silly) toward us as an exclamation of tangible civic identity.

Eco Art in Moody Park

Natural materials were woven to create this teepee structure in Moody Park. Eventually it will succumb to natural processes of decay.
Natural materials were woven to create this teepee structure in Moody Park. Eventually it will succumb to natural processes of decay.

Before I came to New Westminster, I was involved in community art in Vancouver with a few projects and initiatives. I have always felt the power of open participation and the importance of engaging everyone in some form of the creative process. It was in one of these initiatives that I first experienced the work of Sharon Kallis, an environmentally responsible Vancouver artist who utilizes many techniques in weaving unwanted plant materials into ephemeral art installations. I remember the revelation I had in seeing the results of her facilitation in the expert weaving of the terribly invasive English Ivy and Yellow Flag Iris that plagues natural spaces in the GVRD. Her work with the Urban Weaver Project in 2012 allowed community members, First Nations and artists to learn traditional methods of weaving plant materials through the Vancouver Park Board’s Fieldhouse Residency. Kallis and her peers had pulled invasives from a site, processed them by hand and shaped them into something beautiful and temporary: from bowls, to walls, to fluid forms. This functioned as a remediation of an environment on several levels: an opportunity to allow space for native plant species to root, and an opportunity for people in that space to see the creative potential of waste.

A circle of dancing figures are large and easy to spot, while other works are a little more challenging to happen upon.
A circle of dancing figures are large and easy to spot, while other works are a little more challenging to happen upon.

After a public presentation in June, Kallis and organizers Corbin Murdoch (Public Arts Coordinator) and Shelly Schnee (Recreation Programmer at Century House) delicately steered and guided five groups of New Westminster community members over two months in the creation of their own Eco-Art installations. Kallis has commented on her work as a facilitating artist to this group: “I have to say how impressed I was at the quality of work and level of professionalism everyone brought to both the pitch session and the final works created. One of the participants referred  to another in her group as being the ‘real artist’ and I gently corrected her, reminding her that she was now working as an artist, with perhaps a more senior artist as collaborator… [what an] incredible opportunity for someone to have as their first steps into the art world!” Her description of this collaborative creative process as a learning opportunity for any person, regardless of their skill level or professionalism is a major component of this type of work where process is as critical as the end result. The people who create the work are shaped by this process, just as they manipulate their materials that are in turn re-shaped by the natural process of decay. After the public reception for the project last weekend on the south side of Moody Park, the artist-facilitator congratulated our city on this exciting step further into the realm of community-based Eco Art: “I hope this is just the beginning to what could become a strong tradition for New Westminster parks and community members! What a treat to get to play a part in it all.”

Columbia Street Mural 

This community mural has brightened up a dull corner of Columbia street.
This community mural has brightened up a dull corner of Columbia street.

On the weekend of the New West Culture Crawl, the dull grey wall to the east of the Army and Navy on Columbia Street received some special treatment. Members of the community were invited out to help paint a mural designed by local artist Gillian Wright. While at a barbecue a man showed me photographs he had taken of his wife and one-and-a-half year old daughter leaving their mark, and it felt like a glimpse of a special heirloom. This project, funded by a Vancouver Foundation neighbourhood small grant, is an example of what community members like Councillor Mary Trentadue and Nadine Nakagawa can do to with a sense of playfulness, some sleuthing into property ownership and a vision of how we might make our city into something more inclusive, creative, and enjoyable to walk through. So many New Westies will have stories to share about the day they left a painterly stamp on the prominent wall.

I know in my walks past these spaces that they are getting some notice. I know from colourful Instagram feeds that participants in community art are having fun. My hope is that these works are only the beginning and that they inspire others to start a project or think of other creative ways to utilize our public space. Small neighbourhood grants are a great way to execute ideas for improving spaces that need love. Even ideas can be shared with the city: If you see a space that looks like it might be ripe for some artistic interference you can always recommend them to the city or send them my way to share with the Public Art Advisory Committee.

Biggest one-day food truck fest in Canada comes to New West Aug 22

The Columbia StrEAT Festival is the biggest one-day food truck festival in Canada

Canada’s largest one-day food truck fest is back in downtown New West this summer.

On Saturday, August 22 from 4-10pm, The Third Annual Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Fest will bring over 70 food trucks, beer gardens and free entertainment to downtown New West.

Tacofino, Johnny’s Pops and DougieDog Hot Dogs will be back by popular demand. New vendors this year will include Culver City Salads, Cheeses Crust, Taters – The Baked Potato Co., and many more.

Many Downtown New West restaurants will also set up food tents to sell street food. RainCity Juicery and Old Crow Coffee are among the New West restaurants who will join the party on Columbia Street for the event. Boston Pizza is hosting a pizza-eating contest, featuring star contestant Mayor Jonathan Cote!

I spoke to Downtown BIA Program and Events Coordinator Maddison McKitrick to ask a few questions about the event:

Q: What has been the impact of this festival on downtown New West businesses?

A: We actually polled our membership and Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Fest ranked very high with our members regarding BIA initiatives. The impact has been amazing, bringing crowds of over 50k in 2014 provided great exposure for our Downtown businesses. We are expecting crowds of 75k this year!

Q: How many beer gardens will you have? Who is running them?

A: Four! The Heritage Grill, The Columbia Theatre, The Met Bar & Grill and Anvil Centre will be set up inside but their large window/doors will be open to the street. These beer gardens are technically liquor license extensions, basically a large patio for the establishments. The Met Bar & Grill will have Growers serving up samples in their beer garden.

Q: What entertainment are you offering? 

A: Huge variety! The Arts Council of New West will be hosting two festival tents of amazing acts, including Roland and Emma Nipp, Old Mare, The Alvair Trio, Bryan Michael and more. The Royal City Swing will be set up, dancing away and even offering intro lessons to attendees! Emily Harder, a local singer/songwriter, Six String and a Saxophone, a local New West jazz duo. We are expecting more to join the event as well. A full list of entertainment can be found on our website’s event listing.

Q: Is this a kid-friendly event? 

A: As our event runs from 4pm-10pm, it’s tailored to an older demographic but we definitely encourage families to attend and had tons attend last year. There are lots of yummy treats that are very kid friendly! Plus the Brick & Mortar Living girls will be presenting the Chalk Spot, a sidewalk chalk area for artsy kids on McKenzie Street at Columbia from 4pm-7pm.

A full list of participating food trucks is available on the New West Downtown BIA website. There is also a Facebook event you can join if you want to be updated with the latest info.

The Food Truck Fest is organized by the Downtown New West BIA, with support from RiverSky by Bosa Properties and Vancity.

Photo: Technomonkey Media, used with permission of the Downtown New West BIA.

 

 

‘Royal City’ swag lights coming back to Columbia Street

Several weeks ago the City of New Westminster hosted an Economic Forum. The forum was intended to highlight the changes that have been occurring in the city and promote future economic opportunities. The keynote speaker at this event was real estate marketer Bob Rennie. At the end of his speech Mr. Rennie suggested that New Westminster ditch the Royal City moniker for something more contemporary. Although I was out of town during this speech, I could almost feel the collective groan in the community following this comment. Personally I do not agree that New West should ditch the ‘Royal City’ nickname, as it is engrained in the collective consciousness of our town. Having said that, and probably more to the point of Mr. Rennie, the city should be prepared to look at how and when this traditional moniker is used.

That same week on a seemingly unrelated topic, the City made the decision to install swag lights along Columbia Street.

Historic Seasonal Lighting over Columbia Street in the Downtown (Image courtesy VPL: 41806)

In the 1950’s swag lights hung over Columbia Street and contributed to a sense of pride in the community. During this time Columbia Street was known as the Miracle Mile for retail activity and drew in shoppers from all over the region.  The decades that followed were not so kind to this street though, as New Westminster largely became known as a small, old-fashioned, inaccessible community. Just as prominent retailers began to leave the street, so did the traditional crown swag lights.

Today Columbia Street is starting to make a rebound; one only needs to walk along the street to see that something is happening down there. So it seems only fitting that the city has decided to permanently install replica crown swag lights along the street. To be honest, I am not a big fan. I recognize that this is mainly a taste issue and my opinions are very subjective. I have spoken to many people and heard a range of comments from “I think they are going to look great down there” to “the design of the lights looks dated and old-fashioned”.  I am also probably the last person anyone should be getting style advice from. Having said that, I love cities and I take great passion in exploring the secrets behind what makes a city a great place.

I have been fortunate to visit a lot of great cities during my life and I don’t believe that these types of beautification programs are a key ingredient. I don’t need street banners telling me that I am in the big apple to appreciate New York. Nor do I don’t need signage indicating that I have entered the hipster capital of the world when I walk through Portland. There is something genuine about these cities and there is something genuine about New Westminster as well. Our historic buildings, our beautiful streetscapes and the river all tell the story of our community.

I also think we have lost an opportunity to allow ourselves to be inspired by the swag lights from a past era, but then to take this idea and design contemporary lighting that speaks to what the city is today and where we want to go in the future. New Westminster will always be the Royal City; I am just not convinced we need to put up ’50s-era stylized crown lights along Columbia Street to maintain our special place in the heart of Queen Victoria.

The next decade’s downtown New West: cool, urban, alive and vibrant

This is a guest post by Robert Fung, New West booster and president of The Salient Group, whose Trapp Block redevelopment is considered a key element to the revitalization of our downtown. Robert founded The Salient Group in 2000 after a decade of development work with Concord Pacific and then the Narland Group. Actively involved in the community, Robert is currently a member of the UBC Board of Governors as well as a director of the UBC Properties Trust. 

An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.
An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.

It’s an exciting time for Downtown New Westminster. Metro Vancouverites are starting to realize what New West residents have known all along: that the Royal City is a great place to live, and the downtown is a cool and urban place, alive with the promise of a vibrant future.

Local businesses are taking notice. Media is also paying attention, as demonstrated by the recent Georgia Straight feature about New West.

I was initially attracted to the history and urban character of downtown New Westminster and by the potential of the area. What I saw was a beautiful large building that had been vacant for decades — a terrible “lost opportunity” to the economy of the downtown. We saw a chance to help bolster an economic revitalization by investing in and redeveloping a section of the lower mainland’s most important commercial centres. And, at the same time, to provide great homes at affordable pricing in a city that has the most accessible transit connections in the Lower Mainland.

Aesthetically, I was also attracted to the handsome historic Columbia Street buildings. The Trapp Block façade is among the most beautiful in our region.
As I’ve mentioned in a recent Royal City Record interview, the resurgence of downtown New Westminster is not unlike that of Vancouver’s historic Gastown. There’s always a few “early adopters” who choose to work and live in re-emerging districts. These people appreciate character and differentiation. They want something special and affordable. They also know that in an emerging area there is a strong potential for their investment in home or business will grow. New Westminster is on track for a similar experience to Gastown.

After years of neglect and dormancy, a huge commitment by the City is attracting new investment to the downtown. In turn, hip new retailers and residents have woken up to the amazing potential of downtown New Westminster. The new River Market is a great example of this energy and change. It’s thrilling to see exciting businesses like Wild Rice, Re-Up BBQ (which recently took home the VanMag Award for Best Food Cart), and The Network Hub establish a lively presence in New West.

Cities evolve, and Downtown New Westminster is on a strong upswing and headed for a period of strong growth. For current residents, new businesses will bring goods and services, and generate employment opportunities.

It is my firm belief that new home developments do more than just provide condos. Investments from these developments bring new people, who in turn bring pride of ownership to the community. Commercial demand follows. New homes need and attract necessities such as shops and amenities. A positive snowball effect occurs when critical mass of activity encourages further economic growth.

People ask me what should change about New Westminster. New West is already a vibrant city, and it is not our intention to change it. Rather, we hope to assist in changing some peoples’ perceptions about New West. We think that the Trapp + Holbrook redevelopment will go a long way towards demonstrating why both the history and the future of downtown New West are among the most exciting in Metro Vancouver.

I truly believe that in 10 years, downtown New West will be one of the most popular destinations in Metro Vancouver for living and shopping. It’s an exciting time for this historic city by the river, and I thank many of you for warmly welcoming the Salient Group to the community.

A legend in the making? T2F reviews Waves Coffee House, Columbia & Begbie


Waves Coffee House – 715 Columbia Street, New Westminster

Open Monday-Sunday (and holidays), 6am-12am

View Wireless Internet Cafes in New Westminster in a larger map

In a decision which must go down in history under the column “why didn’t we think of this before?” New Westminster’s first Waves Coffee House location opened June 1st in the first floor of the Westminster Trust Building, in the former Provincial Government Office space at the corner of Columbia and Begbie.

In a building full of small businesses, within spitting distance of newly remodeled Hyack Square, and at the foot of what could be called “Bridal Row,” it seems strange that this prime location in a heritage building has only now attracted a chain coffee shop. What remains to be seen is what this new coffee spot brings to the neighbourhood.

A made-in-Vancouver chain, Waves Coffee House locations provide coffee, deli-style food, desserts, tea, and an array of the popular drinks in coffee house culture: chai lattes, red tea lattes, matcha, blended iced coffee drinks called Frappes, and Waves’ specialty, fruit Frappes in five flavours. Thirteen locations have opened across the Lower Mainland since the flagship store at Richards and East Georgia opened in 2005.

My previous experiences with Waves have placed it out of my top 5 for coffee chains – the locations I’m familiar with have often been crowded and in poor condition, with a generally unmemorable atmosphere. Their coffee is occasionally burnt and certainly wouldn’t satisfy a true coffee connoisseur, but in general better taste and value than Starbucks. Pluses for the chain include frequent promotions (including free ‘Canadiano’ beverages on Canada Day), discounts and a much larger variety of drinks for the non-caffeine drinker than most other locations. I am told by a friend in the know that Waves’ matcha tea lattes are among the best available from Western coffee shops.

With this in mind, I set out to see this new location for myself – and because Waves’ food and drink is familiar enough, my main goal was to find out how this location fits with downtown New West, and to find out where it sits on our map of Wireless Cafes. A second goal was to learn how Waves Coffee Houses line up with competition in New Westminster.

One of the first things you notice is that this location has some serious curb appeal. Along with a well-chosen location in one of downtown’s most iconic buildings – ‘the city’s first ‘skyscraper,’ built in Beaux-Arts style in 1912 for Westminster Trust and Safe Co. – the shop blends well with the building’s architecture, and actually uses the large bank windows and high ceilings to great effect. The first thing I noticed on Friday’s very hot afternoon was a row of customers enjoying frosty beverages at a high counter in front of a huge open storefront window facing Begbie St. It screamed out to me CHILL OUT HERE, and of course I obeyed the impulse.

The next thing I noticed upon entering from Columbia Street is the absolutely stunning high ceilings – complete with white mouldings and modern chandeliers that lent a bit of a heritage flair to Waves’ standard brown/taupe/blue decor. The space itself is a long, narrow and airy room with ceilings that appear to be a full 20ft high. There is a combination of seating styles, including the high bench seats along the front store windows, a very few small tables and chairs, and in the back, a larger living-room-style area with pleather club chairs gathered around a gas fireplace.

What sets Waves apart from the rest is that it is one of the few coffee chains which provides completely free and unlimited wireless internet access, and this New West location is no exception. The day I was there, the internet connection was fast, easy to connect to (no proxy or sign-in page, and an easily-recognizable SSID, Waves), and the power outlets were plentiful! I spotted at least four obvious to the naked eye, installed in strategic locations in each of the different seating types.

In other locations, free wireless internet has been the cause of some problems, such as being overrun by students who stick around working on their laptops all day, buying little and monopolizing the best seating from paying customers. This location may also suffer a similar fate, but is bigger in seating and square footage than most I’ve seen and appears to be aimed more toward the local business clientele. So – easy, free, and fast internet and plenty of power outlets, that’s two checks off my list of non-negotiables for a proper wireless coffee shop.

In addition to its above-average decor and architecture, it appears that this location has even more to offer the local population than standard: along with the Waves head office in the back, there is also a 12-14 person conference room off of the back “living room” area which can be booked by local customers and businesses. Waves’ also offers catering for local meetings, which may be a welcome addition to the street where many of New West’s businesses and offices are located.

Another refreshing change for me was the lower counters. I’ve seen this trend in other coffee chains as well, moving toward a more open and accessible counter and bar where customers can watch their beverages being made, and customers with disabilities (or short) can actually reach the till and their own drink at the bar. A small detail, but much appreciated. This location also had far more staff than I would have expected, but they were all well-trained, cheerful, and accommodating.

The food is what you’ll find at any Waves location, but it is exceptional when compared to other chain coffee shops. Waves Coffee Houses seem to focus more on providing fresh snacks and light lunches to go along with their large drink menu, and though I’m not sure how much of it is prepared on-site, they do have a large kitchen, and none of the sandwiches, paninis, or wraps were served in packaging. Waves’ paninis are popular, and like their other wraps and sandwiches, are served warm from the grill on a real china plate. Their long glass deli cabinet also holds several rows of some very yummy looking desserts, and what with this location’s long trading hours (6am-12am each day), it makes it very competitive with smaller restaurants on Columbia for the evening crowd – perfect for a snack and a chat after a walk around the Quay, or to stop for a drink with the pooch mid-walk. Certainly the business folks in that part of town will enjoy finally having some good, quick and apparently fresh lunch options for a change.

My concerns with this location were few: the ubiquitous blended-ice Frappe drinks caused quite a loud blender noise, and the high ceilings tended to echo the sound throughout. On a hot day a conversation might be obliterated by the demand for Frappes. I also have a concern that this visually stunning location could soon go the way of the Mt. Pleasant and Commercial Drive locations, suffering from serious wear and tear. Some locations struggle with visits from the local street population who can sometimes leave the bathrooms vandalized or unusable. These bathrooms are kept locked with a punch code available from the counter, likely for just this reason. Given Columbia Street’s own struggles with itinerant folks, and the long hours that this location is open, it remains to be seen whether a location this fancy can be maintained over time.

This is the sort of place you’d take your friends after you bought an expensive condo in the old post office building, to convince them of what a hip and up-and-coming place New West really is. “See? Even our coffee shops are a little bit different,” you might say. It also struck me that this would be a perfect apres-cinema spot, given its late-night hours and nice conversational seating – now all we have to do is get a cinema back into downtown. Even more likely, I see Waves supplanting Starbucks on 6th and Columbia as the spot to collapse with your future mother-in-law and your maid-of-honor after a long walk up and down Columbia Street, as you post-mortem your bridal gown options.

In all it was a pleasant experience, and the sound of the train whistle from the Begbie crossing nearby made me smile. The diversity of customers was really something, with seemingly every age demographic represented. Interestingly, though, the only real demographic that I didn’t see were business people.

10 noteworthy places in New West

This is a guest post by Rob Jones, who shares some of his first impressions of New Westminster as a new resident of our city. You can read more from Rob on his blog, The Delete Bin, and also find him on Twitter @clippernolan.

There are elements of every city that makes it unique, makes them feel like home.

My experience with big-small towns is well established, even if I am a recent resident of New Westminster. Like New West, my hometown of Oakville Ontario was founded next to a busy waterway; it was a shipbuilding centre when it was first founded in the 1800s, nestled against the expanse of Lake Ontario.

There are other similarities of course – the high streets, the parks, tree-lined streets, the cozy community feel, and even certain idiosyncrasies that don’t appeal to everyone, but help to make the place what it is.

So, with this in mind here are 10 places of noteworthiness that I’ve discovered in my first few months here in New Westminster. There are some you know, and maybe a few you haven’t thought much about. Yet, if its true first impressions you’re after from a New West newbie such as myself, you’ve come to the right place.

1. 6th and 6th

In living on the other side of the Fraser for the last few years, I really missed the old-fashioned high street, the main drag that is within walking distance of home. Having done time in the land of big box stores, malls the size of the Death Star, and traffic-clogged main streets that seem to be excuses for big brands to plaster their names all over everything, coming to a place where this is less the case was a welcome change.

6th and 6th.  Image courtesy of Dennis Hurd
6th and 6th. Image courtesy of Dennis Hurd

This is not to say that there aren’t big name stores along this intersection and surrounding area – there certainly are. But, somehow, the signs seem like less of a crass branding exercise, and more of a vital centre of small town commerce, even if this really isn’t a small town. This is one of the strengths of this area – maintaining that balance between the two solitudes of small town coziness and the convenience and energy of the city. 6th and 6th , and the surrounding area from the Library down to 4th avenue, epitomizes this for me.

2. Moody Park

Named after Colonel Richard Clement Moody (born in Barbados, where my dad was born and raised, coincidentally…) who founded New Westminster in 1859 , Moody Park rests between 6th Avenue and 8th avenue, and 10th street and 8th street. My daughter and I take walks there, conveniently located as it is just up the street from my apartment. It is a wonderland of monkey bars, slides, sporting fields, and soon enough, a pool too . The squirrels dart from tree to tree, hoping for alms from those walking their dogs or their kids. It is a place of innocence and good clean fun – by day at least.

My Daughter AKA 'The Girl'. Image courtesy of Adrienne Theissen of Gemeni Visuals

It’s also been the site of many awkward exchanges for me with other parents, while our children are busy becoming instant friends in the playground. Strange how that works; that certain things that are insurmountable as children are conquered with the experiences of adulthood, yet with some things lost, too. I’m talking about the ability to make instant connections, and to hitch one’s imaginations to those of another without a second thought, and without much effort if any at all.

3. The Salvation Army Store

Where can you get a blazer, a set of towels, a comforter, a Spider Robinson novel, and an old-fashioned bona fide Faerie Queen china doll in one trip for less than twenty bucks? It’s the Salvation Army superstore on Columbia street, right at the foot of 8th street, of course, with the promise of ‘1000s of items arriving daily!’

Salvation Army Store, Columbia Street New Westminster.  Image courtesy of Starksilver.com
Salvation Army Store, Columbia Street New Westminster. Image courtesy of Starksilvercreek.com

Recently, I’ve had the occasion to go hunting for housewares, which I could do at a WalMart I guess. But with a treasure trove of cheap and charitable goods right off of New Westminster Skytrain, I can’t think of why I would. In other communities, many of these items can be found in various box stores. But, that’s just shopping, isn’t it. I’d rather go on a treasure hunt any day. And in the Salvation Army store, that’s what it feels like every time.

4. ‘Wedding District’

I’ve never seen anything like it. All along Columbia Street are a collection of wedding dress stores and tuxedo rentals, parked right next to each other as if there aren’t any other places to get this sort of thing for miles around. Also, with the selection of florists along here, one could practically source everything one needs a wedding, including specialty items. Want a vampire theme? No problem – they’ve got a dress for that, and quasi-medieval menswear to match. Name it, and you can probably get married in it.

Image courtesy of Image in White, 554 Columbia Street, New Westminster
Image courtesy of Image in White, 554 Columbia Street, New Westminster

And with the Paramount theatre just down the street, where athletically-figured women remove their attire for the benefit of male patrons to the strains of yesterday’s hit parade, the Groom can have his stag while the flowers are decided upon – all in one district! That’s convenience! And I haven’t even mentioned the tattoo parlor, which (if they have any sense) must have an ongoing two-for-one lovebird special. It gets you to the church on time, kids!

5. 8th street hill

Before I moved here, I had the occasion to climb the hill in order to pick up my car from Artman Automotive. The shop, actually run by a knowledgeable and honest guy called Art, and is on Royal Avenue near Douglas College. This is roughly at the crest of one of the steepest hills I’ve ever had to climb, just shy of ‘Historic Brow of the Hill’, where I now reside these many years later.

And here is the station at the bottom of the hill - the place of decision-making: bus or walk?  Image courtesy of  Fujitariuji.  Click image to view Flickr stream
And here is the station at the bottom of the hill - the place of decision-making: bus or walk? Image courtesy of Fujitariuji. Click image to view Flickr stream

During my ascent, being reminded of my mortality the whole way, the best adjective to describe me on achieving the crest of Royal avenue from 8th street was ‘vincible’, as in the opposite of invincible. But, once I caught my breath, I found that the view is incredible – the river, the expanse of downtown New West and the shores of North Delta, and the fatigued Douglas College students climbing the hill from New West Skytrain Station as if searching for Enlightenment itself. Yet, do I climb this hill everyday on foot, or do I take the trusty 123 bus, even if I have to wait without shelter, knee-deep in cigarette butts, and within earshot of multiple one-way teenaged cellphone conversations? I’ll let you guess, but the answer is as easy as 1-2-3.

6. The Quay

This is another locale for me and my daughter; for walks and talks, lots of questions for her part, and few answers for mine. The quay is our place for paying homage to the world’s tallest tin soldier, the tugboat (courtesy of Expo ’86, and moved to New Westminster Quay the following year), the beautiful gardens, and the ducks and other waterfowl who walk the same routes as any quaysider in a living example of interspecies respect and understanding.

From New Westminster Quay.  Image Courtesy of Intelligent Calcium.  Click image to view Flickr Stream
From New Westminster Quay. Image Courtesy of Intelligent Calcium. Click image to view Flickr Stream

The quay has been the host of many an event since I’ve been here, from Philippines Independence Day celebrations to Canada Day Fireworks. It is a vibrant gathering place for the community, young and old. If only they’d open the Market again! What’s up with that?

7. Queen’s Park

One has to respect a town who celebrates the traditions of blowing sh*t up so enthusiastically. I am of course talking about my first trip to Queen’s Park during the Hyack Festival Anvil Salute, which occurs every year on the occasion of Victoria Day, the day in which we honour of the monarch who named this town of ours.

Image courtesy of CanadaGood.  Click image to view Flickr stream.
Image courtesy of CanadaGood. Click image to view Flickr stream.

Queen’s Park is a shady environs where monkey bars and slides live along side an honest to goodness petting zoo – goats, sheep, and rabbits, not to mention non-pettable peacocks. But, when we were there, it was all about the gunpowder n’ noise in Queen’s Park Stadium . The combustibly-derived racket in question is perpetrated by guys dressed in some sort of period garb that might be described as Special Forces British Morris Dancers with demolition expertise. These flamboyantly attired fellows blow up anvils using very long fuses to the delight of a significant crowd. Where else are you going to get to see something like that?

8. Antique Alley

Right along the railroad tracks on Front Street is Antique alley, a series of storefronts under the shade of the parking garage built above the road, supporting the parking requirements of shoppers and tourists that frequent Columbia Street and the Quay. There are antique shops along here of course, but also specialty clothing stores including a goth boutique, which is adequately rife with shadows, spacious as a cathedral crypt, and haunted by a very affectionate cat called Merlin.

Antique Alley, from Columbia avenue.  Image courtesy of Silly G Wailo.  Click image to view Flickr Stream
Antique Alley, from Columbia Street. Image courtesy of Silly G Wailo. Click image to view Flickr Stream

What’s most striking to me is how full of character this strip is, yet how underdeveloped it is too. So many of the storefronts are seemingly abandoned, and some which aren’t just look like they are. Maybe this area is too closed off from the high street to be accessible, or profitable. Yet, it is charmingly seedy, and bursting with potential for more speciality stores, and in my imagination, a series of small music venues within stumbling distance of the Skytrain and bus services.

9. The Waffle House

Three of my favourite words in succession have to be ‘all day breakast’. And waffles are comfort food, loaded with life-shortening, yet exceedingly life-affirming, butter and syrup, washed down with cup after cup of coffee. The Waffle House on 6th street provides all of this, plus free newspapers and (otherwise) no frills, and all in the commercial shadow of the IHOP, mere meters away. Yet, where else can you order something called a Jiffy Wiffy Waffle with a straight face?

I have hosted two female friends at this establishment at different times in recent weeks, which make me think that the staff there, if they remember me at all, must think of me as the kind of guy to use waffles in some kind of low rent seduction tactic, or possibly as a means of recompense for not living up to seduction’s promise. Where this is of course not the case (both women are good friends of mine), I think the tactic might have legs.

10. 22nd Street Station

One of the first Skytrain stations I’d ever used was this one, dropped off after having visited a girlfriend of mine many years ago. I remember thinking that it was a commuter hub that was randomly plunked in the middle of nowhere. Yet 6th avenue and the Queensborough Bridge seem to draw significant traffic into it. I’ve come to know it as the ‘buses graveyard’, or ‘the land of apologizing buses’ – Sorry Not In Service. I wish they wouldn’t say ‘sorry’. But, I guess we are in Canada, aren’t we. Personally, I think ‘Out of Service – Deal With It’ would be more apropos.

22nd Street Station - busy, yet dead at the same time.  Image courtesy of FreakyChick.  Click image to view Flickr stream.
22nd Street Station - busy, yet dead at the same time. Image courtesy of FreakyChick. Click image to view Flickr stream.

Having come to use this station more and more, I think it really needs a reboot – maybe a bookstore, a café, even a convenience store. It needs something there where commuters, parents, and antsy teenagers heading into Richmond, can spend their time while their buses contemplate how sorry they are over the sin of being out of service. Perhaps the commuter traffic, and the revenue-generating traffic to any establishments placed there, might make that sin easier to forgive?

***
Here it is: I feel at home in New Westminster.

I like that it is community-based and there are a lot of places to take my daughter without having to drive. I like that it’s a bit weird too, like the time a guy yelled at me from across the street, asking me if I wanted to buy his radial arm saw – cash money, natch. I like that I can get Wifi in any number of retail locations within walking distance. I like that historic locations are treasured here, and that this town has memory – so many don’t. And I like that Stephen King’s IT was filmed here, perversely perhaps.

As a new resident, do I feel that there is room for improvement? Sure I do. But, it’s character that I most value in a place where I call home. And New West certainly has character. It has light and dark tones, civic pride, and urban decay. Yet, it is the spririt of the place that counts, defined as it is with a sense of history, blemishes and all.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]