Secret Santa: Community Edition # 4

Here’s number four in our River Market Secret Santa series. (Numbers 12 and 3. ) 

For many, the focus from everyday life turns towards the spirit of giving during the holiday season. This year River Market invited ten citizens from New Westminster to shop for gifts on River Market’s dollar. Many would say these citizens are actively engaged in making this wonderful city better each day. These individuals were tasked to hand pick each item which they thought would make a great gift and their only parameter was that they had $50 to spend. Once they were done their shopping, they would wrap the gift and deliver it to an organization of their choice in New West.

dsc_2386JJ Lee, well known New Westminster author (and Tenth contributor!) lives and writes in New West. “I write at my little table overlooking a little piece of uptown, and my kids were born here,” he says.

He selected the Queen’s Avenue Daycare Society as his secret Santa receiver. “They are a low barrier daycare centre. When I was on the board we made a point to keep the fees low.”

dsc_2389JJ bought crackers and cookies from Donald’s Market for the kids. “Snack time always as fruits and veggies and protein but does not always include starches as the dietary needs are so varied among the kids. I was able to buy a wide range of goodies so all the kids could have a treat.”

dsc_2387And for all your Secret Santas considering shopping for JJ, he says he is a terrible person to buy gifts for because “I am greedy and unappreciative, and I have particular taste. ”
He says he’d rather give than receive. Here’s a little story he wrote recently about the best gift he ever gave.

Christmas in Sapperton

dsc_4259Are you ready to kick off the holiday season with some HO HO HO – then clear your calendar for this Sunday, December 4 from 12-5pm and come join in some free family fun in Sapperton!

A small group of merchants including Cadeaux Boutique, The Bloom Bloom Room, Mindful Mutts, and Good To Go got together to plan this first of what they hope is to be an annual Christmas community event. They decided a community-wide festive street party would be just the thing to connect business and community together. A passport was created listing all the merchants participating along with their free family fun activity at the event; make your own door swags at the Bloom Bloom Room, pet photos with Mindful Mutts, free hot apple cider and popcorn at Cadeaux, photos with Santa at Good to Go, ornament decorating in the parklet for kids, delicious food samples at local restaurants and more. The group also reached out to local talent to include the Quayside Singers who will sing carols from 12-1pm in the parklet as well as Juno nominated singer GinaLina who will follow in the parklet from 2-4pm with more festive holiday music and sing alongs.

The group created this community event in Sapperton to remind residents that there are some really great businesses on East Columbia St and that you don’t have to leave New Westminster to do your holiday shopping or run your errands. Keeping it local was key to this first annual event. The group also wanted to connect with other shopping districts in New West and surrounding communities to highlight everything from healthy smoothies and wraps, boutique blooms, local artisanal gifts, women’s clothing and jewelry, doggie daycare, restaurants, vintage home decor, a women’s only kickboxing gym, local cycle shop and other dynamic businesses located on East Columbia Street.

The passports are available now for shoppers to pick up at one of the participating businesses or during the event. Revellers are encouraged to visit all the participating merchants to check them out, partake in their festivities and fun, get a stamp and then visit the next one on the list. When the passport is complete and all the stamps are ticked off, participants can make their way over to Cadeaux Boutique to collect their complimentary swag bag filled with more goodies from the Sapperton businesses! Of course this encourages continued community connection for both the shoppers and merchants in a positive and fun manner. One more reason for the residents and shoppers to fall in love with Sapperton, and to continue to support local in New West!

See you on East Columbia Sunday December 4th!


Ten Year Love Affair

Ten years.

I remember vividly apartment hunting in New Westminster. It was the fall of 2006, I was fresh out of grad school and had just lucked into a dream job in downtown Vancouver. But I was decidedly not a downtown Vancouver person – it’s frenetic energy and prohibitive rent was not practical. I needed a place far enough away so I could leave work to recharge, with bonus points for affordability, transit access and walkability. New Westminster fit the bill perfectly.

My parents, and then-fiancé, presently known as Envirospouse, walked with me around the Columbia Skytrain station. We walked on the grassy boulevards, and came upon two tall high-rises. The buildings were concrete and when we tried the phone number, the manager, a gentleman named Rob, was still in. I jumped up and down ecstatically, while Envirospouse… whacked his shoe against a telephone pole.

Envirospouse had stepped in something fresh, just as my call to Rob had gone through. After he whacked out most of the detritus stuck on the soles of his skater shoes (how young we were! We wore skater shoes!), he informed me this was a good omen. Like when birds leave you a gift on your shoulder, I had been blessed with dog doo.

Minutes later, we were sitting in Rob’s office. He was working through a standard series of questions. I had my nerdy Tina Fey glasses on. I remember he asked me quite seriously if I smoked. I looked at him, eye contact not wavering, “it’s a filthy habit”. He snorted, asked me to fax over a confirmation of employment, and there we were.


The distance between my apartment and the skytrain was a mere 0.707 km. I mapped it. I clocked it. I never ran it, as I used to carry my whole life in my messenger bag. Flash lights, cell phone, keys, a sewing kit, a first aid kit, some powder, an old eye liner, lip balm, a wallet, a notebook, a fancy pen, a water proof pen, three hats, something to read, something to eat, and a watch-maker-sized tool kit (in case the Tina Fey glasses took a hit). One rainy day as I was hiking up the hill on Fourth, I realized that not one but two community buses went right by our apartment. Soon, I was zipping home on those buses.

I have such fond memories of the community bus drivers. They encapsulated all the things I love about New Westminster. They didn’t know me by name, but they knew all my habits. They knew when I’d worked late, and sympathized about the never-ending rain. They waited longer at the stops on snowy days, when tackling the hill appeared foolhardy. They nudged the bus slightly closer to the curb when I was carrying groceries home from 6th and 6th. They even ribbed Envirospouse when he was guiltily bringing home flowers, or wearing his big red parka (which is hideous, and he still wears it so if you see a friendly bearded man in ancient red parka with his children at Hume park, please say hello).


Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography
Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography

We lived in that apartment for almost 7 years. The last of those years, we started looking around and wondering if/how we could raise a family there. I had this inkling that the care of a newborn required an ensuite washer and dryer. And maybe a spot to put the child in. Envirospouse wanted a yard to plant fruit trees, (he was having a community gardening adventure that you can ask him about), and so, we started house-hunting for a permanent address.

Initially we looked on both sides of the Fraser River. Then we moved over to just this side of the river. We circled spots in Burnaby, in Coquitlam; we balked at Port Moody and Port Coquitlam as this whole time, we didn’t even have a car so going so far away from the Skytrain was lunacy to our minds. I counted that we saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 places (Envirospouse claims it was less), and the first place we both agreed on was in Sapperton.

Oh Sapperton. It was the intersection of all our interests. I barely remember examining the insides of the place, but just by virtue of the neighborhood’s atmosphere, felt like we’d hit the jackpot. I swear the neighbors smiled as we walked to the front door. Envirospouse admired the back yard and the wood stove at the heart of the house. The street was a designated bike route. Two skytrain stations and two parks were within walking distance. A Thrifty’s was nearby, and quaint store fronts, including a bakery, were a few streets over. An enormous cherry tree shaded us as we stood outside drinking it all in.

Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography
Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography

When we moved in, the charm of the area kept on coming. One of the neighbours ran over and invited me to a get-together they were planning on for the next evening. Another neighbour offered us a fresh strawberry smoothie as we sweltered while unloading the truck. At the end of the day, when we’d gotten everything in the house, we sat down and breathed it in.

Photo by Abby from Abigail Quigley Photography
Photo by Abby from Abigail Quigley Photography

Sapperton anchors me to New Westminster. It’s tree-lined streets, friendly neighbourhoods and accessibility has tamed wild wanderers like me. So many of us are part of a diaspora, walkers from different cities and countries, looking for a place to belong to, looking for that feeling that you get when it’s pouring out and you walk inside and the house smells like the best pasta you have yet to eat, and your partner helps you out of your raincoat while seamlessly handing you a steaming plate, as you shrug off your boots and hang your umbrella up. That feeling of comfort, of homecoming, of warmth, of belonging, that’s what New Westminster is to me.

It’s been ten years Royal City, and I never want to leave.


You Wear It Well

Over the years, the volunteers behind “You Wear it Well” have helped hundreds of New Westminster (and more recently, some Burnaby) high school grads look their best on grad night. This 100% volunteer run organization accepts donations of grad clothing and accessories, and outfits grads at no cost. Students interested in being considered contact their school counsellors who direct them to You Wear It Well. Their service is entirely confidential; they do not share any information about any of the students who have been outfitted (except for a few students who are “media ambassadors” and have given express consent for photos to be shared on the group’s Facebook page.)

But, like many organizations, the time has come for the committee to be renewed. The current volunteers are seeking a new committee to take over the organization.

From a post on their Facebook page (and hat tip to Shop New West for alerting me to this):

You Wear it Well…Just for Grads has been providing graduation attire, free of charge, for New Westminster Graduates for six years. The committee has worked hard to make this annual event successful and has recently expanded to include schools in Burnaby.

However, it is now time to pass the torch to a new group of community–minded individuals. We are looking for a group of people who would be interested in taking over control of this not-for-profit organization.If you are interested in finding out more about this amazing venture, we would love to talk to you. We are willing to share all our information about running the organization, and will donate all our inventory to anyone that is willing to take on this project.

We have found our experience with You Wear it Well…Just for Grads to be truly rewarding, and have witnessed first-hand the transformation of many young peoples’ lives. We are certain that the new Committee will find this experience equally as fulfilling.For more information, please contact the You Wear it Well…Just for Grads Committee at

Diversity in Art

The City of New Westminster’s arts scene has recently been receiving a bit more press than normal, including here on Tenth. This weekend, the New Westminster Cultural Crawl is on all across the city and there is tonnes to see and do for all appetites for art.

Recently, I stopped by the Arts Council of New Westminster’s Gallery in Queen’s Park (it’s right below the playground, in the same building as Centennial Lodge) and Stephen O’Shea, the Executive Director of the Arts Council and I got talking. Continue reading “Diversity in Art”

Not So Bland Stuff

This post originally appeared in Issue Zero of our print magazine, April 2016.

The phrase “economic development” is often a signal of some boring, dry stuff to come, stuff best left to bean counters and statisticians. There is a relationship between economic development and the way a community evolves and transforms, however. The feeling in the city, the way neighbourhoods work, and the people who are here are all impacted by economic development and vice versa. That human factor is what makes it so important to look beyond the dollars and cents part of the equation. Continue reading “Not So Bland Stuff”