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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Brunette-Fraser park in Sapperton a study in contrasts


Photo credit: Don Schuetze

The Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway – Sapperton Landing is a clumsy moniker for a little stretch of park that runs west from the mouth of the Brunette River until it runs out of space a little less than a kilometer away.Photo credit: Don Schuetze

The Greenway will eventually connect Vancouver with New Westminster with a bike and pedestrian pathway. Chunks have already been built, and this is one of them. As such, it has two paths: one paved (for bikes), and the other gravel (for sneakers). It’s very flat and there are a few observation decks that allow the tired or bored to lean out over the Fraser River and try to count the squashed cars being loaded onto barges in Surrey. 

The park is a study in contrasts: squashed between the working Fraser and the railway, with the Skytrain almost directly overhead and the busy industrial thorough-fare Front street just beyond, it still succeeds in providing a pleasant amble through greenery.

Plants, as is carefully laid out on several didactic posts, are “left to grow naturally”, in an attempt to create many wildlife habitats. Presumably someone weeds out the invasives like loosestrife and himalayan blackberry to keep it natural to this area. The brush is trimmed that abuts on the paths making it almost seem manicured. For wildlife in May I noted several spotted towees and a lot of sparrows that moved too quickly for me to figure out what kind.

Access to Sapperton Landing is difficult. By car the only way is a right turn onto Cumblerland from Columbia Street. Cross two sets of tracks and watch out! The road is only one lane. Parking is several hundred metres from the entrance, behind what I think was a customs house. Sapperton is the closest SkyTrain station.

Photo credit: Don SchuetzeBy the mouth of the Brunette is an old government wharf with a few fishing boats, and a lot of warning signs. At the other end, the trail ends suddenly where there’s no more land. A dumpster keeps you from sauntering onto Front Street. When the rest of the Greenway is completed you’ll be able to walk or bike to Vancouver along the Brunette River, or to the New Westminster Quay if you go the other way. Right now, however, if you don’t feel like risking Front street you have to turn back and admire the graffitti on the berm past the tracks.

Walking one way and back with a small dog and surly teenager took about 40 minutes, with pauses to take the occasional photo.

Sapperton Landing is important historically: this is where the Royal Engineers made their camp, where prisoners for the penitentiary were unloaded, and where the colony of BC was governed. Actually that was probably up the hill a bit, but this is probably where they sat down at the end of a long day, swung their bare feet into the water and smoked a pipe.

Sapperton Landing (The Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway) is a pleasant stroll today, but will probably be amazing once it’s connected to the rest of the system.


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Hyack Square to be transformed this summer

At the foot of the staircase leading the Quay, there has long been a lonely brick-paved square that always seemed to attract ne’er-do-wells. This gap between the new Sally Ann and The Keg has been simply a place one passes through.

If you’ve been through the area more recently, you’ve probably noticed construction in the square, and a big sign announcing a pending ‘Hyack Square’ revitalization in the space. I always wondered just what was coming there, and today I found out (PDF link): it’s not just beautification but building the community focal point that the area has lacked for so long. The once-lonely square will become a summertime gathering place for families, with a children’s water feature and an amphitheatre for music and other outdoor performance.

Also included in the revitalization:

  • New decorative paving
  • Street furniture & lighting
  • Decorative screens
  • Historical features
  • Ornamental plantings & lawn areas
  • Public art

Parks & Rec is coordinating a summer performance series in the amphitheatre through July and August, and we’ll be sure to add the details to our event calendar when we know more.

The project is supposed to be completed by the end of May. The grand opening is set for June 20.

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What New West’s teenage sledders really do

My fair brother posted previously on the many snowy and wonderful ways (and places) that people can sled in our fair city… however timely this may be, what with the freakish sub-zero weather and inches of snow and all, he has made one critical omission.

Ice blocking.

What is this, you ask? Well, in our (usually) temperate climate, what’s a young non-drinking teen to do for fun in a city of hills but no snow?

Answer: Buy a few blocks of ice from your local gas station, and head on up to the steepest sledding hill you know – New Westminsterites (and churchy teens from miles around) flock to Burnaby Mountain Park, mainly, as well as the Eastern Meadow slope of Queen’s Park (ending in McBride Boulevard) and Robert Burnaby Park. If it’s one of the 360 days of our year when we have no snow at all in Vancouver, then you will have an open hill of green, green grass on which to sit your bum-on-iceblock, give a little push and voila! You are off, ice blocking with the best of them.
While this sport has variously been demonstrated on Saved By the Bell and MTV’s Jackass, curiously, this phenomenon seems most common among church teens. Perhaps this population are the only ones crazy enough want to do this while still sober enough to accomplish it. Of the various youth & young adult church groups I went to over my time, they all had this one crazy, seasonless sport in common. While the history of the activity may be debatable, it’s not hard to see why it remains so popular – apparently humankind simply has a mad urge to slide down a hill with a cold hiney once in awhile, regardless of the snow availability. It’s universal.

Evidence #1: (the Las Vegas Association of pro-Ice Blockers)

Evidence #2: Wikipedia: Iceblocking (written seemingly from an Australian point of view)

Evidence #3: Jamaican Bobsled Team

New middle school could be built on parkland

And then there were none...

A small geographical footprint is both one of New Westminster’s charms and one of its challenges. Density is inevitable. Sprawl is not an option. This is great, if you’re assessing public transit feasibility or walkability within the city. It means, however, that options are limited when it comes to new development.  

New West has long known it needs new schools. The current high school is in need of upgrades and isn’t adequate to house all of the city’s kids. The original idea was to rebuild on the same site. The catch? Our secondary school is built on an indian burial ground
It’s like something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I keep expecting some kind of monstrous hell-beast to emerge from a Hellmouth deep in the bowels of the school, threatening to bet all the city’s kittens at poker and cursing the local mallrats with syphilis
So, we need new schools. And we can’t build them on the site where NWSS has stood for 60 years in case executed Tsilhqot’in warrior Chief Ahan was buried there 144 years ago. 
Something has to give. And that ‘something’ seems likely to be park land. Three parks are currently being considered for a new middle school site, all in the West End:
While residents would lose some park space (and potentially see more traffic), we have it on good authority that if land for the school is carved out of a park like Grimston, the site would also see upgrades that could offset the loss. 
In any case, this is all still tentative. The city is gathering feedback now, so if you want to learn more about the ghost of Chief Ahan or share your opinions on the new school site, there are some important dates to know (all events at the NWSS library):
  • Oct. 25 (11am, 1 & 3pm)  & Oct. 30 (7pm) (just in time for Halloween!) – Historical research on the cemetery at NWSS. 
  • Nov. 1 (11am, 1 & 3pm) & Nov. 4 (7:30pm) – Public info sessions on middle school options.