Booting Out the Starlings

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This past spring, my conscientious New Westminster landlord closed off the starling nesting (or should I say pesting?) areas in the apartment’s roof.  Invasive starling pests left for more hospitable roosts. Our songbirds then began to return. Now they could hear themselves think without the starlings’ coarse mimicry or heavy metal squawks and squeals.  Only the morning and evening commuter traffic was left to make our wildlife’s communications difficult.

Fortunately, this month our Royal City is repaving the street and intersection where I live  – with speed bumps, better signage, wheelchair access, and proper pedestrian painted walkways.  Native wildlife, seemingly in response, is returning in numbers. We have real families of woodpeckers and scrub jays, for example.

Months ago, I attended a residents’ association meeting and filled out a comment form,  with suggestions to improve the safety and peace in this area. To think that these and others neighbours’ comments contributed, as drops in a bucket, to neighbourhood improvements.  Not only is this better for us pedestrian humans – it’s better for the citizen crows, jays, woodpeckers, squirrels,  pine siskins, hummingbirds, and chickadees that prefer to hang around year after year because they like and need specific trees, flowers, berries, bushes and grasses here.   Maybe it’s even better for the lawns and flowers and trees, as wildlife help groom and fertilize their habitats.   One man’s parasite is another man’s partner.

If I awake early, I can catch a different ritual behaviour and hear different calls than later on in the day.  I am glad to live in a city whose government does its best to respond to our basic needs. In this case, we are restoring calm and pleasure to a local walking area.  I love New West – our Royal City. Long may she reign.

The Mindfulness of Jim Johnston

Editor’s Note: this piece originally appeared in Issue Zero of Tenth to the Fraser’s print magazine, April 2016 in a condensed format. This is the complete interview. 


Sarah Joyce, co-Curator/Director of the New Westminster New Media Gallery at the Anvil Centre shares a tour of the gallery with a regular visitor.   

I am moved every time I come in here. I’m always a better person for coming here. ~Jim Johnston

The first time we met Jim Johnston was shortly after the gallery opened. He was already a regular; a quiet fellow in a well-worn cap, sweatshirt, baggy pants. He began visiting the gallery at least three times a week; visits ranged from 15 to 60 minutes. His questions revealed an insight that surprised us. We saw a skilled observer with an ability to make connections, and a strong emotional intelligence.

Early on he mentioned that he had never been to a gallery before. He told us that one of the works in the Musicircus exhibition nearly brought him to tears. Our interest was piqued. Indeed, Christian Marclay’s Video Quartet is a breathtaking, four-screen video work that makes even the most hardened critics a bit wobbly.

Here’s the thing; Jim’s exploration of art is courageous, gutsy. His approach is what you long for as a curator. Open-minded, enthusiastic and curious ; this is the Jim Johnston we’ve come to know. You always hope the exhibitions you pull together will touch people in some way. Perhaps the works of art will change the way people see the world. Each exhibition is so brief; eight weeks and after that just a memory. Jim says he is a better person after coming to the gallery. And we are better for knowing Jim Johnston. He gives us hope for the future. Continue reading “The Mindfulness of Jim Johnston”

The Royal Smelly City

A view of downtown New Westminster. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
A view of downtown New Westminster. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Cities have their own vernacular. Some boast unique architecture, a common sense of style and still others, a mode of transportation favoured by the citizens. Certain cities, however have their own scent or combination of scents – both good and bad.

From the pungent aroma of spices in the souks of Marrakesh; the salty air of West Coast cities; the crisp buttery smell of the croissants in Paris to the roasted smell of a local cafe in Portland these smells serve as landmarks and add to our sensory experience of a neighbourhood or city. So close your eyes and picture yourself at 6th and 6th – any odours standing out? Now how about in the middle of Queen’s Park – inhale deeply. Down by the Quay – is that a hint of tugboat diesel? Tell me, what does this city smell like?

That is the question I’ve been asking myself after coming across a unique children’s book called New York, PHEW York. Written by Amber Jones, a hotel concierge working in Times Square, the book is a scratch-n-sniff guide of New York featuring some of the pleasant and not so pleasant smells unique to the city. From pizza, hot dogs, churros and other such tasty delights, to the ever-present stench of garbage and sewer steam common across the five boroughs.

While New West doesn’t have the density of life present in New York City, it does certainly have its own aromas – some long-standing others newly emerging. Living in the downtown area of New West, the smell of crispy fried batter of a certain fish and chip shop comes to mind, as does the earthiness of the river along the quay. Another scent that stands out is the dampness of the leaves and trees crackling beneath my feet on early morning runs through Queen’s park. And with the River Market hitting its stride, new fragrances seem to be emerging all the time. The sour yeast smell of freshly baked bread and smoky BBQ being two standouts in my eyes – I mean nose.

Be it New York City, Vancouver or New West, each of these urban environments has its own sensory fingerprint. And while New York’s imprint might be made up of skyscrapers, honking horns and the smell of churros, New West has its own unique sensory profile and it includes more than just paper pulp. What does your New West smell like?

The girl with the melancholy smile: an ode to autumn

Autumn is beautiful, and mysterious. Autumn knows how to wear her clothes; earthy colours, and bright too, all held in balance, and slightly bohemian. She’s cool.

The perfume she’s wearing is heady; earth, leaves, rain, and wood smoke. She has an interesting taste in books; a bit of Edgar Allen Poe’s mystery and imagination, maybe some Ray Bradbury too with his Hallowe’en Tree and his October People.

She listens to Debussy, Fauré, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Billie Holiday, Morphine, Kings of Convenience. She plays the cello.

In the daytime, the light makes everything look dream-like, and it often feels as if one is walking around inside of a work of art, or a story, the ending of which escapes us. She smiles, and there is melancholy to be found there that makes the smile all the more meaningful.

The sun descends, disappearing into the West; it’s cool and crisp. We wear our light jackets. The fallen leaves crunch under our shoes like minute skeletons.

When it gets dark, it happens suddenly; the lights on the street corners come on like beacons, the headlights of cars beam through the gloom. Windows are painted with the faint, warm glow of orange and yellow. Some are dark, blind, and stare out balefully onto quiet streets. And our imaginations race.

Autumn makes the walls between the worlds to be at their thinnest. You can hear the stories bleeding through. When you do, it’s a time of child-like wonder, and small echoes of exhilarating fear. It’s the time of dressing up in sombre clothes, in bright ones too. It’s time to walk around in another skin.

Her time is the time of year we’re surrounded by evidence of mortality. Yet, the power to truly terrorize us is diminished. We imagine Gothic castles and mist-haunted moors instead. It’s the time of spirits, and of human skulls on doors. The fear of mystery is transformed into dark wonderment.

Moody Park At Night

When Autumn’s time is over, cloaks of snow, sleet, and rain cover the carpets of fallen leaves. Rivers run down the streets, carrying the remnants of summers past away as winter’s clouds swell and burst. The girl with the melancholy smile takes her leave with frosted kisses on our cheeks.

If we miss her, we can find in her in the pages of poetry, in the brushstrokes of paintings, between the bars of music.

We find her in vague and treasured memories, in the whispers of tales that are only half-told, lit by twilight sun.

That’s where she lives.


5 Songs About Autumn

A royal love affair

“A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.” – Robert Frost

A bridge in fog. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar
A bridge in fog. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

I’ve been a frequent viewer of Tenth to Fraser for some time now, looking over all the great articles focused around this town, which I have now lived in for over ten years. My partner’s family was born and raised here, in this city of heritage, this city of culture. It has always been in the back of mind that I was having an affair unlike many affairs. This was a strong, if not overpowering, love for a city that gets a bad reputation and is often overlooked.

The negative image of our beautiful city has begun to bubble up inside of me, inspiring me to put on display the inner beauty and character that the Royal City emanates from the century old buildings and remarkable landscapes. Of course, something this grand in scope cannot be completed in a single post, so I will bring this to you in segments. Each will look at a different aspect of New Westminster.

City By The River

The alarm didn’t go off. I rolled my head to the side and squinted at the clock. 7am. Why am I up at 7am? I began to stretch, my muscles screaming with rage, and walked over to the window. For a moment my brain tried to piece together what it saw, which was next to nothing. My usual crowded view of the SkyTrain bridge was obscured by thick fog tinged with a golden yellow from the emerging sun. My mind tried to rush the waking process, urgently telling the rest of my body that it needed to jump into action. I threw clothes on, grabbed my camera and rushed out the door. My first destination was the top of the Front Street parkade where I could get a better view. I anxiously waited for the elevator on the third floor of my building, thinking about how I would capture the fog. I descended to the basement and got in the car. I start the engine and slide into reverse, apologizing to the car as we rolled backwards. “I’m sorry girl, I know I should warm you up first.”

I was off down Royal Avenue on route to the parkade, mentally calculating plans of attack. Aperture and shutter speeds came to mind. Composition interrupted. It all had to be pushed aside. I was there, my car parked at an angle in the middle of the top level. I looked out the window in the direction of the bridges, which were covered in a thick formation of fog. My body shook with pure adrenaline. I jumped out of my seat, camera in hand, everything quickly dissolving from thought. I rushed to the edge of the parkade and looked down to see a tug pulling a hefty load of wood up the river towards the east. My head shook from side to side surveying the situation, looking for a new shooting location.

A tug hard at work on the Fraser. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar
A tug hard at work on the Fraser. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

As I looked below, the new pier project came to mind. My eyes scanned the scattered mess that has characterized the river side for many years and I smiled at the thought of change. Quickly jumping back into my car, I took off towards the rail bridge that crosses to the other side of the river. There I knew I would find a pair of tug companies where I could park and find a suitable shooting angle – hopefully before the boat reached my location.

I drove to my destination, heart racing and hands shaking with excitement. I felt like Speed Racer in the classic cartoon, with rays of light flashing past my eyes as I sped down the iconic Front Street – well known to any movie aficionado for its dreary back alley look that I love so much. It’s just another example of the character that pours out of every corner of this fair city.

Arriving in the boat company lot, shots and settings still running through my head, I left the car running and rushed out to begin sighting my shot. I looked through the viewfinder of my Rebel XSi at the eerie sky-train bridge emerging from a thick fog as if it were a highway to the heavens.

I snapped away, not content to wait for my ideal shot to arrive. Down the river I saw the tug making its way up to me. My lens bounced from perspective to perspective, grabbing every possible composition that I could think of on the fly. As the tug boat arrived, I repeated my process and got a plethora of angles. Soon the boat had disappeared from view, leaving me behind to look through the display screen at my success.

Fraser Cemetery. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar
Fraser Cemetery. Photo: Brad Watson-Davelaar

I decided I had taken a decent number of photos and started the drive home, talking my girlfriend’s ear off about how much I love this city. Babbling like a gleeful little girl, I made my way down Richmond Street and looked to my left side. I couldn’t help but notice the fog blanketing Fraser Cemetery. Mid-conversation, I reared off to the side of the road with yet another target in mind. The thick cloud hugging the plots and head stones demonstrated the beauty that can still exist in a place meant for eternal rest. I had to be careful where I stepped, so as to avoid disrespecting the deceased, as I made my way through the cemetery, capturing one beautiful image after another.

I finished up and left behind the misty graveyard, no doubt any photographer’s bucket shot. As I made my way home I knew what I had to do. I had to share my love for a city forgotten.

Recollections of Childhood in Moody Park in the 1950’s

Recently, we have had some excellent posts here on Tenth to the Fraser by New Westminster resident, historian and Friend of the “New Westminster Museum and Archives” Ken Wilkinson. Based on some survey results and the readership statistics, I know that Ken’s articles are popular and anticipated by our readers.

To add to this genre, I will be posting an occasional guest post from my father, Richard Tomkinson, who was born here in the Royal City in 1943 and was, with his brother Robert, the 3rd generation of New Westminster Tomkinsons. These recollections of childhood have as their epicenter, 1040 7th Ave, a house removed only 3 years ago, across from Lord Kelvin Elementary and just next to the pool area of Moody Park.

I have edited what began as an interview format, into a narrative so any deficiencies in fact or style are all mine. Likewise, I have kept all of the best of the source material, so any lighthearted word or turn of phase must also be attributed to the source.
– Will Tomkinson, Ed.

Email, 1940's style ... Birth announcements via telegram announcing Richard & Robbie's arrivals.

My memory of growing up around Lord Kelvin school and Moody Park area was mostly of unrestricted roaming and fun, with groups of boys and girls from the post-war baby boom filling the neighbourhood houses.  Younger kids would move through the back lanes, neighbourhood streets, over back fences and through yards and the neighbourhood streets in packs, older kids in groups of 4 or in pairs.

This was all without supervision of course, at any age, but there was a curfew for children in the 50s. I seem to remember there was a horn that blew meaning that you were supposed to be at home rather that at roam. I don’t remember the source of the horn but I seem to recall that it was in the east of the park, as it sounded fairly far off. Moody Park itself was ever popular in the summer when the Kiwanis pool was open. I remember the pool’s opening day but I am not sure exactly when that was. (Editor’s note: I suspect this was in 1947 but I have not been able to confirm this.) Of course in later years we all had the adventure of struggling over the fence for a midnight swim. In the park, the playground was a big draw, as it still is, but lacked any hovering parents. During late fall as the huge towers of leaves from the many trees were often piled up, which were great fun.

The Author, circa 1947

Hard to imagine now, but great fun was the circus that regularly visited in the 50’s. That was always exciting and an adventure opportunity. Circus came for a week sometimes, other times for two days. In the beginning it was a real big circus with many tents, rides, animals etc. As time went by it got less and less. Mostly the circus set up in the high ground opposite and away from Kelvin school. Seems to me they set up once in the north field but it was boggy and had mosquitoes. Actually the north field was probably responsible for all the mosquitoes for a mile around. Yes, some enterprising kids would get jobs from the circus hands. Kids got jobs, I got 25 cents here and there for little jobs while they set up and tore down. During the winter and into the spring the north side always flooded, sometimes dangerously, and often in the winter provided a very large skating rink. We would be cautioned not to cross the ice on our way home from Lester Pearson Junior High. Did we listen? Kids today, just like kids in the 1950’s.

Richard as a teenager in New West, circa 1959

With so many kids around, you would have thought there may have been some neighborhood rivalry but there was not much of that. There was a gang on Nanaimo we battled with, that was about it. We also had a bunch of really smart kids in the general ‘hood, which did not mean they stayed out of trouble, but they were involved much more in sports. Box lacrosse, tennis, little league baseball, soccer, girl’s softball, and junior softball kept many kids and young adults coming to Moody Park.  Mostly kids would go to sports on their own except for little league which had a lot of parent involvement, and was the site of quite a number of adult punch-ups. Then, as now, lawn bowling kept the seniors in ‘whites’.

In the spring, I remember using the park for practice on May Day poles or with batons. This was before Hyack had the profile it has now. Back then it applied to the Anvil Battery only. The park was also a place for city youth programs and Young Life meetings at Century House. As a youth I remember those meetings and hanging out in the late evening in the playground just barely on the safe side of aggression which was often in play. I learned to run real fast at just the right moment, probably not much different than most of today’s young ones. On the other side of aggression was the first kiss and a lot of confusion.

By the time the city’s 100th anniversary came around in 1959, I was 16 and had a lot of other things on my mind other than 7th street and the park. Band, cars, school etc…. but I will always remember the scary long walk through the park coming home from band practice. Even today the shadows threaten, but never did I actually have an event to regret.