New Westminster packs 60,000 people into just 15 square kilometres. Despite the skyscrapers and traffic jams, this city of ours still behaves like a small town. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the armory is a hugely popular civic event. We have just one high school. Our mayor is a jolly guy who drives an old Ford truck. And our MP, Peter Julian, is a friendly Salmonbellies fan who, like many of us, still carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder from 1868 when Victoria stole the title of B.C. capital from our town. His dad even wrote a book about it (entitled, “A Capital Controversy”).
Julian called us up a few weeks ago after seeing our blog and asked if we’d like to sit down and have a chat. We invited him over to our home and spent two hours talking about New West issues over a glass of red wine and a plate of crackers. We didn’t press him on political issues so much as try to get a sense of the man and his passion for this place. It was a cracking good conversation and more fun than a barrel of bonobos to a couple of folks like us who geek out on all things local.
It’s a Salmonbellies game in midsummer. It’s the Hyack Festival. It is going down 12th St and seeing five people you know. It’s getting 250 people at an all-candidates’ meeting or standing-room only for the civic election forum. It’s 2,500 people at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.
Julian has just begun incorporating social media into his campaign strategy through his Facebook page – and I suppose he can now add blogger relations to the list – but I think he prefers making connections with his constituents the old-fashioned way, through door-knocking and handshakes. Although recently Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan speculated that Julian might be a good candidate for an NDP premier here in B.C., Julian doesn’t feel called to that office (or at least not yet). When we quizzed him on his ambitions, Julian insisted that he loves his work serving New West and Burnaby as our MP and has no plans to pursue a leadership role with the NDP, saying,
These are not the kind of positions you decide on. You are called to it. If in 10 years my phone was ringing off the hook, maybe, but not now.
Back to the ‘Capital Controversy.’ Given the Julian family interest in the matter, it’s no surprise that one of the ideas Julian suggested would put New West on the map was to build a new museum and arts centre in the city’s downtown.
Julian believes such an attraction would draw tourists who are interested in B.C. history. And it is true that New Westminster’s history is really B.C.’s history, from the First Nations settlements to Judge Begbie’s reign at the law courts to Hollywood Hospital’s LSD experiments on celebrities to the Royal Westies‘ contribution in both World Wars.
We are museum buffs here at Tenth To The Fraser, so we like the idea of building a fitting home for the historical artifacts scattered among various small collections around the city. From the fabulous collection of military memorabilia currently housed at the armory (and practically impossible to see due to eccentric operating hours) to possibly even the Samson V , which cannot continue to float at the Quay forever, we already have some very interesting content for such a museum. As the geographical centre of the Lower Mainland and the first city in Western Canada, there is no better site.
A tribute to our history is a worthy thing, but we also need to think more creatively, more innovatively. New West is beset by many of the same problems as our neighbouring communities, but perhaps because we are so compact, so small-town, we feel the impact more greatly. Julian spoke quite convincingly of a need for provincial and federal relief for New Westminster, to fund badly needed infrastructure improvements, to provide adequate resources to assist the homeless and those living in poverty, and so on. I agree that is part of the solution, but one line from Barack Obama‘s campaign has been drumming in my head of late:
We are the change we seek.
It is such a simple statement, and yet so powerful. We are the change we seek. Our governments, local, provincial and federal, all have a role to play, but we must not shirk our individual responsibility to do whatever is in our power to realize the change we wish to see in our community. None of us alone can feed all who are hungry or house all who are homeless, but there is always something we can do. Take the initiative to paint over some graffiti or pick up some garbage, volunteer at the UGM , vote in your elections and above all connect with your community.