What were your first impressions of New Westminster

This is the first in a new weekly series on Tenth to the Fraser. Every Wednesday we’ll publish a post that’s meant to spark conversation about New Westminster. You can participate by sharing your thoughts in the comments on the blog, Facebook or Twitter, writing a post on your own blog (just link to this post and a link to your post will show up in the comments) or submitting a guest post. To submit an idea for discussion, email info at tenthtothefraser.ca.

This week’s topic is first impressions.

First impressions count. But they don’t always stick. What were your first impressions of New Westminster? Has your opinion changed over time?

Here are my two bits:

My first impressions of New Westminster were formed in childhood. I went to a Montessori elementary school in Coquitlam, and there I met two sisters with long blonde hair, Caitlin and Brianna. They fascinated me for three reasons:

  1. Caitlin, the elder sister, led a pack of girls in a schoolyard gang called “The Unicorns.” The chief activity of this group was to run around chasing boys around the playground. This amazed me.
  2. Brianna, the younger sister, was my age. She had almost the same hair colour and almost the same name. Whoa.
  3. They lived in ‘in a mansion’ in a faraway land called New Westminster, where they had neighbours who had even bigger mansions. We didn’t have mansions in my part of Coquitlam. I had never even heard of the word.

I imagined New Westminster to be a foreign kingdom, with a population that lived exclusively in mansions. I thought it must be a secret, small treasure, because I had never set foot there – only driven by. My direct experience of New Westminster was limited to two signs, which seemed alarmingly close together: Welcome to New Westminster, followed by Now Leaving New Westminster.

Eventually, I learned that there was more to New Westminster than Queen’s Park and the entrance/exit signs. After high school, I went to college in New Westminster and began exploring the downtown. At the time there was more of an arty vibe to the downtown. I hung out at the sadly short-lived New Westminster Arts Club, a drop-in art studio and coffee shop. I also frequented Full Spectrum, an art supply store that later metamorphosed into Paper Poet, selling cardmaking supplies to DIY brides. I enjoyed cheap movies at the old theatres that used to be near the London Drugs uptown.  I found love in the Douglas College atrium and got my heart broken in Tipperary Park. I drank coffee at the Quay and stumbled upon a meeting of a Vancouver Pagan meetup group at the Paddlewheeler Pub (likely drawn here by the now-closed witchy occult store Aunt Agatha’s. I saw New Westminster as a bohemian college town, because I was something of a college boho myself.

We can’t help but judge the city by our personal experience of it. I came back to New West as a newlywed on the mommy track, and I see New West as an affordable city (by Lower Mainland standards) with immense potential in the throes of change. Now that I live here I see another side as well, the sometimes intense community bonds. It sometimes feels almost like a 60,000-person-strong extended family, complete with family squabbles and even feuds.

But in the end, I think I had it right when I was a schoolgirl. New West really is a treasure.


15 Replies to “What were your first impressions of New Westminster”

  1. When we first moved to the Lower Mainland in 2001, our first impression of New West was, as I've heard others say, a place to drive through as we were going someplace else. In our case, this was between our rental in Coquitlam and the Tsawwassen Ferry.

    When we were looking for a townhouse to buy in 2003, we were unable to find anything in Vancouver we could afford and were less than pleased with places we had looked at in Burnaby and Coquitlam. Everything felt so far away! We wanted to live in a walkable community. At the time, I was involved with a program at Douglas College and one night decided to go up 6th St to 6th Avenue because there was construction on Brunette. I got home and immediately told my partner "We need to look at New West!" Three weeks later we bought our fabulous townhouse across from Queens Park and were thrilled to live there until the coming of our second child forced us to look for more space. The only criteria we gave our realtor, other than number of rooms and bathrooms, was that it needed to be in New West! It took us a while, but we found the perfect house in the West End and have happily settled into the family friendly community.

    I love that I can walk just about anywhere, we have great accessibility to transit and fantastic local shops. It's its own city without being one big suburb. And my grandparents honeymooned here back in the 1940s. So it must be great!

    1. I agree and that is an Economic positive. All they need down their is to promote catering businesses, halls, limo's, commissioners, (Lorrie Williams,where is your business?) Heritage Photo settings (Michael Boncea, are you listening?) and related wedding businesses. We would then have a complete service which would bring ALL potential marriages to New West.
      Come on Mitchell Edgar (Economic Developement manager) lets get it going!!! Let's get something going!

      1. When we got married in 2005, we did our best to keep everything as local as possible: wedding at St. Peter's; afternoon reception at (the then) Robson Manor; rehearsal dinner at La Spaghetteria; after dinner at the Boathouse; dress from Lisa's; flowers from Queen's Park florist; a local photographer and make-up/hair person; and most of our out of town guests stayed at the Inn at the Quay. Everyone was fabulous and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any and all of them.

      2. John as you know I have been for years trying to promote buy in New Westminster idea.

        We (that is my Photography Company BonceaImages.com Photography) spend as a example as you are well aware a very large part of everything we earn to sponsor many New Westminster and local Non-Profit Organizations from Hyack Festival to Spirit of BC New Westminster, from Arts Council of New Westminster to Quayside Community Board just to name a few Organizations.

        We need more people to support our local Community Companies that are active in our Community so we will be able to sponsor even more Local Organizations! Without the Local Community support from both Individuals and Businesses we will not be able to continue supporting as many of our local Community groups like we are currently. Just think who will support our Community Non-Profit Groups when the Small Independent Local Community Family Businesses will no longer exist?

        If you need me to help you out John in any shape or form to get a Support our New Westminster Local Businesses Organization count me in.

  2. My first impression: After years of living in Ontario, I was finally home. I had settled in a place that reminded me of my orginal hometown – St. John's, Newfoundland. I loved the fact that it had hills – even though I was pushing a 2 1/2 year old up them in a stoller- it had wood Victorian homes, a historic park and the River ( a good substitute for a harbour) that was straight out of a scene from the Beachcombers. Columbia Street was an interesting place back then. 14 years ago it was gritty and a little seedy, but it had little gems like the Royal City Cafe. Unfortunately, it also had the Honduran drug trade. It was an interesting day when I was pushing my daughter in the stroller after a trip to the Salvation Army Thrift store and there was a take down in front of us. Try explaining to a 2 1/2 year old why the police were strip searching a man on the street in front of us! Glad those days are gone and Columbia Street is on the rebound.

    1. Good for you for hanging in. The police do a great job in the City and have been very successful in cleaning up 12th Street as well.. I am sure uptown is now on their radar as that seems to be where the newest infestation of undesireables is.

  3. I moved to the Lower Mainland in 2008. My first impression of New West was that it reminded me of home. Home is Steeltown, aka Hamilton, Ont. Like Hamilton, New West is gritty and blue collar, but look closer and there is art, culture, community and beauty. This juxtaposition is the main reason I love New West, why I live here, why I'm getting married here, and why I call it my home.

  4. As a kid growing up in a bike shop in the Kootenays, any reference to New Westminster was around it being the location of Cap’s: without a doubt the biggest, best, baddest bike broker in BC. A riding buddy and I drove down in the summer of 1987 to buy bikes at Caps for our High School Graduation presents (he, a Fisher Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, me a Diamond Back Arrival).

    About a year later, my first move to the Big City was to an apartment on Royal Ave across from Douglas College, which I shared with my brother. He was articling downtown and I was working for a manufacturer in Burnaby, my main drivers were proximity to SkyTrain, affordable rent, pubs nearby, and our 4th floor apartment had a huge deck and view of the River. Looking back, I was 18-19 years old, working for a decent wage, and free in the Big City. Funny, I don’t remember where we bought groceries, but I do remember where we went to drink beer… Not a care in the world. Much like New Westminster itself, I was “in transition” at the time.

    Every time I walk past that apartment building, I can still see the scar on the underground garage entrance where the same buddy tried to drive under with the same Fisher Hoo-Koo-E-Koo on the roof rack.

  5. I moved to Vancouver from Kamloops in 1999. At some point that year, I drove through New Westminster from Coquitlam. I remember thinking as I drove down East Columbia in Sapperton, "Wow, this looks like a real town. A real place." (Unlike Surrey or even Burnaby where it seems to me there is no "there" there.)
    I got a job in New West in 2000 and worked in the office building on the Quay. I had a great view of the river. There was always something interesting to watch on the Fraser: seals during the oolichan run, fisherman, tugs towing giant log booms. Not long after getting a job in New West, I moved here. Something about New West just felt right the moment I saw it.

  6. My first impression of New Westminster was that it had history. I lived for a year across the river in Surrey. Whenever we crossed the Pattullo Bridge it felt we were heading to a "city", albeit a small one. There was Columbia Street, with its old brick buildings offering a hint of its former glory days. Back then, mid 90's, things seemed grittier and certainly not as welcoming. I would agree that New Westminster at that time was a stretch you drove through to get somewhere else. I'm glad to see that is somewhat changing.

  7. I moved to New West about 6 years ago, and snagged the last one-bedroom condo for under $100K in the Lower Mainland, over on Agnes St. 🙂 My strongest first memory was calling up BC Hydro to get hooked up, and being told I wasn't going to be a BC Hydro customer. Moment of profound dislocation ensued: am I not in BC anymore? Turned out that was only one of the many things that make New West unique.

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