Emilio’s Deli a friendly, family-run ‘be yourself’ kind of deli

Tony Sr. is proud that his son Niko wants to help serve the public and Niko is amazed at all the nice people on the Waterfront in New Westminster. Photo: Ken Wilkinson
Tony Sr. is proud that his son Niko wants to help serve the public and Niko is amazed at all the nice people on the Waterfront in New Westminster. Photo: Ken Wilkinson

With summer beginning, families are starting to enjoy Downtown New Westminster and the Waterfront and exploring the River Market. A very friendly family at Emilio’s Deli is really making people smile, reintroducing them to the Market and starting to introduce themselves. People smell the fresh variety of cheeses and meats, but the also see and hear the friendly father and his sons getting to know people.

Tony Sr. is a very warm-hearted man with a wide range of interesting experiences in his life. He’s watched and learned from his family through his entire life about delis and cooking and has always enjoyed it. Tony “loves the public” and wanted to find a way to show and enjoy what he’s learned and create what he calls a “family-oriented, be yourself kind of deli” for people to enjoy and for him to enjoy as well. With that great spirit he’s worked together with Donald’s and the River Market to create Emilio’s Deli (named after Tony Sr.’s father Emilio), so the legacy of his father could live on through Tony and his sons.

Tony Sr., along with his sons Niko and Tony Jr. are building a fresh and diverse variety of meats and cheeses for the public to enjoy. The whole family wants people to tell them what they enjoy and they are having fun together working towards their goal. One thing that Tony Sr. knew people liked were “nice, fresh and hefty sandwiches made individually for people.” To make them best, Tony hasn’t got a list of sandwiches. He meets people and finds out directly from each person individually and makes them what they want for a great price.

As well as Tony Sr., Tony Jr. and Niko are a key part of Emilio’s Deli. Niko is a young man learning quickly and enjoys working with his dad. Niko loves the Waterfront in New Westminster because he is “amazed at the good people around here – everyone is so nice.” People are very special to Niko, so working with his Dad and meeting all the nice people is making him excited. He has many ideas about how to help more people enjoy Emilio’s Deli and so Niko and Tony Jr. work constantly with their Dad to learn about the meats and cheeses and find out what people want. Along with Tony and the boys, Tony Sr.’s girlfriend Roberta also likes to help out when she can to enjoy people.

The boys help people understand and enjoy the variety of flavors Emilio’s offer and they also are learning about the unique combinations of meats and cheeses that different people enjoy. Together the whole family wants people to come down to Emilio’s to meet them and enjoy the food. The family is smiling because “people are starting to phone for party trays,” “sandwich platters are on the way” and want to thank all the people for their great support. “Specials are on the way!” according to the whole family.

Emilio’s Deli is easy to find. They’re just inside the door of Donald’s Market. They want to work together to help and enjoy all the new vendors starting up now or coming soon to the River Market. As Tony Sr. puts it, he “enjoys everyone and enjoys watching them enjoy the great stuff he provides at the deli” and as Niko says, he wants people to “Give us a chance and you be the Judge.” Emilio’s Deli is a yummy and friendly place for people to enjoy the waterfront and explore the many new and tasty combinations of meats, cheeses and sandwiches. Tony and his family help the personality of the waterfront emerge in a new way, while helping the great family spirit of New Westminster live on as it has for 150 years.

Meet J.J. Johnston: New Westminster’s ‘Mr. May Day’

The crowning of May Queen Elsie Hogg in 1925 by the 1924 May Queen Ester Elofson. Mr. May Day J.J. Johnston is the man standing to the left of her and the Master of Ceremonies that year, J.J. Cambridge is to her right
The crowning of May Queen Elsie Hogg in 1925 by the 1924 May Queen Ester Elofson. Mr. May Day J.J. Johnston is the man standing to the left of her and the Master of Ceremonies that year, J.J. Cambridge is to her right

New Westminster is a proud and busy place this week. As the Hyack Festival proudly begins its 40th year of celebrating the city, children around the city are busy practicing how to folk dance and dance together around May Poles to celebrate May Day on May 25th. Ambassadors are preparing, volunteers are working hard and everyone in the city is looking forward to the wonderful celebrations. As parents and grandparents watch their children and smile, memories are rich within their minds. For some of the older people in the city, a name and face who embodied those celebrations for almost 100 years might come to mind. “Mr. May Day”, J.J. Johnston is proudly remembered as a symbol of the events and celebration of youth in New Westminster.

The first May Day took place in Sapperton in 1870. A celebration organized by the Hyack Engine Company , it was to appreciate the children of the city and celebrate how those young citizens could proudly use their energy to help the young city grow and mature along with those children. William and Elizabeth Johnston helped organize and attended that first May Day. With them was their newly born son, John Joseph. Soon to be known as J.J., throughout his life their son embodied the birth, growth and pride of New Westminster that May Day came to represent. Through his 96 years in New Westminster, J.J. Johnston attended every May Day celebration, was actively involved in many of them. So much so, to the people of our city he became known as “Mr. May Day”.

J.J. Johnston proudly attending May Day in 1965 at aged 95. A severe illness kept him from the 1966 May Day, but he was brought things to celebrate and died within that week
J.J. Johnston proudly attending May Day in 1965 at aged 95. A severe illness kept him from the 1966 May Day, but he was brought things to celebrate and died within that week

As he grew up, J.J. Johnston was vibrantly involved in the city along with his parents, 8 siblings and extended family. He met and helped people around New Westminster, worked throughout the city in his youth and by 1906 he started an Insurance and Real Estate company that he kept involved with until he was in his 90s. In 1907 Mr. Johnston was elected to council and he served as Mayor from 1920 to 1923. During that time he became an active member of the May Day committee each year to organize the celebrated events. Through the years he shared his memories through of the early May Days with many people, helping build an understanding and appreciation of the event. In a 1949 interview with Vic Andrew, Mr. May Day expressed his fondness by stating he “could become a kid for a day”, every year. As the ‘perennial General Chairman’ and Master of Ceremonies alternatively with J.J. Cambridge for many years at May Day, children in New Westminster first came to know him as Mr. May Day. As those children grew up with him being part of the event through their lives, the yearly celebration and the name became synonymous with J.J. Johnston.

Through the years, along with youth, May Day in New Westminster became a celebration of the heritage and pride of people within the city. As J.J. Johnston aged through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Mr. May Day was saluted and thanked for his contributions to the growth and pride of the city. As Master of Ceremonies in 1950, May Queen Patricia D’Arcy presented a cane to Mr. May Day, from the children of New Westminster in appreciation to his 80 year contribution to all the May Days in the city. In 1955 J.J. Johnston was given the honour of “Freeman of the City of New Westminster” by council for his services and 50 years ago at the 1961 May Day, he was celebrated and thanked by all the children, with his cane to help him stand. After his death in 1966, J.J. Johnson was honoured with a tribute at a special meeting of council on May 21, 1967 and a special memorial to Mr. May Day was built in Queen’s Park that remains today.

 

Meet the historian devoted to the Samson V

Historian Mark MacKenzie, caretaker of the Samson V museum.
Historian Mark MacKenzie, caretaker of the Samson V museum.

Many afternoons or weekends over the past 12 years living on the Quay, I have seen amazement on the faces of children and elderly people pointing out on the river as they share tales of the past with a very knowledgeable person at one very special point on the waterfront. The place is the Samson V and the person is Mark MacKenzie, the smart man who devotes himself to the care of this wonderful ship.

I recently spent several afternoons on board the Samson V with Mark  to learn more about the fire that threatened the ship back in 1955. As Mark and I walked around on board, he proudly shared the evolving history and duties of the Samsons that have paddled on the Fraser for 130 years. Some of the equipment on board has lasted for many decades. Equipment visible in pictures of earlier Sampsons is out on the deck of the Samson V today. As he worked to clean the deck, Mark often pointed to cast or forged iron pieces that were built for earlier Samsons. He explained to me how the Samson pulled logs that drifted down the Fraser during spring thaws  from the sand on the banks to protect fishboats or tugs. The Samson V was used to dredge the Fraser for large ships crossing the Pacific to and from the wood mills and for importing and exporting goods from the Pacific Coast Terminals (where the Quay is now). Earlier Samsons helped launch many ships over the years from Star Shipyards in Queensborough as well as large First World War ships from Poplar Island in 1917.

Inside we climbed down around the boiler. Mark showed me the first growth cedar frame within the hull with the creosote-treated oversized beams that were fitted first before being treated to ensure a perfect and strong fit. He shared stories from former crew members and families about how different parts were improved, damaged and repaired over the years. He showed me the Samson V’s event logs and spoke of them with a working knowledge like no one else alive today.

Mark and I sat down on the top deck to chat about the fire in 1955 that caused great damage to the ship. The fire department purposely submerged the Samson in the Fraser to stop the fire. Mark explained to me all of the work that went into repairing the superstructure of the Samson, replacing the boiler and some of the hull and frame as well. He explained the long and drawn-out process to get the Samson working again. Later, I went to the New Westminster Museum & Archives and saw the huge expenses of well over $50,000 to repair the Samson so that she could proudly continue her work on the Fraser for another 20 years until 1980. As we walked and climbed around the ship, Mark pointed out many examples of the work done to restore the Samson. There are portions of the ship that have survived for almost 75 years and others that were made for earlier vessels years before that.

I always enjoy asking questions of Mark that I know will get him smiling. He loves to speak of the captains and crew who worked on Samsons and the great evolution of the ships over 100 working years. Mark shares pictures, documents and stories with me with an expertise like no one alive today. There is a great pride in his voice as Mark speaks of how he is able to help work and preserve the last floating example of a steam powered snag boat paddlewheeler in Canada and how she serves as one of the only surviving examples of the fleet of Public Works vessels that served so important a role on the Fraser River and on the West Coast of Canada.

I’ve never met anyone with the pride, knowledge and hope for the future that Mark shows for the Samsons. There’s only one thing that Mark Mackenzie does not speak of, but to me is just as important. That one thing is the honor that Mark should feel for being the most knowledgeable expert on the working ships of the Fraser and the work they’ve done for so long. I am proud to be able to know him and learn from him in my regular visits to the Samson V. I so very much hope that people around the city and on the river recognize this unique expert knowledge and continue to allow Mark to share it like he has done for so long and so does so well every day with so many people.

What does ‘Hyack’ mean anyway?

The Anvil Battery now, with the bright red uniforms from Hyack Company #1 (Photo: Will Tomkinson)
The Anvil Battery now, with the bright red uniforms from Hyack Company #1 (Photo: Will Tomkinson)

For almost 14O years, thousands of New Westminsterites have enjoyed celebrations like May Day, the famous Ancient Hyack Anvil Battery, parades down our main streets and the crowning of Miss New Westminster.  The Hyack Festival Association continues these New Westminster traditions that many people have enjoyed for their whole lives, introduces them to new generations and shares them with people from around the world. People enjoying the festivities and the city often wonder what the word ‘Hyack’ means and how it became such an important part of the language of New Westminster.

Throughout the 19th Century as Europeans began settling up and down the West Coast from Northern California to what would become B.C., they traded, worked with and learned from aboriginal people about the lands. Communication was often difficult because of the different languages of aboriginal people and the settlers. Throughout that time, a common language emerged to help the people communicate more successfully that took words from various languages and developed into what came to be known as Chinook Jargon. Although the exact origin of many of the words is unknown, many of them became very much a part of the common language used by settlers. Many Common phrases used at the time are still in use today or had things named for them. For example, Tyee meant a leader, Kimtah was looking back, a Skukumchuck was a strong waterway and Cultus meant worthless. Another important word in Chinook Jargon was Hyack, that meant swift, fast or to hurry up.

The Hyack Company #1 Band, celebrating with the Fire King on Columbia Street in the early years (IHP 0086)
The Hyack Company #1 Band, celebrating with the Fire King on Columbia Street in the early years (IHP 0086)

As the Royal Engineers and others in New Westminster started building the new town in the 1850s and 1860s, one of earliest and most important groups to be established was a volunteer fire department. In 1861, the “Hyack Company #1” was given its name to inspire the more than 50 men who volunteered to be part of a swift group who would hurry up when they were called into action. The motto of the brigade was “ready, aye, ready” that was inscribed in their headquarters on the north side of Columbia Street, just east what is now Sixth Street. Nearly 30 people were required to operate their original piece of equipment, the “Fire King”, a large hand operated pump bought in 1863. Any one person could only operate it about 10 minutes, but in the early years of New Westminster, it was said that the “work was completed by those Skukum (Chinook Jargon for Strong) volunteers in their battles with the fire fiend” (an unidentified Fire Chief in the early 20th Century, from the New Westminster Museum and Archives).

As part of the very first Victoria Day celebrations, New Westminster residents wanted a 21 gun salute to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday on May 24. Because no cannons had arrived in the city to fire the salute early, the Hyack Company used gunpowder between anvils to fire the salute. As New Westminster residents know, the Ancient Hyack Anvil Battery became a very important part of celebrations that survive now. The bright red uniforms that people see worn today for the Anvil Battery are a representation of the original dress uniforms worn by the Hyack Company #1. Some say that the swiftness of the Anvil Battery may also be why the name Hyack became associated with the events.

A celebration of the Hyack Anvil Battery from about 110 years ago (IHP0480)
A celebration of the Hyack Anvil Battery from about 110 years ago (IHP0480)

The proud Hyack Company became a very important part of other city events early on in the history of New Westminster. When the Fire King arrived in 1863, many of the members of the Royal Engineers Band were part of the volunteer firefighters, so dressed in their uniforms and performed for the residents to celebrate. They later became known as the Hyack Band, so when May Day began in 1870, they became a very important part of the celebrations. Ever since then, the band, the Anvil Battery and other parts of the original Hyack Company #1 became recognized and acknowledged as a key part of all the events each May, with their uniforms being a representation of the history of the festivities.

After 100 years of celebrating the special events each May, the Hyack Festival Association was established in 1971 to preserve the historical spirit of the events and to organize them into a full and rich celebration of New Westminster. The name was taken as a remembrance to the Hyack Company #1 and their historic significance in the city. The Association’s endeavours have preserved the name and helped keep the meaning and significance of the Chinook Jargon and keep the word within the language of New Westminster ever since the first settlers arrived and carry it on into the future.

Remembering New Westminster’s heroes

The Armouries, an important building in the history of New Westminster (from The Royal Westminster Regiment)
The Armouries, an important building in the history of New Westminster (from The Royal Westminster Regiment)

New Westminster’s annual Remembrance Day Ceremony will be Thursday, November 11, 2010 at the Royal Westminster Regiment Armoury. People are asked to assemble by 9:30 a.m. at the Armoury, and the ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. Overflow seating is available at nearby Queen’s Avenue United Church. Following the ceremony, there will be a procession to the Cenotaph in front of City Hall, where two minutes of silence will be observed at 11am.

For many younger people, it can be harder to understand the importance of Remembrance Day because fewer Veterans are left surviving from times of war. Over the past 50 years, New Westminster’s residents have not had as many friends and relatives who have gone to war for our country and brought those experiences home to share, and knew people who have been lost in war.

Throughout my life I have met many Veterans, been touched deeply by their stories, as well as learning of the long and diverse history of The Royal Westminster Regiment (the oldest Unit in B.C.) and our Armouries, so this week I will share the stories of a few special heroes and look briefly at the story of a very special place on Queen’s Avenue.

Over the past 150 years, thousands of people have protected New Westminster, and fought, served and died elsewhere around the world during several times of war, since the time Queen Victoria sent the Royal Engineers here to protect the Fraser River. After they finished their duty in 1863, about 55 of the soldiers who remained here came together with some civilians to establish the New Westminster Volunteer Rifles. They protected the city and built the Armouries building on Queen’s Avenue in the 1890s. It survived the 1898 fire and served as a hospice for people whose homes were lost while the city was rebuilt. In 1910, the Rifles became the 104th Fusiliers of Canada and trained people from around the area during the First World War with 2 Battalions. They became the Westminster Regiment in 1924 and served throughout World War II and shortly after served an important part in securing the city during the floods of 1948. They became the Royal Westminster Regiment in 1967 and been maintained as a reserve Battalion since that time.

Corporal Filip Konowal, World War I Victoria Cross winner (official portrait by Arthur Ambrose McEvoy)
Corporal Filip Konowal, World War I Victoria Cross winner (official portrait by Arthur Ambrose McEvoy)

The Victoria Cross is the highest award granted to a very small number of Commonwealth soldiers (about 1350 since 1856) for very special courage in duty. Three people serving New Westminster have been granted the Victoria Cross during World War I and World War II. The first person serving New Westminster to win was Corporal Filip Konowal, for his bravery in France in 1917. He was a Ukranian-born soldier, who emigrated here just before World War I. He was trained in New Westminster as part of the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces and was one of 6500 men from around New Westminster deployed to serve in Europe between 1916-1918. Cpl. Konowal was leading a section of soldiers near Flanders on August 22, 1917 during a very difficult time mopping cellars and houses to provide protection for others. Cpl. Konowal was an expert in quickly dealing with difficult situations underground, and on 3 different occasions in 24 hours he stormed forward into dangerous situations and killed at least 16 enemy soldiers continuously to gain protected land until he was severely wounded. For this amazing work he was awarded the Victoria Cross later that year. Unfortunately, Filip Konowal’s injuries took several years to recover from and he eventually moved to Hull, Quebec where he died in 1959.

Major Jack Mahoney, who stood strong for the Westminster Regiment
Major Jack Mahoney, who stood strong for the Westminster Regiment

During the Second World War, two people born and raised in New Westminster were awarded the Victoria Cross. The first one was Major John Keefer Mahony, a company commander with the Westminster Regiment at the River Melta in Italy in the spring of 1944. Commanded to secure a line across the river on May 24, Maj. Mahony led his company across and survived assaults from German guns on 3 sides throughout the day and into the evening. He held strong with injuries and maintained his company as it weakened. They finally drove back the German guns and secured the river for other Commonwealth soldiers to cross. For his incredible fortitude and disregard of his own condition, Maj. Mahony was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI in July of 1944. When he arrived home to New Westminster, Maj. Mahony was proudly welcomed and honoured. He continued in the Army to become a Lt. Col, working across the country with youth.  He died in 1990 in London, Ontario.

Pte. Earnest A. “Smokey” Smith, a proud and humorous New Westminsterite (IHP0846)
Pte. Earnest A. “Smokey” Smith, a proud and humorous New Westminsterite (IHP0846)

Perhaps the most well-known New Westminster Winner of the Victoria Cross is Private Ernest “Smokey” Smith. Born in New Westminster in 1914, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders in 1942 and was deployed to Italy. On the night of October 21, 1944,  Pte. Smith was part of an infantry force spearheading an attck over the Savio River during bad rains. Pte. Smith fought hard to wreck a Nazi tank, then moved out to drive the German soldiers in it away, helped a fallen comrade and protected the river courageously all night. For this work, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. After he returned, “Smokey” Smith’s great sense of humor lent well to him becoming a figurehead for Veterans and Remembrance Day in New Westminster, British Columbia and across the country for nearly 60 years. He told his story well, remembered his fallen friends and laughed with everyone. He was later awarded the Order of B.C., The Order of Canada and upon his death 5 years ago “Smokey” Smith was celebrated for his many years of work. His last words to Colin Stevens in July, 2005 were “You’re all invited to my Funeral”.

Hopefully hearing the stories of great courage and service by these people through the years will help some of you understand Remembrance Day better. I know I will think of the people  I’ve met and learned about over the years. I will also think of the soldiers from the Royal Westminster Regiment who continue to serve in the war in Afghanistan. In my research for this article I learned  Master Corporal Colin Basin, a soldier from Abbotsford serving the Royal Westminster Regiment , died in service in 2007.  I will think of him this Thursday.

Ken Wilkinson is a founding member of the Friends of New Westminster Museum & Archives Society, which aims to help more people learn about the unique and vibrant history of our community and region.

Poplar Island: A History as Thick and Colorful as the Trees

Poplar Island and the original trees before 1890 as New Westminster grows in the background (NWPL-1912 Web Database)
Poplar Island and the original trees before 1890 as New Westminster grows in the background (NWPL-1912 Web Database)

People looking down to the Fraser River from the West End and enjoying beautiful views from the River Walk at Port Royal or the Esplanade at Westminster Quay always notice the cottonwood trees growing tall and wild on Poplar Island. It appears untouched by anyone, but it actually has a long history. Many things, people and struggles have lived for 150 years on or about the unique island.

150 years ago, when the Royal Engineers first arrived in what was to become New Westminster, they found a strong community that had successfully been living here for thousands of years.  To establish the new colonial capital Col. Richard Moody chose to segregate these people, known as the “New Westminster Indian Band” by Col. Moody and now the “Qayqayt”, to one of 3 places called “rancheries” . One of the rancheries was located on a small island on the North Arm of the Fraser River just downstream of the new community. Col. Moody named it Poplar Island for the trees that grew on it. The Colonial Government maintained this and many other rancheries as reservations until B.C. joined Canada in 1871.  The reservations were then turned over to the administration of the Federal Dominion of Canada.

Unfortunately, with the European settlers in B.C. (and throughout North America) came diseases such as smallpox causing several epidemics that affected the native population. As settlement spread up the Fraser River an epidemic occurred in 1889. Because it was not connected to any other part of New Westminster, Poplar Island was chosen as a place to quarantine smallpox victims.   In July, New Westminster Mayor John Hendry reported to council that “prompt steps had been taken to prevent the spread” and that a “good hospital had been created on Poplar Island to which patients as far as known had been removed” (City Minutes-July, 1889). $100 was spent to build the hospital.  It is believed that many native people from around Vancouver were transported to Poplar Island during the epidemic and many may have been buried there. Because of its association with smallpox, most residents of New Westminster looked sadly upon Poplar Island and it was ignored and became uninhabited for a number of years.

The War Comox being launched from Poplar Island by the Samson III in April of 1918. The War Edenshaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen were also built on Poplar Island (from Samson V Museum Collection)
The War Comox being launched from Poplar Island by the Samson III in April of 1918. The War Edenshaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen were also built on Poplar Island (from Samson V Museum Collection)

During the First World War, a place was needed to build War Ships in New Westminster. Most of the waterfront was already used for mills and shipping, so New Westminster Construction and Engineering was founded in 1917 and within a month, they had totally cleared Poplar Island, built a rough foot bridge across from the foot of 14th Street and built a working shipyard for the Imperial Munitions Board. Four warships were built in the next year and launched from Poplar Island. About 600 workers earned $4-10 daily and built some more coal carriers for France shortly after the war. Because the island easily flooded, not much more work was done to continue industrializing it. From Port Royal and the Quay today, part of the dock where the ships were all launched from can still be seen at the Eastern end of Poplar Island.

A Fisheries warden lived on the island but in 1940, the city zoned Poplar Island for industrial use and the city bought it in 1945. Not many ideas came up, so in 1948 the city sold the entire Island for $20,000 to Rayonier Canada Forestry. For about 50 years tall trees grew back on the island as big booms of logs were anchored around it while they waited to be processed at the lumber and paper mills around Poplar Island. Much discussion about what the use of it might be and native land claims were discussed and so Western Forest Products sold the Island back to the Province of British Columbia in 1995 to be preserved.

Not much more has been done to decide how to use Poplar Island because of its history. It is now the only large Island on the North Arm of the Fraser that remains without dikes. It was suggested as a connection point for a pedestrian bridge between Port Royal and Downtown without decision a few years ago, homeless people took up residence about 5 years ago for a while and treaty negotiations have continued. Poplar Island is now mainly a place that people look upon in contrast to all the busy and rapidly changing places that surround it.