City of Small Havens

We live in trying times. Even though I’m more connected with my local community than ever before, my otherness keeps increasing. It’s the media, politics, economics, and the many -isms that falter but just won’t die. I fortunately am not directly affected by the international spectacle currently unfolding, but the resulting injustices along with the reactions to them that I see (especially the negative ones), replay constantly in my mind.

I feel helpless. I get incredibly frustrated, angry, jealous, and then I despair. When I’m feeling really low, I go to inclusive spaces that are welcoming, providing respite from the dark clouds I imagine gathering on the horizon. These places sustain me, allow me to regroup, to rise up another day. I’m lucky I can name three such spots right off the bat, all in New Westminster. Disclaimer – none of these places know that I love them this hard or that I decided to write about them.

How to recover from a long weekend ☝🏼

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  1. Old Crow Coffee – 655 Front Street

I’ve heard the coffee at Old Crow is exemplary, but I cannot confirm that myself. The tea I’ve had here is the perfect temperature and brew, but what really blows me away is how sheltered I feel. I’m already at a disadvantage being a furtive tea-drinker in a coffee shop, but the atmosphere at Old Crow makes me feel like I’m part of the rainbow of their tapestry. The pared-down space, their accommodation of the needs of patrons with two or four-legged companions, how unhurried yet deliberate the pace inside is, it’s like an insulating bubble from the world outside. I savour my time at Old Crow; it’s a bit of a hidden gem out on Front Street but every time I’ve gone inside, my instant regret is the amount of time I’ve let lapse between my visits.

These guys make some of the best sandwiches in town #newwest #leosfavorite

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  1. Greens and Beans Deli – 143 East Columbia Street

The feeling of belonging at Green’s and Beans is of a decidedly different nature than Old Crow. When I first started going here, I was incredibly intimidated. I’d be fumbling for my glasses and the Jeopardy theme would be playing, and finally I’d order one or three of a panicked-pick of a sandwich. Eventually I found my groove and my favourite sandwich, and relaxed enough to actually appreciate this place.

It’s unassuming, open early and some Fridays they make burgers. Their soups are divine. Leona, the owner, makes them from scratch and she probably has a dresser full of heirloom recipes somewhere. Her Thai-inspired chicken soup is worth fighting over; I’m sure people do, once the batch runs out but I’ve been lucky not to go there too late in the day. There’s also a scalloped potato soup, that has hits all the right comfort food notes, that has cured me of the blues more than once. I had a rough pregnancy last year, and a bad grief-inducing experience the year before, and Leona’s food, her ability to know when to play transit music and when to give peoples space to float by, really makes this place exceptional. Too often, I have felt like a faceless untethered nobody looking for a warm lunch, and that feeling evaporates when I’m at Greens and Beans. They know their clientele here, often by name, and they know their sandwiches.

I’m serious about the Jeopardy music though. Keep your glasses handy.

  1. Royal Columbian Hospital – 330 East Columbia Street

A hospital is not normally a place to recommend as a haven. In exceptional circumstances, however, if you do find yourself here, RCH, in my experience, is the most welcoming and inclusive hospital in the Lower Mainland.

A few years back, my father got incredibly sick. Once we had confirmed his diagnosis, he lived barely past the few months medical literature predicted he would. In the process of navigating the health care system during his illness, I got to sit and steep in a few different hospitals. The best one was RCH.

Don’t get me wrong, the standard of care in all the hospitals we visited was very high. Something about RCH sets it apart. I keep thinking back critically to my experience, and part of what makes RCH so good at what they do is the diversity of their staff itself. The doctors, nurses and social workers come from a large spectrum of backgrounds, and they connected from a place of compassion and respect regardless of who or what they perceived us to be. We weren’t just inconveniently ill strangers being ushered through a system; we were people going through a scary and tough time and they provided us the information, the tools and the support to come to terms with what was happening. Their ability to see us and embrace us as one of their own community, mattered a lot to us, and really makes a difference during a stressful hospital experience.


As I write this, bad news come to us from within our province’s borders as well as outside it. These are indeed trying times, but I feel so incredibly fortunate to be weathering this strange year in the inclusive supportive corners of this city, our city, New Westminster, the city of small havens.

A Question Unasked Goes Unanswered

I belong to a New Westminster-specific Facebook Group called Share New West. Have you heard of this group? Share New West is a community-driven group that promotes a “gift economy”. A gift economy is a mode of trade in which items are exchanged without any expectation of a future reward or payment.

Share New West believes that everyone has something to share and that “together we can achieve great things”. They have a defined mission: 1) To inspire and nurture a strong sense of community and 2) To reduce our collective carbon footprint by giving, sharing, and asking for things we might otherwise throw out or buy.

I’ve been really pleased to belong to this group and have been gifted a few little items I was looking for and was able to declutter quite a few items I was hoping to pass on. Typical buy and sell language that includes acronyms and abbreviated phrases (“GUC”, “next!” etc) is discouraged, and instead participants are encouraged to talk to one another as though you were on the doorstep of your neighbour’s house having a chat. Even Mayor Coté has gotten in on the sharing – and borrowed my lefthanders baseball glove.

Requests for items to keep or to borrow are encouraged, and I’ve been prompted to say “actually yes I have that, and I don’t use it, and you’re welcome to it, come on by and grab it”. It’s been a really positive experience. As well, discussions about the item, where you could buy it, where it might be available, and even compliments about something are all welcome. This is not a transactional group – this is a group that encourages community.

On April 28, one of the participants in Share New West posted a more unusual request. Monika wrote:


Monika and her fiancé, Maynard, decided to get married ahead of schedule. As she posted, Maynard’s mom and grandmother were flying from Nova Scotia for a visit and there was talk of a combined birthday party since four family members have birthdays within one another.

“I jokingly said let’s make it a big party and get married while they’re here too and then at least your grandmother can see the ceremony!” said Monika. To her surprise and amusement, he agreed and they started planning immediately.

Monika admits she was a bit anxious with asking on Share New West. “I honestly had no idea what to expect and after I posted I had so much anxiety! Wedding dresses are a big deal, and quite sentimental, or have good monetary value. I was mostly hoping that I wouldn’t be laughed at for asking for something so major.”

Her worry was unfounded however and the the response was immediate and incredible. Within a day there were no less than fourteen offers of a dress loan (one of which was me!), two offers for a cake, plus offers to help with flowers or other arrangements if needed.

Matisha Behnsen, another Share New West member, was one of the cake baking offerers. “I love to bake and when I saw her post, I remembered one of my favourite parts of my own wedding was the cake. I felt it was something I could offer that I do well at. I’m not a professional but I’ve been baking ever since I was little. I love how food brings people together and puts a smile on their face.”

Monika said yes to a dress mostly for fit, but also because it was love at first sight. “My ultimate goal was to find one that didn’t require any sort of altering due to the sentiment of the dress but also cost,” she said. “I did honestly love all the dresses I tried on. They were amazing, and all so beautiful.”

The owner of the dress, Desiree Savoy, also pitched in and secured a discount from local business Aloha Dry Cleaners to have her dress cleaned. “They did an amazing job of dry cleaning the dress! It had been stained with chocolate from post-reception fountain clean up, was black on the bottom from a night of dancing in the Foggy Dew, and had numerous other little marks. These stains had been on the dress for almost 12 years, and they got 99% of the stains out. I’m amazed it looks almost brand new!”

A discount on cleaning really helped, said Monika. “We had a very small budget considering the time frame and if I had the option to alter the dress I didn’t really have the funds ready, and just cleaning a wedding dress can be pricy.”

The wedding took place in the Rose Garden in Queen’s Park in June. “The ceremony was chaos, but perfect,” Monika reflected. “It rained. But the rain slowed to a light mist for the duration of the ceremony and it was great. I was late, but it worked out as there were a couple guests who got lost and we wound up having to wait for them anyways!”

Monika’s favourite part is that her daughter, Mara, was able to give her away.

Now, Monika has a deeper connection to our city. “I’ve always loved New West for its physical beauty, but I know now the beauty goes much deeper than the sights you see, the people within the community really make it shine,” she says.

Matisha sums it up for a lot of us “Sharers”. “The Share page has been so wonderful. Getting a chance to give and meet my neighbours has been such a wonderful experience for me. I have a lot of social anxiety so it can be difficult to take that first step to introduce myself to someone new. And the page has provided that for me.”

And sometimes, it provides a very special dress.

Glenbrook Ravine Cleanup – Round Two!

Hey New West and friends of New West,

It’s almost time for the second round of invasive plant removal in the Glenbrook Ravine.

On Saturday, May 13, we had our first day of volunteers out to begin our long journey of ecologically enhancing the Glenbrook Ravine. We had a great turnout with a lot of positive attitudes, in spite of the initial rain.

In very little time, we were able to really notice the progress we were making. With plenty of water, juice, and snacks to fuel us, and with tools provided by Evergreen, the New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP), and most volunteers, we were able to really get to the root of the issue, removing a substantial amount of the blackberry.

Now it’s time to get back at it again! You know you enjoy the peaceful serenity that the Glenbrook Ravine has to offer, but that you also feel a sense of dismay from all of the invasive plants. You know you have an inexplicable longing to restore the Glenbrook Ravine to it’s former glory, but just don’t know where to begin. And you know you feel good when you give back to your community and connect with nature.

So why not come and connect with some old friends and meet some new ones on Saturday, June 17 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. We will have a number of enthusiastic volunteers out helping to restore one of the true gems of the city.

This is a family friendly event that will have lots of opportunity for people to get involved in the coming months and even years. Parking is free at the Glenbrook Amenities Centre, and the location of work is approximately 300 metres in from there. If you have interest in being involved but can’t make this day, please contact me and I’ll be happy to give more information and help organize a day that works for you.

If you would like to come, but are not sure how to get yourself there, Evo Car Share has offered to provide free memberships and driving minutes to any volunteers that need help getting to or from the Glenbrook Ravine. Please contact me if you would like more information on this, or any other aspects of this fun project.

Pleas forward this on to anyone who you think might be interested. Looking forward to seeing everyone on the 17th!


More details below:

Come Clean up the Glenbrook Ravine: Saturday May 13 10am Start

A long-term ecological enhancement project in an area of New Westminster known as the Glenbrook Ravine is beginning Saturday, May 13. 

Historically, “Glenbrook Ravine Park was the first public park in the Colony of British Columbia. When the city was established in 1859, Colonel Moody wrote a letter to the Governor of the Colony of B.C: “The woods are magnificent, superb beyond description but most vexatious to a surveyor and the first dwellers in a town. I declare without the least sentimentality, I grieve and mourn the ruthless destruction of these most glorious trees. What a grand old Park this whole hill would make! I am reserving a very beautiful glen and adjoining ravine for the People and Park. I have already named it ‘Queen’s Ravine’…

Slope to be targeted in year one.

The restoration of the parts of this area that have fallen victim to invasive species over the years is our goal. We are hoping to reclaim the ravine over a few years, to create an area for locals to come and enjoy a connection to BC’s oldest public park. In addition to removing invasive species, we aim to construct some wildlife habitat features (bird and bat houses specifically), to plant some new trees where invasives have been removed, and to possibly incorporate temporary signage (partnering with local artists, after consulting with the City) to provide some information to people using the park. 

Day 1. Before and after shots, approx. 15m2, 3-person hours effort.
Day 1. Before and after shots, approx. 15m2, 3-person hours effort.

Involvement from the two residents associations that border the Glenbrook Ravine is one of the main goals of the project. As this will be an ongoing project, we expect different people will get involved at different times. A mid to end of summer big weekend cleanup and bird/bat house installation event is also planned. Based on the results of this year, we hope to expand to other areas of the ravine in subsequent years.

We will also be partnering with the local Beavers/Cubs and Brownies/Guides groups. This will help get young people educated about local ecological issues, will teach them how to remove invasive plant species and build wildlife housing, and will give them a sense of connection with this place for years to come. We have discussed reaching out to NWSS to see if the environmental club would be interested in getting involved. The Beavers/Cubs/Brownies/Guides will have their first day on Saturday, June 17.

Green waste after three-person hours effort.
Green waste after three-person hours effort.

The first year will be along the elevated area, approximately 300 metres in from the Glenbrook Amenities Centre, that we walked along during our site visit a few weeks ago (photo below). A few individuals may also choose to remove the ivy from the trees on the opposite side of the ravine pathway of the elevated area. Depending on how successful May 13 is and if we receive some funding, a follow-up meeting will be set up for Saturday, June 11. 

Project Area Outline, (Glenbrook Park Amenities Centre in red circle):

As the kick-off will occur before we have any confirmed funding, the following items would be welcome to help our first day go as smoothly as possible:

  • shovels
  • pruners
  • loppers 
  • clippers
  • tarps
  • thick gloves
  • [reusable] bottle of water
  • snacks
  • dress in layers

Free parking is available at the Glenbrook Park Amenities Centre (76 Jamieson Ct.), which will also serve as our meeting area at 10:00 on May 13. If you arrive late, you can simply follow the trail up the ravine until you find everyone.

If there are any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me by email (preferably) or phone (if necessary). or 778.228.5953

Donald’s Market ONE Prize – Ideas for New West

It is no secret that New Westminster has some very talented and active community members who are always on the lookout for innovative ways to add activities and programs that continue to make this city more amazing each day. Sometimes an idea could use seed money to help kickstart it, and others could use funds to improve an existing program. ONE Prize is a fund that is designed to help with such initiatives.

The projects kickstarted by ONE Prize have been both big and small and by organizations as well as individuals. Last year, three local moms got together and submitted a proposal to bring a day of dance to Pier Park. Another idea, by HUB-New Westminster, was an initiative called Bike Share and Repair to get unused bicycles to those who need them, especially low-income families and recent refugee families. Each project, regardless of size, demonstrates a commitment to making our community even more awesome.


The ONE Prize was launched in 2012 by Donald’s Market and River Market as a community fund. Goodness Rewards is the loyalty program at Donald’s Market; and through this program, Donald’s Market in New Westminster contributes 1% of every dollar spent to the ONE Prize fund. If you think about it, 1% of a person’s grocery bill does little, but when pooled together with your neighbours’ 1%, the fund is then capable of supporting many terrific projects.

For this year, Goodness Rewards members have collectively raised $6,000. Three projects will be funded $2,000 each. That is definitely a decent amount of money to help with your project idea. The project group can be a non-profit organization, a for-profit enterprise, a community group, or even an individual. It is important to remember that the fund is not designed to help with ongoing operating costs, but instead to fund a new initiative, or expand an already existing program.

Applications are now open until April 10. The online application is quite simple with a few questions about your project. If you have multiple ideas, go ahead and submit them all because there is no limit. The projects ideas will be shortlisted by a jury and the winners are then decided by Goodness Rewards members who will vote for their favourite projects.

If you think you have a great idea, or wish to expand an existing program, visit for more information and to access the online submission form. If you wish to contribute to the ONE Prize fund, sign up for a Goodness Rewards membership from a Donald’s Market cashier at River Market.


The Seeds of Change

I have discovered a key nutrient that has cultivated me as a human being, survivor and activist; community.

This January, I had the honour of being one of the speakers at the Women’s March in Vancouver. As I stood on the stage, I was mesmerized by the mere fact that I could not see the end of the crowd. I was looking out into a sea of people and signs of every shape and colour. Children perched on their parents’ shoulders stared at me intently. A young girl approached me after I spoke and said, “My mom thinks you are a very strong lady.” Perhaps it’s the survival of the kindest, not fittest, that will in the end, prevail.

Because the U.S. Election was emotionally draining for me, I found being involved in the Women’s March therapeutic, and it drove away feelings of isolation when women connected with me after I spoke, disclosing that they were survivors too. In fact, one woman as it turns out, is from my neighbourhood, so, in true millennial fashion, we went for Starbucks and chatted about trauma, art and what it means to be a survivor in a world that still blames us for the violence perpetrated against our bodies. You see, we are social beings, hardwired for human connection, and as I have come to learn over time, healing cannot be done in isolation, it takes community.

How did I get from suffering in silence to sharing my story behind a microphone?

Like anything that grows, it all starts with a seed; an idea.

I first came to know of Theo Fluery when he played in the NHL for the Calgary Flames; his anger displayed on the ice was a mirror image to the aggression I expressed during my field hockey games; I played not so much to complete the match, I played so that I could fight and subsequently, get ejected. At the time, I did not know that Theo was, just like me, a survivor of childhood rape. I’m fortunate to be one of those people that can pinpoint the exact moment when their life was proverbially changed. Mine happened in between text in Chapter 1, page 2, paragraph 4 of his 2009 book, “Playing with Fire.” Four sentences affirmed me that I had everything within me to make the best out of the cards I have been dealt with. When I was able to meet him in 2013, I asked him naively how I could do what he was doing (public speaking). His response – “Just start a conversation.” I was dumbfounded by how simple his answer was, yet it still sounded so complicated. And like a seed that needed water, sun and air to grow, blossom and bear fruit, I started having these conversations. The “fruit” or outcome from the seed Theo had planted was my first TEDx talk which was appropriately titled, “Breaking My Silence: Healing Thrives In Conversation.” Since that talk, I guess you can say I’ve developed a so-called “green thumb”, treating shame and other aftereffects of rape like weeds – every time I feel it creeping up on me, I “pull” it out – I write or talk about it.

If we are in fact hard wired for human connection, then social change IS a part of the human existence. Post U.S. Election, more people are activated now, which is amazing because being uncomfortable is often the catalyst for change. I know one thing is for sure; Donald Trump is leading many people to their “awakening” much faster than Hillary Clinton would have.

When symptoms of hate shows up in your community, what do you do? Well, when offensive posters were found near a New Westminster church, MLA Judy Darcy was activated by love and accountability and organized a rally on January 26 at City Hall. The true essence of leadership is interconnectedness.

Another leader in our New Westminster community is Iman Abdulla, Women’s Representative at Douglas College. Due to the college repurposing the Women’s Centre, the executive members wanted to create a safe and inclusive moving space for all self-identified women to support, grow, and learn from each other. Iman is also activated by love and accountability.

In her powerful keynote address for the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., Gloria Steinem stated that “we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough. And this also unifies us with the many in this world who do not have computers or electricity or literacy, but do have the same hopes and the same dreams.”

If it takes just one person to start a movement, then can you imagine 15,000 people leaving the Women’s March in Vancouver and activating themselves to their greatest potential?

We have the power to create change and healing. We have the power to activate the change we are seeking collectively.

I believe that every issue that harms society is rooted in trauma. If we are indeed all bonded by trauma, then that means we are also bonded by healing and community. Seeds; a metaphor for life and renewal. Perhaps, like a seed, we need to grow and blossom to become reborn.

What activates you?

*Iman can be emailed at or the Douglas Students’ Union Women’s Collective.

If I Am…

How do seeds sprout from asphalt?

If I am in fact

The rose that grew from concrete

Able to survive without earth’s nutrients

While placed in between slabs of stone on a

City sidewalk

No sun, no water

I grew and blossomed past my foundation of

Hot coal tar and concrete mix

Surviving off the wear and tear of the shoes of passersby

If I am that rose that grew from concrete

Physically impossible

Inconsistent with the Law of Nature

Then doesn’t that make me a god damn miracle?