White Christmas was lovely … but enough already!

When the first fluffy flakes fell before Christmas, New Westminster was postcard-pretty and everywhere I went I could hear people humming to themselves “… where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow … ”

Once Snowmageddon hit in full force, it wasn’t so cute anymore.

A local blogger, Daniel from CityCaucus.com, was one of many of us who felt frustrated by the two-foot snowdrifts that remained on side streets in the days following Snowmageddon 2008:

Admittedly, even by Canadian standards we did receive a lot of snow. However, does that excuse the fact that not a single street in my whole neighbourhood was plowed five days after the snow began to fall?

I’m beginning to think that the City of New Westminster (my hometown) doesn’t even own a plow. What else would explain how the act of a simple snowfall transformed our quaint streets into something reminiscent of an end-of-the-world Hollywood film?

For heavens sake, days after the storm, there were still cars abandoned everywhere. And I mean literally everywhere. Sidewalks were impassable while back alleys were complete no-go-zones unless you owned a Hummer or a snowmobile.

 

I did try to venture out of my back lane once, only to get stuck there for three hours before my neighbour got home and used his truck to set my car free. When I finally did make it out of the back lane, I realized I had damaged the undercarriage of my car due to all the snow left on the streets. Did I mention New Westminster doesn’t own a snowplow?

The streets were in such poor condition that I was even forced park my car about 5 blocks away in our neighbhourhood shopping district where one main drag was at least somewhat passable.

According to the Christmas Eve edition of the Record, New Westminster had already depleted its snow removal budget before the holiday:

In January 2008, the city spent one-quarter of its snow removal budget. By last week [Dec. 19 -ed.], the budget had been depleted.

 

“It was a little hectic Saturday night and Sunday. We just keep plowing,” said Sheldon Rigby, acting manager of engineering operations. “We spread a bit of salt. We hope the weather changes.”

Rigby estimated the weekend’s snowfall cost the city about $55,000, which includes staff time, supplies and equipment. On Sunday, crews were clearing main routes and making progress – only to have to plow again after being hit by another dump of snow.

Once the crews have cleared commuter and emergency routes, they move onto side streets. Six vehicles have been on the roads around the clock.

“We will get into areas and side streets as time permits,” Rigby assured residents.

As I commented on Daniel’s post, I found the reaction to the first snowfall timely and appropriate, but when the real dump came our streets were also unplowed for days. We were nearly without water over Christmas (with 15 dinner guests expected!) due to a burst pipe in the basement suite – and a plumber who couldn’t get his truck down our snowy road! Later in the holiday, one of our co-authors (Jocelyn) slipped on the unshoveled street in front of the Starbucks on Columbia street and found herself flat on her back with her wheels in the air!

Despite these misadventures, we actually felt lucky that the snowfall happened over Christmas. We had nowhere pressing to go once Christmas shopping was complete, and so we remained happily housebound save for a few jaunts over to Grimston Park to take the toddler sledding. 

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Need a break from the Goo Goo Ga Ga?

Although there are a lot of children in New Westminster, it can be hard for new parents and newcomers to our city to meet other parents and establish a network for social interaction and support. During the summer it’s not so hard – just head out to your local park, the Queens Park spray park or Grimston Park wading pool and you’ll find a ton of parents with their kids.

During the cold, wet winter months, it’s more complicated. While there are a number of well-established local parenting groups, a lot of information isn’t yet online, and most of our groups are not affiliated with well-known national programs. When Googling for information La Leche League, for example, parents have to turn to neighbouring municipalities because there is no representation in New West. 

Some local parents are stepping up to create the parenting communities they seek. Jen from The Arbolog, for example, has created a new Facebook group for parents in New Westminster to “swap, buy, sell, give away, chit chat, and compare notes.”

As Jen wrote in an email to me today:

“The sad thing is there are hardly any parent type resources. I learned the closest La Leche League is deep dark Poco or into Vancouver, so other than the Family Place and the Mom’s morning thing at Olivet Baptist I haven’t found hardly any! I also look at www.yoyomama.ca a lot. Even though its sort of Vancouver-centric they do list NW a lot.”

After our son Wesley was born, I attended the Public Health-sponsored Baby Talk program at Centennial Community Centre (Wednesdays, 1-3pm), for instance. The program is geared towards new parents (though it is mostly moms), and includes a speaker on a parenting-related topic and social time for parents and babies. I didn’t meet a kindred spirit through the program, but it was great to check in with the public health nurses, weigh my baby and just plain get out of the house.

It was through Baby Talk that I learned West Coast College of Massage Therapy occasionally has free baby massage classes for parents. I can’t find any information about it online, but if it interests you, give them a call and ask if/when they’ll be offering it again. When I went, it was loads of fun. I’ve never seen so many babies in one room!

I also attended Olivet’s Mom’s Daybreak group a few times. I had a good time, and they have the HUGE bonus of providing free childcare for the duration. Unlike most other groups, the point is not for you to socialize your child, but rather to get a break and have some adult conversation! Olivet’s group also has speakers and craft sessions to keep things interesting. They are not especially ‘churchy’, although when I attended they did include a short Bible story session. Despite this, I felt no obligation to attend the church or even be a Christian to participate.

The Family Services of Greater Vancouver site lists a bunch of parenting resources for our community. There are drop-in programs in pretty much every community centre for parents of kids under the age of six, plus some interesting specialized programs. Running quickly through the list, a lot of programs seem to be targeted at Aboriginal parents, and also single parents and teen parents.

Some programs that I haven’t experienced personally, but which sound interesting are:

 As I was doing some research for this post, I came across the Tiny Tots Coupon Book again, which is like an Entertainment Book for parents of young children. Little did I know – the ladies behind the Tiny Tots book are based right here in New Westminster! You can buy the Tiny Tots Coupon Book at Dimpleskins and Pedagogy Toys in Sapperton.

Shelter cats in need of adoption

If you’ve been thinking about getting a pet, please first take a look at the New Westminster animal adoption site. The city’s website says that the shelter is currently at double capacity and desperately needs to find homes for cats and other small animals like chinchillas and bunnies.

This high shelter rate places animals at an increased risk of illness and injury. It is critical that these animals are placed into good homes as soon as possible. Small animals such as rabbits and chinchillas are also available for adoption.

If Barack Obama can do it, you can too.

Leaf collection this week

If you’ve tried to put out a bag of weeds and leaves on garbage day lately, you’ll have discovered that yard waste collection has ceased for the year here in New West.

If your leaves are piling up, you’re in luck this week: the city will be collecting them for one week only this month , between Nov. 17-21. (and again for a week in December, from the 15th to19th). The city says to use labeled garbage cans or biodegradable paper bags (gold stars for you!).

Thou shalt not use plastic bags, lest NWEP smite thee.

New West history online

New Westminster is one of B.C.’s oldest cities. Despite the ravages of fire and flood, many of New West’s historical buildings still stand. Our history is one of the things that differentiates us from the newer municipalities that have since eclipsed New West in size and renown. 
Most of our residents know we were once British Columbia’s capital city (until dastardly Victoria, Jacob to our Esau, stole this birthright), but you may not know what it was like in the ‘olden days’ here. Our resident historian Archie Miller does his part, leading the New West Historical Society, writing columns for the local papers and offering historical walking tours of the city, but today I discovered some digital fodder for the imagination in the New Westminster Heritage Database
I love old photographs. Looking at the faces in black and white always gets me daydreaming about how it might have been back in those days. There are some spectacular shots in this collection online. If only it was more browsable and bloggable! Put it on Flickr! 

Homelessness in New West

Council candidate Lynda Fletcher-Gordon has provided a link to a PDF file with some stats on homelessness in New Westminster. She and Jaimie McEvoy have been the candidates who have, in my opinion, placed the most emphasis on the issue in our city so far. 

Both candidates have a track record in this area. Fletcher-Gordon is the Executive Director of the Purpose Society and she and McEvoy are involved in the Homelessness Society, which produced the report I’ve linked to above.

Some interesting facts from the report: 
  • Homelessness has increased by about 35% in New West compared to the 2005 count (it has increased throughout the GVRD)
  • 58% of the homeless who were counted in 2008 were living on the streets
  • 74% are men (slightly above the regional average of 72%)
  • 27% identify as aboriginal (slightly below the regional average of 32%)
Vancouver-wide stats: 
  • 48% of the people counted were homeless for a year or longer;
  • 80% lived in the municipality where they were counted for one year or more;
  • 71% considered their ‘home’ to be in Metro Vancouver;
  • 61% reported an addiction problem;1
  • 33% reported a mental illness.
Top three reasons for being homeless (as identified by the homeless in the GVRD):
  • Lack of income (25%)
  • High cost of housing (19%) 
  • Addiction problems (17%) – interesting note:  68% of the street homeless reported an addiction problem compared to 48% of the sheltered homeless.
Recommendations: 
  • Establish a homelessness resource centre with programs and facilities focused on addiction recovery, employment assistance, medical services and life skills training
  • Create additional spaces in transition housing for women and children fleeing abuse (estimated demand is 3-4 times available space)
  • Create social housing spaces for single adults (the majority of social housing projects currently focus on families, people with disabilities and seniors)
  • Improve access to addiction and mental health services