This fall, a New Westminster tradition barely anyone knows about will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
It’s one I had a hand in starting back in 1991. That’s when I rounded up a few buddies in the local media business to rekindle our childhood passion for road hockey.
We gathered on the old tennis courts in Queen’s Park, put down some spare boots and jackets for goalposts and had at it. Just like when we were kids. Because as much as ice hockey is our national obsession, the street game is our national pastime.
Pretty much every kid who grew up in Canada has played road hockey. They know the sting of the evil orange ball on a cold day. They understand the unique skill of shooting that ball with a plastic “Superblade” worn down by the hardtop to the thickness of a toothpick. They’ve scowled at insensitive drivers with the temerity to drive through their game to get home. They’ve delayed dinner just to play a little longer. They’ve played out the thrill of winning a Stanley Cup between the curbs.
Recently, we have had some excellent posts here on Tenth to the Fraser by New Westminster resident, historian and Friend of the “New Westminster Museum and Archives” Ken Wilkinson. Based on some survey results and the readership statistics, I know that Ken’s articles are popular and anticipated by our readers.
To add to this genre, I will be posting an occasional guest post from my father, Richard Tomkinson, who was born here in the Royal City in 1943 and was, with his brother Robert, the 3rd generation of New Westminster Tomkinsons. These recollections of childhood have as their epicenter, 1040 7th Ave, a house removed only 3 years ago, across from Lord Kelvin Elementary and just next to the pool area of Moody Park.
I have edited what began as an interview format, into a narrative so any deficiencies in fact or style are all mine. Likewise, I have kept all of the best of the source material, so any lighthearted word or turn of phase must also be attributed to the source.
– Will Tomkinson, Ed.
My memory of growing up around Lord Kelvin school and Moody Park area was mostly of unrestricted roaming and fun, with groups of boys and girls from the post-war baby boom filling the neighbourhood houses. Younger kids would move through the back lanes, neighbourhood streets, over back fences and through yards and the neighbourhood streets in packs, older kids in groups of 4 or in pairs.
This was all without supervision of course, at any age, but there was a curfew for children in the 50s. I seem to remember there was a horn that blew meaning that you were supposed to be at home rather that at roam. I don’t remember the source of the horn but I seem to recall that it was in the east of the park, as it sounded fairly far off. Moody Park itself was ever popular in the summer when the Kiwanis pool was open. I remember the pool’s opening day but I am not sure exactly when that was. (Editor’s note: I suspect this was in 1947 but I have not been able to confirm this.) Of course in later years we all had the adventure of struggling over the fence for a midnight swim. In the park, the playground was a big draw, as it still is, but lacked any hovering parents. During late fall as the huge towers of leaves from the many trees were often piled up, which were great fun.
Hard to imagine now, but great fun was the circus that regularly visited in the 50’s. That was always exciting and an adventure opportunity. Circus came for a week sometimes, other times for two days. In the beginning it was a real big circus with many tents, rides, animals etc. As time went by it got less and less. Mostly the circus set up in the high ground opposite and away from Kelvin school. Seems to me they set up once in the north field but it was boggy and had mosquitoes. Actually the north field was probably responsible for all the mosquitoes for a mile around. Yes, some enterprising kids would get jobs from the circus hands. Kids got jobs, I got 25 cents here and there for little jobs while they set up and tore down. During the winter and into the spring the north side always flooded, sometimes dangerously, and often in the winter provided a very large skating rink. We would be cautioned not to cross the ice on our way home from Lester Pearson Junior High. Did we listen? Kids today, just like kids in the 1950’s.
With so many kids around, you would have thought there may have been some neighborhood rivalry but there was not much of that. There was a gang on Nanaimo we battled with, that was about it. We also had a bunch of really smart kids in the general ‘hood, which did not mean they stayed out of trouble, but they were involved much more in sports. Box lacrosse, tennis, little league baseball, soccer, girl’s softball, and junior softball kept many kids and young adults coming to Moody Park. Mostly kids would go to sports on their own except for little league which had a lot of parent involvement, and was the site of quite a number of adult punch-ups. Then, as now, lawn bowling kept the seniors in ‘whites’.
In the spring, I remember using the park for practice on May Day poles or with batons. This was before Hyack had the profile it has now. Back then it applied to the Anvil Battery only. The park was also a place for city youth programs and Young Life meetings at Century House. As a youth I remember those meetings and hanging out in the late evening in the playground just barely on the safe side of aggression which was often in play. I learned to run real fast at just the right moment, probably not much different than most of today’s young ones. On the other side of aggression was the first kiss and a lot of confusion.
By the time the city’s 100th anniversary came around in 1959, I was 16 and had a lot of other things on my mind other than 7th street and the park. Band, cars, school etc…. but I will always remember the scary long walk through the park coming home from band practice. Even today the shadows threaten, but never did I actually have an event to regret.
I recently related the story of how Ross, my husband, and I met -he lived next door to me in a rented apartment here in New Westminster. I was utterly amazed at the sense of nostalgia that washed over me. That apartment gets shoved to the back of my mind most of the time due to preoccupying baby needs, mortgage payments, strata complexes, and all the other trappings of “adult” life. So I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how fond I am of the old apartment.
It was one of two low, brown, three level stucco apartment buildings on one of the busiest roads in New Westminster. It was directly across from City Hall and its lovely, lush green lawn that we refered to as front row seating to various community events: fireworks displays, cenotaph ceremonies, and an amazing display of bulbs in the spring. I lived there for four years and had three different roommates during that time, and an assortment of different neighbours (only one of which I married :)). It was also while living at this apartment that I discovered what I consider to be one of New Westminster’s jewels, the Friendship Gardens. If you didn’t live there, you probably know someone who did or currently is. While I lived there I had three rent increases and yet my rent was ridiculously cheap. I remember my landlady, a sweet middle aged woman of Eastern European lineage, apologizing profusely one year when my rent went up $10. I laughed.
The apartment had some amazing architectural and design features. It had original hardwood floors complete with inlaid detail and single pane weighted windows. Hallways and rooms had arched corners, slightly vaulted ceilings (I think that’s what they are called) I remember there was a phone nook in the hall, which was too small for today’s cordless phones. The bathroom was tiny and did not have modern conveniences like an exhaust fan, but it did have porcelain tile floors. I feel bad for the tenant after me – we painted that bathroom two or three times and of course we chose colours like dark blue and bright orange. The living room and eating area had a fabulous view of the mighty Fraser.There is a new development on the corner of Carnarvon and 6th that I suspect ruins the view now.
There was a fabulous little fireplace with mantle that had been boarded up at some point in its existence, and electrical outlets were installed. I remember being so excited to find a fake fireplace at a thrift store that fit perfectly. The front doors had tiny, grated trap doors in them rather than the usual bland “peephole” – ours never stayed shut and served as a bit of a spy hole for goings on in the hall. There were also had milk doors – throwbacks to the days of milk delivery. Hallways had non functioning garbage chutes and the shared laundry area had two pay washers and two pay dryers – both were pretty easy to fool and get a free cycle. The garages in the back were frighteningly rickety – I noticed recently while cutting through the alley on a walk that they have since torn down some of the garages in favour of more parking.
When I moved in with my college grad assortment of cobbled together Ikea furniture and castoffs from former apartments and world-travelling past roommates, one of the most important features of the apartment was its close proximity to a nightclub. We liked to say it was “stumbling distance” from our door. It was the original safe ride home – no need to take a cab or use transit. Our house became the constant after-party on club nights.
I remember being woken up one night at about 3AM by flashing blue and red lights – someone had fallen asleep at the wheel and wrapped his Dodge Neon around the telephone pole in the middle of the road (he walked away unharmed). Debris from the wreckage was swept up the following day by one of my neighbours. Tow trucks were common in rush hour. My car suffered at the hands of a passerby once as well – someone decided that my unassuming VW Rabbit was offensive and kicked in the windshield. I never did figure that one out.
My cat was welcome in the old apartment, and later, when Bevan passed away quite suddenly, I was permitted to have a small dog so long as it was “the same size as a cat”. It was with my little dog on the steps into the apartment that I met the business end a skunk for the first (and hopefully only) time. If you need the recipe for skunk wash, just let me know. That’s not something you ever forget once you’ve had to go to an all night pharmacy to pick up the ingredients.
Looking back, that apartment saw me through a lot of things – good and bad. We celebrated triumps and worked our way through life challenges there. I was a recent college graduate and single for the first time in a long time. It was from that apartment that I went to my first I-bought-and-paid-for-the-ticket Canucks game. I first started baking as a hobby in that apartment, and I experimented for the first time with painting and photography. I got my first digital camera while living there. I bought and sold three different cars. I fell in love with gardening and to this day, I still have houseplants I potted on the living room floor of the old apartment. One of my roommates met a guy while living there and next summer I am the maid of honor at their wedding. And, most importantly, I fell in love.
The places we live in make up far more of the fabric of our lives than I think we give them credit for. At the time it was just a place to hang my hat, so to speak, and it IS just a place. Its what it stands for and its the life I led in its poorly painted hallways that make the old apartment so special.