Ten Year Love Affair

Ten years.

I remember vividly apartment hunting in New Westminster. It was the fall of 2006, I was fresh out of grad school and had just lucked into a dream job in downtown Vancouver. But I was decidedly not a downtown Vancouver person – it’s frenetic energy and prohibitive rent was not practical. I needed a place far enough away so I could leave work to recharge, with bonus points for affordability, transit access and walkability. New Westminster fit the bill perfectly.

My parents, and then-fiancé, presently known as Envirospouse, walked with me around the Columbia Skytrain station. We walked on the grassy boulevards, and came upon two tall high-rises. The buildings were concrete and when we tried the phone number, the manager, a gentleman named Rob, was still in. I jumped up and down ecstatically, while Envirospouse… whacked his shoe against a telephone pole.

Envirospouse had stepped in something fresh, just as my call to Rob had gone through. After he whacked out most of the detritus stuck on the soles of his skater shoes (how young we were! We wore skater shoes!), he informed me this was a good omen. Like when birds leave you a gift on your shoulder, I had been blessed with dog doo.

Minutes later, we were sitting in Rob’s office. He was working through a standard series of questions. I had my nerdy Tina Fey glasses on. I remember he asked me quite seriously if I smoked. I looked at him, eye contact not wavering, “it’s a filthy habit”. He snorted, asked me to fax over a confirmation of employment, and there we were.

****

The distance between my apartment and the skytrain was a mere 0.707 km. I mapped it. I clocked it. I never ran it, as I used to carry my whole life in my messenger bag. Flash lights, cell phone, keys, a sewing kit, a first aid kit, some powder, an old eye liner, lip balm, a wallet, a notebook, a fancy pen, a water proof pen, three hats, something to read, something to eat, and a watch-maker-sized tool kit (in case the Tina Fey glasses took a hit). One rainy day as I was hiking up the hill on Fourth, I realized that not one but two community buses went right by our apartment. Soon, I was zipping home on those buses.

I have such fond memories of the community bus drivers. They encapsulated all the things I love about New Westminster. They didn’t know me by name, but they knew all my habits. They knew when I’d worked late, and sympathized about the never-ending rain. They waited longer at the stops on snowy days, when tackling the hill appeared foolhardy. They nudged the bus slightly closer to the curb when I was carrying groceries home from 6th and 6th. They even ribbed Envirospouse when he was guiltily bringing home flowers, or wearing his big red parka (which is hideous, and he still wears it so if you see a friendly bearded man in ancient red parka with his children at Hume park, please say hello).

*****

Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography
Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography

We lived in that apartment for almost 7 years. The last of those years, we started looking around and wondering if/how we could raise a family there. I had this inkling that the care of a newborn required an ensuite washer and dryer. And maybe a spot to put the child in. Envirospouse wanted a yard to plant fruit trees, (he was having a community gardening adventure that you can ask him about), and so, we started house-hunting for a permanent address.

Initially we looked on both sides of the Fraser River. Then we moved over to just this side of the river. We circled spots in Burnaby, in Coquitlam; we balked at Port Moody and Port Coquitlam as this whole time, we didn’t even have a car so going so far away from the Skytrain was lunacy to our minds. I counted that we saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 places (Envirospouse claims it was less), and the first place we both agreed on was in Sapperton.

Oh Sapperton. It was the intersection of all our interests. I barely remember examining the insides of the place, but just by virtue of the neighborhood’s atmosphere, felt like we’d hit the jackpot. I swear the neighbors smiled as we walked to the front door. Envirospouse admired the back yard and the wood stove at the heart of the house. The street was a designated bike route. Two skytrain stations and two parks were within walking distance. A Thrifty’s was nearby, and quaint store fronts, including a bakery, were a few streets over. An enormous cherry tree shaded us as we stood outside drinking it all in.

Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography
Photo by Scott Adolph, Sculptures of Light Photography

When we moved in, the charm of the area kept on coming. One of the neighbours ran over and invited me to a get-together they were planning on for the next evening. Another neighbour offered us a fresh strawberry smoothie as we sweltered while unloading the truck. At the end of the day, when we’d gotten everything in the house, we sat down and breathed it in.

Photo by Abby from Abigail Quigley Photography
Photo by Abby from Abigail Quigley Photography

Sapperton anchors me to New Westminster. It’s tree-lined streets, friendly neighbourhoods and accessibility has tamed wild wanderers like me. So many of us are part of a diaspora, walkers from different cities and countries, looking for a place to belong to, looking for that feeling that you get when it’s pouring out and you walk inside and the house smells like the best pasta you have yet to eat, and your partner helps you out of your raincoat while seamlessly handing you a steaming plate, as you shrug off your boots and hang your umbrella up. That feeling of comfort, of homecoming, of warmth, of belonging, that’s what New Westminster is to me.

It’s been ten years Royal City, and I never want to leave.

 

Meet Marianne

Story by Marianne Hunter

I’ve been trying to write this since May, and honestly it should not have been this hard. I already had the base material: the presentation I did, or rather – failed to do, for PechaKucha New West. Turns out the thought of turning it into a semi-decent article alone is very overwhelming. If you knew me at all, you’d probably still not understand why something this small seems like a gigantic endeavour.

You see, the presentation was about the fact I have autism, among many other diagnoses that I’d been collecting since I was a teenager and how it affected my life, and that of my friends’ and family’s. I wrote down 20 bits that could be made into illustration by an amazingly talented friend that not only offered to be there as my support person – but ended up doing the whole presentation for me when I couldn’t. The organizers knew I was a flight risk, so they gave me the first spot! Unfortunately, not even that could help me. (Editor’s Note: I highly recommend watching the presentation linked to, above!) Continue reading “Meet Marianne”

Volunteer Transformations: A Retrospective

When we think about volunteers, we think about people who are helping others. If you mentor a child, you are changing that child’s life. When you visit a home-bound senior, you are changing that seniors’ life.

Volunteering doesn’t only change the person you help. It changes you just as profoundly. I’m Stacy Ashton, and I run Community Volunteer Connections, the local volunteer centre for New Westminster and Tri-Cities.  In my work I get to see the impact of volunteering, but the story I want to tell today is how volunteering has consistently transformed my life, professionally and personally. Continue reading “Volunteer Transformations: A Retrospective”

Life is All About Moving Forward

italyTelling stories has always been a love of mine. It could be because I’m a Newfoundlander, or that I come from a long line of yarn spinners and learned from the expert, my father. Anyone who knows me could vouch for the fact that if a question can be answered in ten words, I’ll answer it in thirty because it is the story behind the answer that sometimes is more important in my eyes than the actual answer. When I read the first edition of the new 10th to the Fraser and saw that it was going to be about stories, and that the next theme was Movement, I couldn’t resist writing something.

My life has always been about change, reinventing myself, and moving forward. I’ve moved from one end of this country to the other, stopping in Ontario along the way. At 10, I left Newfoundland bound for Ontario. My father was chasing the dream of a better life, and dragged us along for the ride. We arrived in Southern Ontario in the early 70’s in the hey day of the Newfie joke, and I quickly became one. It was the first time in my life I’d experienced discrimination, and it was a hard pill to swallow after spending my early years surrounded by family, friends, and a sense of community. Within a few years I had trained myself to speak like someone from Ontario, and did my best to blend in. Fast forward, 25 years and once again I found myself starting over. This time my former husband, chasing his dream of a better life after arriving in Canada as a refugee from Africa, had us arriving in New Westminster with a 2½ year old and two suitcases in hand to start a new life. Continue reading “Life is All About Moving Forward”

Meet Myke

IMG_9787It’s 1am. Most are asleep. Myke is walking the streets of New West and Burnaby filling his pockets* with used crack pipes, syringes and other pieces of drug paraphernalia. People have called the Police on him because he has been seen reaching through gates, foraging around dumpsters and dark corners picking up syringes. No matter how cold and wet it is, he goes out religiously to do his rounds cleaning up our streets.

For four to six hours, every single day, for the past five years, Myke has walked from Downtown New West to Queensborough Bridge, 20th Street to 10th Avenue to Edmonds and Kingsway to Canada Way, 6th and McBride to Braid Street Skytrain Station and Sapperton, cleaning up after a crowd most don’t want to see or don’t know what to do with. In a course of a week, he picks up an average of 500 pieces of used drug paraphernalia off alleys, around dumpsters, railway tracks, streets and our parks. His motivation isn’t driven by a pay cheque because he isn’t being paid to do this. He is driven by a personal sense of obligation to keep the community he lives in safe. He may not be able to stop people from using drugs but he can keep users safe from reusing supplies and the rest of the community out of harm’s way.

Myke is happy if he can play a small part in saving one person’s life from the heartache of furthering drug addiction. The heartache he knows all too well.

Myke has lived a privileged life. His father owned numerous logging companies throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. His mother was a high-end escort who worked at different hotels in Vancouver. Perhaps from the perspective of some, Myke was exposed to an atypical childhood but in his mind, this was the only life he knew and with innocence, he enjoyed it. Continue reading “Meet Myke”

Million Dollar Houses

houseIs this what $1.2 million looks like? I don’t think so either. But apparently that’s the going price for old houses like this one in my neighbourhood. This is my house, by the way. Small lot. Old garage. New kitchen. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Circa 1912.

James and I always said we’d stay in this house until we couldn’t do stairs anymore. We raised our daughter Katie here, and a few dogs and several cats. (There’s a secret pet burial ground in the back yard). Katie is 26 now, out on her own, but she still calls this home. Still has a key.

There’s an outdoor pool nearby, and an ice rink. Katie took lots of lessons at those places. The school is a good one, true inner city, and with a heart of gold. The playground in the park has been re-vamped a few times in the 20 years since we’ve been here, and the current version is the best. (Although we used to have an old red firetruck which kids just loved).

James and I have talked over the years about moving to the Quay or Vancouver when we retire. But we always came back to how much we love this neighbourhood, and how much it has meant to us over the years. He grew up here too, in a house around the corner. His parents still lived there up until a few years ago. He swam in the pool, played in the park, and went to the same schools that Katie did.

I used to work at a nearby church, and now at the library. Walking to work is so great, especially because I get to walk through the big park everyday.

We’ve watched the neighbour’s kids grow up, and now I watch their grandchildren growing up. For years we had a dent in our garage door from the street hockey players, but it didn’t bother us at all. We’ve been treated to the sounds of garage bands and musician neighbours, and that’s been a pleasure. We’re old rockers at heart.

We were on one of our walks the other night, with our dog Buddy (who thinks he owns the neighbourhood). Looking at all the for sale / sold signs I made my usual comment, “Well, should we sell up and move to the Quay?” And for the first time, James said, “Yeah, maybe we should”. It could have been the thought of the chafer beetle lawn, or maybe the thought of all the landscaping we want to do. Or the never-ending renovation. Or chatting with our neighbours who have sold, and hearing their new and exciting plans. A cool million. So tempting.

But then what? How will our daughter ever get into a house of her own if we don’t leave this one to her? What if we discover we aren’t condo people? What if we move somewhere and it’s quiet…too quiet? For all its challenges, we love our old house. And the day will come when we move on, out of love (so Katie can live here with her family) and necessity (because we just can’t do the stairs anymore). But until that day, we’re banking on memories, not money.