Middle Aged Westminster

I am just back from Vacation, and I am still trying to understand where the Royal City New West Record newspaper is coming from when they emphasize an alleged clash between the “New” and “Old” communities in New Westminster as their Story of the Year. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but it seems to evoke the divisiveness of the Old Stock Canadians dog-whistle message quoted in the article’s lead, and I simply disagree with the premise.

To suggest that “younger folks and families” filling new condos are somehow different than families living in houses is not only a false dichotomy, it creates an impression that one is better or more important than the other, and that somehow people (especially, as continually suggested in the story, the City’s government) are picking sides. It belies the reality of how mixed and diverse our City is, and how much blending there is in those two alleged camps.

I’m a resident of Brow of the Hill, not born in New West, but feeling very connected to this community I live in a house across the street from numerous apartments built in the 60s and 70s, predominantly full of renters, some more connected to the community as I, some less. On one side of my house is a family of “younger folks” who moved in at the end of 2015 after a decade of living in Vancouver, although one of them grew up in Queens Park and graduated from NWSS – are they “Old” or “New” New West? What about the retired couple across from me, one of whom was born in the BC Interior (like me) but had a career working for the City of New Westminster? I have friends who live in a condo on the Quay that has a demographic not far from your typical retirement village, I know young families filing more-affordable single-family homes in Queesnborough, some second-generation Canadians who first learned English at Queen Elizabeth Elementary, others the children of families that built Queensborough generations ago. Who has the hubris to draw the line between “New” and “Old” New West within this mix? Why would we want to?

Because between “New” and “Old” New West is a huge and growing number of “Middle Age” New West, those who have been here for a few years, or a few decades, and despite having not been born here, they have put down roots and are making New Westminster home. And they are raising a new generation of New West. At the the suggestion of conflict, most would say we are all New Westminster, whether our grandfather was born here, or we arrived as a refugee last week.

Our success as a community will be found in supporting each other, and embracing the diversity of our community. As the great Jane Jacobs reminds us in her treatise on vibrant neighbourhoods and cities, a diversity of people, families, buildings and activities are what create an economically viable and culturally sustainable community. Only that will make us strong enough to withstand threats external or internal, and avoid the stagnation that too often follows on the heels of urbanization. Just as we cannot stop innovating, we cannot throw away what is established, we need to make them work together.

So if building a great community means accepting all types of people sharing and working together, and if the line between “New” and “Old” is so fuzzy, what is to be served by trying to insert arbitrary lines, creating arbitrary categories, and watching for reasons for them to fight?

This ambiguity extends to the idea that there is some sort of fundamental transition happening in New Westminster today, or that suddenly the town that time forgot is being trust into a new era. The reality is that (for lack of a better word) “change” has always defined New Westminster as much as stability. Over 150 years we have gone from a Quayqayt (“Resting Place”) on a pristine river to a Capital City on the edge of the colony. We were at times largest port on the west coast, the home of the pacific fishing fleet and a regional commercial centre. We were eventually outshone by an upstart western suburb, then gradually enveloped by its growing metropolis. Over time our commercial dominance waned, then our waterfront industry declined. Soon the Quayside led a new residential focus based on waterfront location and condo living, while our transportation spine went from streetcar to automobile to Skytrain. There were good times and bad, and most of the time there was a little of both. These changes were most often gradual, shifts were generational, as were the waves of new immigrants putting their cultural stamp on our community – English, Chinese, Punjabi, Filipino, Honduran, Somali, Syrian…

Through all those times, transitions, and shifts, which should we stamp as the optimum, the one we must not move away from? I know I can’t make that call, and it would suggest it is silly to try. Because over that time all of our strongly-held traditions have adapted – including the oft-cited example of May Day. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about a study that outlined many of these “transitions”, including the way May Day and the festivals around it have changed, sometimes back and forth, based on the economics and attitudes of the day. Most interesting to me was the part that talked about a new upstart group of young business leaders who came in 40 years ago and re-drew a bunch of traditions to modernize the City’s May festivals – the group that came to be known as the Hyack Festival Association.

I only use this as an example, and don’t want to dwell on it, for fear I am playing into the narrative that I don’t believe.

Far from suddenly transitioning to a New New Westminster, we are continuing to evolve. I love some of New Westminster’s “Old” traditions (the Anvil Battery Salute? Who can’t love that?) and am completely uninterested in some others. I also love some (not all!) of the “New” traditions being developed (PechaKucha Nights!) and hope they survive to the next generation. Of course, in between there have been many Traditions that have come and gone, and some in that intermediate stage between “Old” and “New”. Some people like the RC Musical Theatre, some like the Symphony, some like comedy at the Columbia and live music at the Heritage. I think the Royal City Curling Club is a 50-year cultural and sporting tradition in the City that not enough people appreciate, but to love it doesn’t take away from the legacy of the Salmonbellies. Why do we have to choose and put ourselves in camps?

We are all New Westminster. So let’s keep embracing the things we love, and not be afraid to try new flavours. Because it is the combination of “New” and “Old” that makes us special, not an alleged conflict between them.

…and that’s all I have to say about the Whitecaps.

Yes, I am busy these days and haven’t had the writing time I would like, but I thought it was appropriate for me to finish off the Whitecaps story here, to follow up on my earlier optimism turned into creeping suspicion. People on the doorstep are still talking about the issue, and I think there are lessons to be learned from this process that deserve a bit of a debrief.

I’m going to come right out and say I think Council made the right decision, and from listening to their comments at the meeting and in the press, they made it for the right reasons.

As many of us suspected, it came down to the money. A rushed estimate had the City adding more than $11 Million in capital improvements to Queens Park to accommodate the needs of the Whitecaps and the other park users. This compared to $3 Million the City was already budgeting to spend in similar projects over the same timeframe. The “gap” between those two amounts was the central debate.

The breakdown, from the September 15th Meeting. 

Was this the best way for the City to spend $8 Million in capital improvements for Parks and Recreation right now? How does this priority line up against the need to address the Canada Games Pool, or to provide a second sheet of ice in Queens Park, as was included in the Master Plan? (admitted bias here: Ms.NWimby is tired of having to drive to Coquitlam to play hockey when we have two skating rinks within a few blocks of our house but there is no women’s hockey in New Westminster).

To be fair, we don’t know half the deal – the amount of money the Whitecaps were willing to provide, and the potential for other revenues arising from the project. Because of the nature of in camera negotiations, and because I’m sure the Whitecaps don’t want to make their offer public knowledge, as they are likely to be shopping around to other Cities, we can only speculate on whether their contribution would be enough to cover the capital investment costs, or if the less-tangible benefits to the community would have been worth the investment. Clearly, Council did not feel the offer was good enough.

Aside from the money, there were other reasons to support or oppose this project. Some argued the cachet of hosting a USL Pro Team, while other argued it was inappropriate to have what is essentially a for-profit private business operate on publicly-owned park land. If there is one thing I lament through this process, it’s that we didn’t really have a chance to hash out those debates in a meaningful way as a community. I think it would have been instructive going forward as we plan for the next phase of our city’s growth.

Alas, the timing was too short. If the Whitecaps had come around 12 or 18 months ago with a vision, there may (or may not) have had a different result, but we definitely would have had a different process and discussion.

On that timeline, we could have done the due diligence on the plan and the cost. We could have seen a mock-up of what the proposal was and make the inevitable and sometimes subtle changes that would be required to address unforeseen issues. New Westminster baseball could have been better engaged in the planning process, and could have been empowered to build the facility of their dreams without the risk of a lost season that may have hurt their organizations’ momentum. We could have done a comprehensive evaluation of the financial impact on the community and residents (good and bad). We, the residents, could have had a discussion about costs/benefits based on an actual plan, not on conjecture and suspicion. The Whitecaps could have worked with the Queens Park Neighbourhood to reduce impacts, and with TransLink and the Justice Institute or the Uptown malls to develop parking alternatives.

We could have also had time to not mix all of this business planning with the other big debate – is this something the City wants? The (I’m sorry, but it is ideological) debate around the entire idea of having a professional sports franchise operate in our limited parks facilitates. Some oppose this as too financially risky, others on pure ideological reasons, but that important discussion in the City could not happen in a meaningful way as part of this rushed business plan

This may turn out to be a bullet we dodged, or it may turn out to be an opportunity lost, and I guess we won’t really know. However, what was lost was an opportunity for a better community discussion, again forced by an unreasonably tight deadline.

One interesting thing that did come out of this was this post-mortem article in the NewsLeader which shows the balance between boosterism for the City and prudent municipal management. This is a theme that I will be talking about more as the election goes on. If I ever find the time to write!

Cultural Crawl weekend

Now that we all survived traffic-ferry-border-freeway chaos just to get to the beach-island-lake-forest for the long weekend, I am sure you have resolved to spend next weekend at home and never facing that again. Am I Right?
(disclosure: I spend all weekend in my backyard managing a fig harvest, in the kitchen making jam, in my basement/campaign office making plans and repairing bicycles, and consuming ice to keep from spontaneous combustion, but listening the radio most of the time, I was empathetic of those feeling the pain of the “three sailing wait”)
The good news is that you don’t have to leave New Westminsternext weekend to have a weekend full of fun and variety, because the CulturalCrawl is August 9-10. There are events happening in all the different neighbourhoods of New Westminster: some passive, some interactive: some featuring emerging artists, some looking at our history; some a feast for your eyes, some hitting the other senses. And it’s all free. 
When most of us think about Arts in the City, we think about the visual arts (and there is no lack of these on this tour), but Trudy Van Dop, the founder of the Culture Crawl, envisioned a distributed cultural experience, where a City can show the many aspects of its culture – the artists, the historic sites, the museums, the history and the hot spots. Think of what you would want to do if you had guests from outside of the country visiting New Westminster for a weekend- what are all the things you would you want them to see to show off the City’s best characteristics? The Cultural Crawl aims to make them all available on one weekend to encourage “Staycations”, and to attract regional attention to the culture of the Royal City. 
The many private and public galleries in the City are open for the weekend, including Trudy’s beautiful gallery in Victory Heights and the brand new art space opened by Susan Grieg at 100 Braid Street. There will also be special shows at our various museums (including Irving House and Cap’s Bicycle Museum), specials at various retail shops with artsy appeals (including Brick&Mortar Living, Localo Living, the RiverMarket, etc.) and events everywhere from an English Tea at Port Royal Community Garden to the annual Uptown Live music event. Jeez- have you seen the Uptown Live lineup
This year, Ms.NWimby and I are contributing to the Cultural Crawl in the slightest way possible. I mentioned in an earlier post about the passing of our friend, the great painter and artist Jack Campbell. He was born and raised in New Westminster, and created many works chronicling the recent history of his hometown. He was also well known and respected in the local arts community, even after he “retired” to paint on SaturnaIsland, so it turns out many people in New Westminsterhave small collections of his work.
During the cultural crawl, there will be a retrospective showing of selected pieces of Jack’s work, loaned from various New Westminster residents owned by local residents, at the New Westminster Arts Council gallery at Centennial Lodge in Queens Park. We have lent a few Jack originals and prints for the show, both depictions of New Westminster’s (sometimes gritty) history, and some of his late works that find unique forms in the arbutus trees and rocky shores of his home on Saturna Island.
So make Centennial Lodge one of your stops on the Crawl this year, pay a tribute to Jack, but mostly enjoy the fact we live in such a diverse, active, and expressive community, thanks to the volunteer efforts of people like Trudy Van Dop. Summer is great time to be in New West – why drive anywhere else? 


When Pipelines come home

I apologise once again for not posting as often as I would like here. There are many things afoot, bringing a completely different meaning to what I call “free time”. I am also working on a major project related to my pledge (a little more than a year ago) to take a risk – more details on that will be released really soon.

However, this issue has piqued my interest and I had to stay up late to write about it, because these hydrocarbon pipeline projects people keep talking about in other regions of the Province have come home to New Westminster.

After having attended last week’s NWEP meeting where Mark Allison from the City outlined the City’s approach to the project, and Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club came to talk about the Brunette River, I think it is time we in New West started talking about Kinder Morgan.

You probably have heard that Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based uber-pipeline company that purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2005, wants to “twin” thee pipeline. To quote directly from the project site:

“Trans Mountain is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The proposed expansion, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline that would increase the nominal capacity of the system from 300,000 barrels per day, to 890,000 barrels per day. At present, the Westridge Marine Terminal handles approximately five tankers per month. Should the proposed expansion be approved, the number of tankers loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase to approximately 34 per month.”

What we don’t know about this project could fill a blog post, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of this project here. There has been some excellent analysis of the project opportunities and risks prepared by CRED, which you can read here.

However, few people in New Westminster up to now realized that this project will likely be passing though our own backyard, and may have a significant impact on one of the few remaining local areas of high ecological value: the Brunette River. When first announced, it appeared that the pipeline was to be “expanded”, suggesting that it would follow the existing right-of-way through central Coquitlam and skirting along the south side of Burnaby Mountain. However, the proposal showed a different routing for the new pipe, which passed through south Coquitlam, and essentially paralleled the Lougheed Highway. Now, and “alternative route” has become the favoured one – and this one passes though the green spaces on the New Westminster – Burnaby border, immediately adjacent to the Brunette River.

This is where Elmer Rudolph comes in. For those who may not know him, Elmer is a real local hero and a legend amongst western Canada’s Streamkeeper groups. He and his group from the Sapperton F&G Club have spent 40 years pushing the envelope on salmon habitat restoration in urban streams, improving the world’s knowledge of salmon ecology, habitat recovery, and environmental protection in urban areas. He did this mostly through sheer persistence and elbow grease. When the Brunette was a “dead” river as recently as 1970, a lot of very smart people thought any attempt to bring salmon back to the River and its would be wasted time. It was only 15 years later that the River came alive again, and for 20 years since, Elmer and his volunteers have made slow, steady improvement in habitat and water quality along the river and throughout its massive basin.

The route along the Brunette is also part of the region’s best Greenway route, the Central Valley Greenway. That route is a green oasis paralleled by development, density, and traffic, a heavily-used place for pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers, and anyone wanting to escape the sun on these hot summer days and cool off along a bubbling salmon-bearing stream, right in the middle of our City. If you travel along the CVG, you see large areas of habitat enhancement – areas that were improved to improve water quality and habitat diversity – for the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion project only a year or two ago.

So I’m glad the City is getting involved in the project, and the idea of a Public Meeting in New Westminster to discuss the project and get the mood of the community about putting this project adjacent to the Brunette River (like the City did last year for the still-up-in-the-air Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal project) is a good idea.

Hyack : the more things change…

Last post, I suggested some hopes for (dreams of?), a better Hyack Festival in New Westminster. In doing so, I was cognizant of stepping on eggshells, because I don’t want to downplay the efforts of the hard-working volunteers who bring a bit of fun to New Westminster while holding up long-standing traditions.

This got me reading about the history of Hyack*, and I learned that questioning the organization of these major events and challenging the meaning of them has actually been one of those long-standing traditions!

The May Day Celebrations started in 1870, with the ceremony developing around securing a common identity as an agricultural town with “royal” origins – perhaps as a bit of the thumb-to-the-nose at the upstart Capital across the water. It is important to note that May Day was, in those early days, an internal celebration for the residents of New Westminster, not a regional event intended to promote the City externally to a larger regional trading region. At the turn of the Century, the City had the Pacific Exhibition and the Farmers Market to do those things.

Through the first half of the 20th century, the May Day Celebrations expanded to act both for internal cohesion and external boosterism. It was primarily an event for children, becoming an all-day fete with folk dances, the Maypole, and sporting events, with attendance by all New Westminster school children at one point made compulsory. Originally this fest was highlighted by the Anvil Battery Salute, but by the early 1950s, May Day had moved to the Friday before Victoria Day, to foster attendance by elementary students.

By the late 50’s to early 60’s, some of those institutions that held the City together and put it on the map regionally – the Miracle Mile of shops, the Exhibition, and the Farmers Market – were disappearing. During this time, there was pressure to “protect” the May Day Festival and keep it safe from “contemporary tendencies” to expand or transform the event. The Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the mercantile opportunities, suggested moving the May Day to Saturday in 1961 to allow more visitors to be drawn to town. They were thoroughly rebuked by the May Day Committee for suggesting a children’s festival should suffer the ugly encroachment of commercialism.

In the late 60’s, this transformation began regardless, partly due to ongoing pressure from different parts of the community, partly because of the coincidence with larger celebrations of the Centennials of 1958 (of New Westminster), 1966 (of the Colony), and 1967 (of Confederation). The changes were also coincident with some of the “Old Guard” of the May Day Committee starting to retire or die off. By 1966, it was a three-day festival, and in 1967, a 5-day event, including the “largest Parade in the Province’s History”, a carnival in Queens Park, sporting events, an agricultural show, and more. With more than 100,000 people showing up for the Parade (remember, this was a City with less than 40,000 residents), this was clearly a regional event to promote New Westminster, and a significant tourist draw for the local commercial interests at a time when Columbia Street was beginning to see decline. Ugly commercialism had, eventually, encroached.

This growth was not without concern. The loss of traditions and increasing cost of the larger event caused apprehension among many of the traditionalists. When conflict ensued at City Council about spiraling costs, and a concurrent push by some to build a more “professional type, money making event”, a new organizing committee for all festivals was created: one comprised of upstart younger businessmen. This group was less encumbered by old traditionalist and parochial ideas about the fete, but wanted to inject new ideas, energy, and blood into the City’s Festivals. One of their first acts of this so-called “Royal City Society” was to change the name of the May Day celebration into The “Hyack Festival”.

Funded by a 1% tax on businesses, and unfettered by the City’s bureaucracy, Hyack grew to a 10-day celebration. It didn’t replace traditions like the May Day celebrations or the Anvil Salute, but surrounded them with other events to improve the overall attractiveness. In 1972 there was reportedly “a carnival, high-wire acts, roving western singers throughout the City”. In 1973, the festival was just as big with a week of sporting events to build the excitement towards the upcoming Canada Summer Games. In 1974, the Parade moved from Columbia Street to the current Uptown route, reflecting the shifting economic fortunes of the City’s two main commercial centres. By then, visitor numbers had dropped back to the more-typical 25,000 or so people, but Hyack as an entity, and as a festival, continued to thrive. Through ups and downs, as events came and went (canoe race anyone?), this is the same Hyack festival we have today.

But where are we today? The number of events surrounding the mainstay traditions is definitely reduced, and there were clearly not 25,000 people on 6th Street last month. The traditions hold strong, and the Hyack Festivals Association has to be thanked for keeping the flame burning for 40+ years. However, the root of all of the conflict in and around Hyack for the last year seems eerily familiar: how much change is too much change? What is the most responsible way to spend Taxpayer’s Money? Do we want to have a large commercial event (dare I say “professional” or “not amateurish”) to attract people to our City, or a smaller community-building event that represents our traditions and desires? Are these two ideas incompatible?

The 2014 Hyack Festival is over, there is some new leadership of the Festival Association, and the battle for Letter-to-the-Editor dominance has apparently fizzled out. However, the conversation cannot stop now. Sustainable funding is still an uncertainty. The prominence of Hyack is being challenged by the many new neighbourhood and community groups setting up festivals and other events around town. Some of the structural concerns and visioning issues about Hyack that led to last year’s conflict have not been resolved. The worst thing that can happen right now is for the conversation about the role of the Hyack festival Association in our community to go silent.

The bitter fight was silly and distracting; we need a calm discussion. Maybe Hyack should start it. The people of New Westminster want to be engaged in the conversation, because most of us don’t want to volunteer for Hyack or wear a Green Jacket, but we all love a Parade.

*I read many sources for this Post, not the least being Earl Noah’s 1992 MA Thesis (Geography) from UBC, from which anything in quotes above was drawn. My not being a historian means I can hang any errors above on my unprofessional misinterpretation of records, and not a flaw of the records themselves!

Hyack Festival – the fete goes on

Well, we survived another Hyack Festival. By that, I mean Hyack survived to put on another week+ long schedule of events, culminating in the Hyack Parade.

After a year of questionable decisions, accusations, battles (petty and otherwise), victories (pyrrhic and otherwise), and Editorial Page exchanges that only increased the questions and doubts, it was good to see the Show that Must, did indeed Go On. Everyone loves a parade.

Clearly, a successful, if slightly scaled-back, Hyack Festival does not mark the end of the ongoing battle for Hyack relevancy and funding. However, it was a positive step, both for Hyack and the City, and one that did not look a certainty only a few months ago.

I attended various Hyack events this year, chatted with quite a few people at these events, and have talked to many people since. At times, these conversations led to deeper discussions about what these “traditions” we celebrate are for, and who they are for.

Before I start to get critical, I need to acknowledge that I did nothing to help organize the events of Hyack Festival. That puts me in the (very crowded) category of people who complain about something that other people – mostly volunteers – bust their ass to do to the benefit of the community, without lifting a finger myself to help them. This is pretty much the definition of a jerk.However, Hyack themselves are quick to remind us that they are an important part of the City of New Westminster and its traditions. They are also asking that the City continue to support (logistically and financially) the events Hyack organizes every year, which opens them up for a certain level of constructive ruminations. So here are my impressions, not meant to disparage the Festival or organizers, but to add to the discussion of what Hyack means to this city.

There are three 4 major events of general public interest that make up the Hyack festival: the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, the Parade, and the Uptown Street Fair. Some will point out the many other associated events, but I get the sense some fall under the category of normal local events that could occur on any weekend (antique fair, petting farm opening), others seem a little inward-looking (Portland Rosarians Rose Planting, Seymour Artillery Firing), and yet others are not really open events (such as the Formal Banquet) that are more important to Hyack than to the rest of the community.

Of the main events, the Anvil Battery Salute is the one with the greatest historic relevance to New Westminster. The 21-firing salute to Queen Victoria, starting at noon on Victoria Day, is a unique, exciting, and important tradition. I just wish more people were there to see it. I could imagine it as a centrepiece of a great day in the park – the middle of a festival with everything from kid’s games to sports contests to food booths and beer gardens, music, and entertainment. Pick up Sapperton Day, drop it into the middle of the baseball field, and run the Anvil salute then, and you can see what I am getting at. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone event, it can appear to be much ado about nothing to those not aware of the tradition, and the crowd measured in the dozens this year* are a testimony to the failure to make this connection to people.

Being without kids and with a full-time job, I was not able to attend the May Day Celebrations. Wednesday, mid-day just doesn’t work for most of us working stiffs. By all accounts it was well attended, appreciated, and continues to be a highlight of the spring for many kids and parents. That the School Board puts so much effort into the event in these difficult times for that organization shows the desire of the community to protect this tradition that goes back more than 140 years.

This leaves the Hyack Parade and Uptown Street Fest. Everyone (and I have to include myself) loves a parade. It seemed there were many fewer floats this year than last year, and there were definitely more notable gaps in the crowd on the bottom half of the route that I remember from previous years, but the crowd that was there seemed into it. The same goes for the distinctly scaled-back Uptown Street Fest. With a bouncy castle and some food trucks, there was a good hour or so worth of entertainment to be had post-parade. It was well attended for the relatively small space it took up, but to suggest (as some boosters did on Twitter the day of) that it had 3x the attendees of last year’s hugely popular Uptown Festival, is fanciful.

If I was to put out one major criticism (and this is a common theme I have heard voiced), it is that these four events combined would make for a great 2- or 3-day festival. To stretch it out to 8 days over two weekends takes the momentum away from each of the events, and serves all of them a little less. Asking to general public in these busy times to dedicate two weekends to the Hyack festival, when there is only a couple of hours entertainment on each weekend, is not optimal. Given the choice of the Anvil Battery or the Parade, and going camping or to visit grandma on the other weekend, I’ll take the Parade every time (but I wish I didn’t have to choose).

Again, not being an insider, I only have my own suspicions as to why a good 2-day festival is stretched out to 8 days – mostly because the two headliner events can’t be held on the same weekend. Of course, the Anvil Battery Salute is a Victoria Day celebration, so it makes no sense to move that date. However, Victoria Day is a Monday that is not a civic holiday in the United States, and with so many parade floats and marching bands coming up from the Northwest, having the parade on this day would be problematic.

This problem is exacerbated because Hyack is the only Canadian member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Association, and the third weekend in May is already reserved for the Spokane Lilac Festival (put on some sunglasses before clicking that link). I suspect that Spokane is not interested in changing their weekend-before-Memorial-Day tradition, and competition between NFHA members is discouraged. So neither the Parade nor the Anvil Battery Salute can be moved, unless a tradition is broken.

That’s the way of it with traditions. Next post I am going to delve a little deeper into the history of these traditions in New Westminster, and tell a bit of a story about what happens when an upstart group of young business leaders step up to challenge a stale organization to be “bigger and better”, City Hall gets involved, funding gets withheld, and people challenge the parochialism and suspect impropriety of long-held traditions.

*Correction: A member of the Anvil Battery Salute team corrected me today on Twitter, saying an actual crowd count numbered the people at the Anvil Salute at 400. I am surprised, as I felt I had a lot of elbow room” in the stands, and even the photos of the event show pretty sparse crowds, but they had a count and all I have is a vague feeling, so you are better to rust the count! 

RCFM FUNdraiser!

Since I wrote that last piece about the ALR, I have had a lot of chats with people in various forums on the very topic.

I have also read a bit more about the issue, including this typically-idiotic piece by Tom Fletcher where he suggests the only people against the systematic disassembly of ALR protections are the evil NDP and others who aren’t “in the real British Columbia”. I guess he didn’t talk to this guy who seems to know a bit about land development around the ALR, he being a former mayor and land developer in a place with a lot of ALR land, or this collection of people who live and work in the BC food supply chain, from the farm to the restaurant plate, or even these folks, who represent 14,000 BC Farmers. I guess none of them live “in the real British Columbia”, which by Fletcher’s opinions, I have to assume is somewhere near the Premier’s back pocket.

Many people have asked me – what can they do about it? Hopefully you have already contacted your MLA, and the Minister of Agriculture. Really, it only takes a few minutes to write an e-mail, and if you wait until election time to tell your elected officials what you think, you have failed at Democracy 101.

Here is another thing you can do to improve the Food Security in New Westminster: Come to the Royal City Farmers Market fundraiser next Wednesday!

How does that help? The RCFM gives people like Urban Digs and Glen Valley Organic Farm and the Forstbauer Family a place to market their fresh-from-the-ground actually-grown-here good-for-you food. As the good people at the Southwest BC Food System Project remind us- it isn’t just about saving the farmland, it is about assuring we have the sustainable processing, distribution and marketing systems in place to bring the local food to local tables in a way that supports local jobs and the local economy. Your local Farmers Market is part of that.

When everyone in this City is complaining about the Competition Bureau deciding that 4 grocery outlets owned by the same company is the best way to protect our town from monopolistic control of our food supply, a weekly trip to the RCFM is part of the solution – buying fresh food from people you know while enjoying the benefits of community building.

So yeah, you love the RCFM, but why go to the fundraiser? Two reasons:

First, it raises funds to keep the RCFM going. It helps pay for things like the tents, the advertising, the paperwork, the web presence, the musicians, the kids activity table, the special promotions, and it helps the RCFM employ its single staff member to herd the cats that need to be herded to make the whole travelling circus of volunteers and vendors run. It helps the RCFM do the other stuff it provides for the community, like the community table and the food coupon program and the bursary it provides for an NWSS grad. Every bit of the fundraiser money goes right back into our community, into making the RCFM the great weekly event it is!

Second, it will be the social event of the year (or at least the social event of the year that won’t require a special wardrobe). It will be at the brand new Hub Restaurant (have you seen their deck!?) with special canapé prepared by Executive Chef Michael Knowlson from food supplied by actual RCFM vendors, local craft beer and wine, a bunch of silent auction opportunities, and (this is new) a live auction for a few special items.

And yes, the rumours are true, I am going to be acting as MC, and running the live auction. So please show up, because it will be pretty weird for me to stand there auctioning things off to myself.

I personally guarantee you will laugh, you will meet new people, you will enjoy your food and drink, and you will be doing a good thing for a good cause.

Link for ticket purchase is www.rcfm2014.eventbrite.ca

Jane’s Walk time again!

Last year, New Westminster resident, pedestrian, and rabble-rouser Mary Wilson brought Jane’s Walks to New Westminster, to great success.

This year, despite her continued reluctance to do all that Social Media stuff, she once again drew together a team of people to put on a variety of interesting walks.

As a summary, I will quote myself from last year plagiarizing the press release:

“Jane’s Walks are becoming a global event, held in hundreds of cities around the world on the first weekend in May. Around the world, neighbourhood groups organize free community walks to honour the memory of Jane Jacobs. 

Jane Jacobs is considered by many to be the Mother of modern Urbanism, in that she brought it to life, loved and supported it, and worked tirelessly to give it all the tools it needed to prosper. She rose to prominence for her activism to protect Greenwich Village from the Lower Manhattan Expressway proposal, and her ground-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She moved to Toronto during the Vietnam War, and brought her Urban Activism with her, such that she received first Citizenship, then the Order of Canada. To put a local angle on her story, Jacobs is sometimes referred to a founder of Vancouverism for the influence her writings and research had on the development of the urban character of post-freeway Vancouver, built on the belief that density can be done without compromising liveability. 

Jane’s Walks are meant to honour Jane, but also to honour her desire: that cities and urban areas become safe, diverse, and interesting places for people to live, work, and play. We honour this by drawing urban neighbours together to take a walk through their own city, not to get from A to B, but to have a ‘walking conversation’, meet neighbours, learn something new about their own backyard, and ultimately increase citizens’ connection to their urban home.”

I hope to attend a few walks this weekend, but I want to highlight two:

On Saturday evening, I will be joining many of the NEXT New West crowd for a bit of fun, combining Jane’s Walk with the SkyTrain with a good old fashioned Pub Crawl. We will start in Sapperton and use our feet and the SkyTrain to make several stops in local food and drink establishments, at Sapperton, at both ends of Downtown, and then (in an interesting twist!) taking the Starlight Shuttle from 22nd Street Station to the Casino, where there will be live music, dancing, and general merriment.

Sunday will have a different feel, as I am walking with members of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, Get On Board BC, and a few noted local historians, tracing the route of the old BC Electric streetcar line through Queens Park and Downtown. It seem unlikely to us now, but yes, electric trains used to travel along Third Avenue and such places, through the residential heart of our City. It was part of a system that connected Downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack and Steveston (proof exists in the few spots where the old rails still emerge from the asphalt). Along the way, we will talk about what was, what was lost, and what might be possible in the future, with our regional transportation system.

Should be fun! Rain or shine! Come and meet some neighbours and learn a bit about your City! Make Jane proud!

Oh, and if trains and pubs aren’t your thing, there are at least 10 other walks going on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – you really should get the family out for at least to one! They are free, run by volunteers, and you never know what you might learn.

All the info is here: Jane’s Walk New Westminster)

Remembering Jack

The news came down a couple of days late, as tends to happen when Gulf Islands are involved. Last weekend when we had heard that our neighbor had died, it had already been a couple of days.

It didn’t come as a surprise, but that makes it no less sad. Jack’s health had been in decline for a number of years. Emphysema had sapped him of much of his energy, and the oxygen tank was always present the last few years. When we saw him last fall, he was using a scooter to get around and had pretty low energy. But it seemed for a few years that every winter was tough and he would perk up during the summer. 83 is a good number of years, but I guess we all hope for one more good summer…

All images are photos of Jack Campbell originals and prints from our home.

I met Jack Campbell a little more than a decade ago. He was a resident of Saturna Island, where my in-laws also reside. It is a small community, and it doesn’t take too many weekends to get to know most everyone. Jack stood out at first because of the bright sign at the top of the Missing Link directing people to his gallery. It was a vibrant watercolour of a forested stream, grey rocks and blue water and green trees cross-cut with sharp blades of light. “Pieces of Light” was a phrase he used to describe the style he employed commonly while painting natural areas of Saturna Island and the built environment of New Westminster. It was just a coincidence that the three places Jack spent most of his life, New Westminster, the West Kootenay, and Saturna Island, are three places I called home at different stages of my life, and another coincidence when we bought a lot on Saturna, Jack was our neighbour.

The boldness of his watercolours appealed to me immediately, starting with the Gallery sign. I always preferred his New Westminster scenes, mostly pained back when he had a gallery on Columbia Ave during the Bingo-Parlour-and-After-Hours-Club era of Downtown New West, and the River was more of a working place of log booms and beehive burners and fishing vessels.There is one great original piece in his galley (“that one is not for sale” he would say in his gentle, gentlemanly way) that was a drawing of the Queensborough Bridge being built, with the mills of Queensborough smoking behind, and his green Volkswagen in the foreground. It belongs in a museum.

MsNWimby preferred his later work, where he found organic forms in the shorelines and arbutus trees of the Gulf Islands. We always tried to support his small gallery, although most of the time our finances didn’t really allow us to support him the way we wished to!

Jack was raised in New Westminster, and had strong connections in this community. He painted posters for the old Fraser Fest events, and there are various places around town where his paintings still pop up (including one of my favourite works of his in a dentist office up at Royal City Centre). He was a generous man with his talent, often painting posters and postcards for free to be used for events like Fraser Fest or to be auctioned for good causes, and teaching a generation of artists though 14 years of teaching at Emily Carr and 8 more at the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson. When he “retired” to Saturna 15+ years ago, he created a new legacy on the island. His work is well represented in a wall mural in the old community centre, and even as the artwork on the back of your library card at the Saturna Island Library.

Although is work is in collections around the world, it never made him rich; People tell stories of him sometimes paying rent in the form of paintings. However, he created a lot of beauty in this world, and made a lot of our lives richer for having done so. I’ll miss running into him out walking around our pond with Carole and Warbie (their rambunctious little pup named after Warburton Pike), and his welcoming hello whenever we dropped by his gallery.

I feel very lucky to have met him, and to have shared a planet with him, if just for a little while.

Sustainable Spaces Dialogue

On Friday evening, more that 75 people showed up at Douglas College to talk about land use, sustainability, and the future or our public space in New Westminster. The event was the product of the remarkable young mind of New Westminster native Colin O’Neil and sponsored by the Rivershead Society of BC. I was honoured to be invited to provide one of the short talks that were intended to get the people in the room thinking about sustainable spaces.

I had 20 minutes, and wanted to talk about how New Westminster relates to the river (it being an event of the Rivershead Society) and about land use. These topics, during my research, kept pointing back at the history of the Port of New Westminster, and how its modern corollary Port Metro Vancouver impacts every part of our waterfront and the planning of our community.

As working on this talk took up much of my normal “blogging time” over the last little while, I figured I would repurpose my speaking notes into a blog post. So below are the notes I made, along with the photos that were projected during my talk. Note I tend to rift off on my notes during talks, but the framework is here. This is, more or less, what I meant to say, as opposed to what I actually said.


I want to talk about the pressures on land use on the riverfront, historically, and at present, and how that relates to sustainability of our community


The history of our City is tied to how we have used our waterfront, the geography of the waterfront, and the value we put on that place. In New Westminster, we are emerging from a long-term stagnation as the City waited for some form of renewal. That renewal only began with a re-imagining of how our waterfront is used. To understand how we address the Fraser River now, we need to look at some history.

The City is here because of the River. The Fraser has provided the City many things: water, food, transportation, a place to put our wastes. But mostly it gave us a reason to be here and a place to form our community.


Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

I became a geologist after studying geography, so when I look at land, I think about the physical forces that formed it, then about the human forces that shaped it. It was only 10,000 years ago that this place where we are today emerged from several millennia of ice cover, and the shoreline here was oceanfront. The Fraser River was choked with glacial sediments unlocked from melting ice, and the Fraser Delta grew westward from here. It was probably immediately after the ice left that the first people arrived here, no doubt using these shores for fishing, to hunt game, to gather food, to rest and gather. We don’t know who these first visitors were, but we know after several thousand years, their direct descendents, the Qayqayt had established villages here by the time that Europeans arrived by sea and down the river a mere 200 years ago.


Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

The European reasons for locating here was a simple military decision bred of ambitions of empire. Fort Langley was located in a swamp on the wrong side of the River, and when the inevitable American invasion came, the Brits would be overrun and driven in to the river. New Westminster had a steep shoreline on the correct side of the River to face down the invading hoards. It must have been a formidable position, as the hoards never actually arrived, and the invasion ended with the unfortunate death of one pig San Juan Island, but that is another story altogether.

The first boom for New Westminster came with the Fraser River, then Cariboo, gold rushes. Despite losing the status of Capital to politics a decade later, and the western terminus of the CPR two decades after that to more politics, New Westminster put some serious industrial roots down in those first decades… and it was all about the River.


Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

By 1887, Vancouver became the railhead, but New Westminster was home to Canada’s Pacific fishing fleet. There were already more than a dozen canneries on the Fraser River. There were also four sawmills, and ironworks and machine shops to support these primary resource industries. As the surrounding areas of Lulu Island and Southwestminster were cleared of trees and ploughed into farms, New Westminster became the centre for all agricultural trade in the new Province.

By the turn of the century (last one) a rail spur and the first bridge across the river were built – the same bridge that carries trains across the river today. The waterfront was remarkably diverse in its industrial function. As dredging increased and larger ships were permitted upriver, New Westminster became the most important Port on the west coast.

Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

It is hard for us younger folk here to envision how industrial New Westminster was around the time of World War 2. There were 15 lumber mills, a dozen fish canneries and places to can produce, a paper mill, a distillery, a brewery, meat packing, cold storage, fertilizer manufacturing, wood treatment, aircraft manufacturing and shipbuilding, and a huge machine shop, metalworking and woodworking industry to support it all. Almost the entire waterfront was taken up by one of the 120 or so manufacturing plants. And they used the River, for transport, water, raw materials, and a place to put their waste.

At the time of the cleanup-up to the Pier Park, they discovered large piles of metal shavings full of cutting fluids in the shore sediments. Apparently these old machine shops would cut a hole in the floor of the pier to dispose of their shavings, and when the pile built up to the base of the pier, they simply nailed down some planks to cover the hole, and cut another one 20 feet over. The River was a great place to put your waste!


Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

Shipping from the Port of New West peaked in 1956, and along with this peak came the peak of retail commercial business- the “Golden Mile” era of Columbia Street. Then things changed.

How many manufacturing plants do we have now?

The Port declined in the early 70s, and closed shop completely in 1980.

Why? Where did they go?

A large part of the answer is globalization. International competition and the emergence of Asian manufacturing made it cheaper to import the important service equipment these primary manufacturers required. The primary manufacturing industries (and the waterfront was dominated by sawmilling) were seeing consolidation, and a movement from local control to external control. When economic stresses of volatile global markets hit the single-resource industries, the old technology in these New West facilities was easy to shut down first in favour of newer or less labour intensive plants elsewhere.

At the same time, the Port declined as its original fortuitous location became untenable for the new ways of moving freight. The ships started to get too large for the Fraser River, but more importantly, those steep defensible slopes did not allow enough room on the shore side of the dock for roll-on-roll-off and containerization methods. The old warehouses of the New Westminster waterfront were decrepit, and no-one was interested in investing in their renewal.


Image source: New Westminster Archives Online

Part of the story of our City’s interaction with the River is told in the history of our Port Authority. The Port of New Westminster – the piers and buildings where the freight was stored and moved during the peak – belonged to the City. The New Westminster Harbour Commission was formed in 1913, and worked with City and the Board of Trade to promote the Port and fought off competition from Port of Vancouver. The Port had a global reach, trading to the USA, through the Panama Canal to Europe, and to the emerging Asian markets. The NWHC promoted connections to all of these places, advertised globally in a competitive market to get the most of the ongoing growth. And for a little while, that worked.

Eventually, the geographic constraints and change of technology through the 50s and 60s led to expansion of port facilities to Fraser Surrey Docks and Annacis Island, and the NWHC became the Fraser River Harbour Commission in 1965, covering the entire area upriver from Steveston to the Pitt River and Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge.

The FRPC eventually became the Fraser River Port Authority, and that latter entity ceased to exist in 2008, when the Federal Government decided to amalgamate all Port operations between Horseshoe Bay and the US border into one authority – ”Port Metro Vancouver”.

I’m not going to get too deep into the reasons for this, but the impact obvious: a further reduction in local control of the waterfront. Especially as we look at the “mandate” and “vision” of this new regional authority:

Note the word “Gateway” always appears with a capital “G”, like most deities.

This is the part of the talk where I delve into subjectivity and opinion, but you need to get subjective here, because this speaks directly to how we value our river, our waterfront, and our community. What do we want our river to be? How do we want to use our waterfront? Do we want a say in how our community develops?

These statements don’t speak much to accountability to the local community, although the Port does seem interested in local benefits. But things actually get worse, because these statements changed in 2014  (which I write here over the old ones, to put the contrast in high relief):

Where they used to benefit us, they now wish to inspire us and fill us with national pride.

Maybe this is just a bit of Winter Olympic year hubris, we did, after all win a lot of gold metals this year, and everyone wants a piece of that…. but I’m having my doubts.

Here is visioning document put out by the Port a couple of years ago. This is meant to help the Port set plans for the coming decades – to envision the future they will need to plan towards. In this document, they set out 4 possible futures, and aside from the phallic symbolism, the colour scheme (green is good, red is bad) makes it clear what future the Port wants, and what it does not:

But look closely at how the Port, in their visioning, describes success:

Which in these uncertain times seems reasonable, I guess. The future is uncertain, the globe is headed to shit, but damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Contrast this to the vision of failure, the fate we must avoid:

Local resiliency? Well being? The horror…

Again I ask, what do you want your port to provide to your community?


Maybe we don’t want to go back to having heavy industry on our waterfront, maybe we value the space differently. We now provide different values to the River: we want to look at it, be cooled by it, be provided ecosystem services from it. We still rely on it for work, we still want it to provide us fish, and these uses are ultimately compatible with using it for transportation.

This is not to say the Port doesn’t use our waterfront for industry. However, it uses it in very different ways, mostly to store things and move things on and off of trucks. Today, the Port wants to take more of our farmland to convert it into industrial space, not for moving goods on and off of boats, or even for adding value to goods or undertaking manufacturing – but to put things on and off of trucks.

Don’t worry about the ALR, they say, we need an “Industrial Land Reserve”, and we can just truck in all of our food.

Look at this piece of Port land, almost 40 hectares of industrial land belonging to the Port, rapidly being filled with warehouses. What’s missing?

The piers. There is no-where for a boat to tie up. How will they move things on and off of boats? There is one old one, rarely used for moving wood pulp onto boats as break bulk. Instead of building piers to move all of those containers you can see, or all the good in all of those massive warehouses, the Port is investing in building an overpass to connect this access road to the East-west Connector, and to expanding road access to the area, to more rapidly get the trucks to your neighbourhood streets.

This is the Captial-G “Gateway” in those mission statements. No wonder Councillor Harold Steves in Richmond gets all ornery about the Port buying the 10 hectares of active farm land just to the north of this picture.

Now, why am I hitting the Port so hard? Any why doesn’t councillor Steeves do something about it?

Because the Port is making these decisions that will decide what our waterfront (and our river, and our community) will look like over the coming decades, whether you like it or not. They are completely unaccountable to local concerns.

Will our waterfront become a larger export site for thermal coal, eking small profits from the exacerbation of the largest man-made global catastrophe of all time? The Port approves, despite community concerns.


Will we allow the Port to buy up more ALR land, convert it to industrial land by fiat, and lease it out for profit to trucking companies? At the same time they don’t pay living wages to those truckers? The Port argues this is important, and we cannot allow “local well-being” to slow their growth.


We live in New Westminster where the #1 livability issue is traffic: trucks and through-commuters. The region has spent $5 Billion building freeways for trucks, that Capital-G “Gateway Program”, the support of which the Port has made their mandate and vision. And they are not done. Another $3 or $4 Billion of your money will be spent replacing the Pattullo and the Deas Tunnel – the Gateway marches on. Meanwhile our livability suffers as we need to cut bus routes in our community for lack of investment. If we dream of expanding public transit, we will need to hold some sort of referendum at some point off in the future.

All of these issues and more have one thing at the core – the Port.

Remember how the industry of New Westminster changed, the forces that restructured out waterfront and caused decades of decline in our City: lack of local ownership, multinationals taking over the businesses, reliance on volatile foreign markets for resource goods instead of concentration on building local resiliency and well being.

I’m not saying I want to go back to cutting metal shavings into the river, but we have to recognize that the river can still be our connection to a bigger world and at the same time provide us a better community.

It is still why we are here. But now, more than ever, we have very little say about what happens to it. Remember those vision statements: Who does the Port answer to?

I, for one, don’t think local resiliency, sustainability, and livability should be feared.