NEW WESTMINSTER – THE ROYAL CITY
Posted on Flickr by Dennis S. Hurd
“A detachment of Royal Engineers was sent out from Great Britain to provide military protection and to perform various civil duties, notably survey work. New Westminster was chosen as the site for the capital of the new colony by Colonel R. C. Moody, Officer Commanding the Royal Engineers.” - McDonald, Margaret Lillooet
Named by Queen Victoria herself, New Westminster is a city found in the province of British Columbia, Canada. ‘New West,’ as it is popularly called, is adjacent to the municipalities of Burnaby and Coquitlam and across the Fraser River from the cities of Surrey and Delta.
Originally inhabited by Halkomelem speaking Nations (otherwise referred to as the Sto: lo or river people) including Kwantlen First Nation, Qayqayt First Nation, as well as all Coast Salish peoples; New Westminster was a site handpicked by Richard Moody (at the head of the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers) to serve as a major outfitting point for prospectors flooding in from U.S.A during the Fraser Gold Rush.
In New West, the summers are comfortable and slightly cloudy between June and September while the winters can be very cold and wet with the most rainfall seen through November to January. The average annual temperature noted between 1980 and 2010 was 10.6 degrees Celsius. Under a high emissions scenario, this figure is predicted to rise to 12 degrees Celsius for the 2021-2050 period.
The population of New Westminster recorded by the Census of 2021 stood at 78,916 people. In the last two decades, as the central city addresses have become more desirable and the land prices in the City of Vancouver have surged, it has become appealing again to live in New West.
Source: Statistics Canada
This city is located at the head of the Fraser River delta, making it one among the busiest ports in western Canada and one of the province’s biggest industrial centres. The waterfront is considered the city’s most significant economic, cultural, and natural asset.
Salmon fishing has been practiced on the Fraser delta since before the settlers arrived but canneries only developed in the 1870s as a market for it grew in Britain. Many manufacturing firms in the area also earned their revenue by supplying machinery to this sector. The 1870s also saw the advent of the city’s most important long term economic activity, the sawmills.
The industrial waterfront connects New West to other parts of the world through the wood products manufactured locally and shipped abroad along with zinc, fertilizer, fruit, flour, and other Canadian exports that are unloaded from the docks.
Known for the manufacture of forest products, New Westminster also has other industries, including food processing (fruit and vegetables), distilling, brewing, shipbuilding, and oil refining. Along the quayside, there is a high prevalence of breweries, restaurants, cafes, bars, beauty salons and thrift stores.
Mariia Vernigorova is a Ukrainian immigrant who is now a permanent resident and the manager at Old Crow Coffee Co, a café by day and cocktail bar by night. “Nobody comes to New Westminster just to hang out and people come here only intentionally, but seventy percent of our customers during weekdays are regulars,” she said. It is the regulars that keep the business afloat during challenging times like the pandemic. While there are a couple of events attracting people to New West, she said, “somehow all the celebrations fall in the same time period creating a lot of pressure and then the rest of the year is just slow.” She also mentioned how cafes are more affected than spas and salons because they rely upon spontaneity rather than offering an intentional service where you call and book an appointment. As a result, a lot depends on social media marketing, word of mouth and innovative sales tactics to garner more footfalls.
On July 16, 1860, New Westminster was made into a municipality at the behest of Governor Douglas. This meant it was the first city in the province of British Columbia to have an elected municipal government.
The present mayor, Patrick Johnstone, was elected in 2022 after serving two consecutive terms on the City Council in New West. Phone: 604-527-4522. Email: email@example.com.
One of the newer faces on the city council, Tasha Henderson sounded optimistic about the diversity of the members. "Last term we had the first two racialized women ever elected on council, this term we have a Metis councillor and three other racialized councillors so it’s really exciting to see that our local leadership is reflective of the diversity of our community,” said Henderson.
Picture from the City’s website
Henderson has only worked in the City Council for a couple of months but right off the bat, she listed out three main challenges for New West: affordable housing, the aging infrastructure and of course, the climate crisis. She maintains that the city is doing a lot on the housing problem but there is a long road ahead. “We have a lot of good initiatives around fast-tracking non-profit housing development, inclusionary zoning, bylaws that support a certain percentage of affordable units in any development,” Henderson said. The council person sounded upbeat about the engagement team (struck last term) focussed on reducing the barriers that people face in accessing public services. On a lighter note, she described her city as a “funky, urban center that sometimes feels like a small town.” Henderson commended the new media gallery at Anvil Conference Centre as one of the hidden gems in New West, also adding that it has the second highest attendance in the Lower Mainland region.
(Phone: 604-619-8297. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Here is the contact information of the other councillors this term:
Phone: 604-619-7205 Email: email@example.com
Phone: 604-619-8423 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 604-522-9114 Email: email@example.com
Phone: 604-619-1761 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 604-202-9034 Email: email@example.com
According to a source at the Recreation Services and Facilities department of the City, a major issue affecting the local government is staffing shortage. This results in slower than usual processing and response times and some departments are also feeling overwhelmed by the hiring and training pressures. A backlog of projects that were slowed during the pandemic add to the ever-increasing workload for the city staff.
Schools and School Board
New Westminster has a Board of Education, and its latest members were elected in November 2022 for a four-year term. Below are their names and email addresses.
Maya Russell, Vice-Chair
Gurveen Dhaliwal, Board Chair
In 2019, the City of New Westminster amended its licensing (rental units) bylaw to include Part 6, a section designed to mitigate renovictions and protect those tenants who may be displaced by large-scale renovations. In 2021 however, the city repealed Part 6 because of comprehensive changes made by the province of B.C. to the Residential Tenancy Act itself.
Brook Jensen from the New Westminster Tenants Union is a volunteer organizer who tries to help tenants in his city defend themselves from renoviction, negligence or unfair treatment by building owners. “We want to organize tenants in New West into a political organisation that can affect systemic change in the same way that property owners are organized though LandlordBC,” Jensen said. In the course of his work, Jensen mentions cost of living as one of the biggest issues in New West. “I know a lot of people who are paying below market rents because they have been in those units for quite a while, and they don’t have high incomes so they basically can’t move anywhere in New West,” he said. He also stressed upon the fact that New West has a large community of seniors and a lot of them are on fixed incomes and they are just living off that and their pensions. Jensen drew my attention to how there are “a lot of medium rise rental buildings that are quite old and have changed ownership a lot recently.” The new owners try to raise rent up to market prices to gain more revenue and this can cause a lot of displacement, Jensen said.
The new bylaw in 2019 slowed down renovictions in New West but Jensen said the union has seen other malpractices such as the caretaker evictions, where according to the Residential Tenancy Act, you are allowed to evict someone if you need to put an in-building caretaker in a suite. “But we have noticed that a lot of these are used in bad faith where they are targeted at people who are paying the lowest rent and even when there are vacant suites in the building,” said Jensen. Sometimes when a building gets purchased, general maintenance of a property could also worsen especially if the new owner is just waiting for the tenants to leave so they can flip it, he said.
Aside from organizing and empowering tenants, the union also tries to keep people informed. “There’s no rule that says you have to be told when someone new is buying your building until you have to change the name on the rent cheque,” said Jensen.
Several challenges such as fires, vacant properties, the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased homelessness have impacted livability in New Westminster's downtown. Residents and businesses have reached out to the city in 2022 seeking help to resolve problems including needle pickup, mental health support, addiction care, emergency shelters and lack of public washrooms.
In September 2021, the council passed the Downtown Recovery Strategy which had these major focus points:
Cleanliness and 24-hour public toilets
Homeless outreach and added emergency shelter capacity
Opioid epidemic and illicit drug response
Business support and outreach
Mental health response
Other highlights from the past two years include: construction of the massive aquatic and community centre; the rise of high-density housing in the Glenbrooke North neighbourhood; police reforms; mobile crisis team for mental health issues, among others.