Been to New Westminster lately? If you haven’t been there, what images first comes to mind? Are they positive or negative? If they’re negative, you’d be in for a surprise with the changes that have happened in the city. Big changes.
New Westminster was once the pride of British Columbia. It was proclaimed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Moody in 1859 to be the official capital of the Colony of British Columbia. It was official recognized as a city in 1861, exactly 25 years before Vancouver was established as a city. A lot of history is in that town which currently has a population of over 65,000.
It was seen as a great pathway with being located by the Fraser River. Excellent for transportation of goods through the waters and great links by rail service. It’s area rich in trees was especially beneficial for the logging industry and for the pulp and paper industry. Many pulp and paper mills were build around New Westminster and the Fraser River. Its railway system would also be built around the various mills.
As many of you have noticed in your own cities, the older buildings would face a neglect for some time. Much during the 60’s and 70’s. New Westminster faced a neglect during the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of the times the areas would be some of the sleazier areas of town often the scene of drug deals or crime. Even the older buildings would start to look shabby over time. The area around New Westminster Skytrain station used to be a popular hangout for young thugs. Some former residents of New West may remember that.
One thing many people will notice is the many improvements made in New Westminster over the last ten years. Columbia Street has definitely made big improvements in the last ten years. Before 1964, Columbia St. used to have many department stores and was the downtown attraction of New Westminster. The area consisting of the major stores around Columbia St. which also linked with South Burnaby and North Surrey was known as the Golden Mile. That changed after 1964 when the Highway #1 freeway was completed and allowed people to travel to Vancouver faster. Many of the department stores along Columbia St. closed up and moved themselves to the Uptown area. The nearby landmarks like Douglas College, the Courts and the City Hall were the places still keeping it active mostly.
Things really improved since Wayne Wright became mayor of New Westminster in 1999. Columbia St. has recently gone under a ‘facelift’ in the last ten years. One of the things Columbia St. is noted for is their array of wedding and bridal shops. It has become a major area for wedding planning and fashion. Housing along Columbia St. has also sprouted out with new developments happening. Even older buildings were renovated or given new life for attracting new and current businesses. There’s even an annual automobile festival in July, the ‘Key West Show & Shine’, that attracts people to the street.
The biggest boost on Columbia St. was the Plaza 88 along the New Westminster Skytrain station. A multi-storied condo was built there five years ago with the anticipation of an adjacent outdoor shopping mall along the Skytrain levels. Back in winter 2011, the New Westminster Skytrain station opened Plaza 88 and has since become a common shopping place with a Safeway and a Shoppers Drug Mart. A movie theatre opened there last year as well as various other stores and medical businesses and new businesses continue to come in. Ten to even five years ago, the area was very run down full of old crumbly buildings and was a common hangout for people into drugs or causing trouble. Now the place makes for a for comfortable setting for people and even includes a play area for children.
Another bustling area is the New Westminster Quay market alongside the Fraser River. The Quay market had a slow period roughly six years ago as businesses left many vacancies behind. A major renovation of the market area from July 2007 until its reopening in September 2010 has succeeded in attracting new businesses in especially with having an ‘anchor store’ with Donald’s Market.
Another redeveloped in New Westminster as of recent is the Brewery District. The Brewery District used to be the pride of the town of Sapperton after the Sapperton Brewery was opened in 1879. The brewery was owned by many brewing companies with Labatt’s Brewing Company being its last one in 1958. The brewery was closed in 2004 after Labatt’s decided to withdraw its business. The area that used to be part of the brewery has been redeveloped in the last few years. The area was recently revived with the opening of a Thrifty Foods and a Toronto Dominion bank. A Brown’s Social House restaurant and a Shopper’s Drug Mart were also opened months ago. Nearby is the office for the Greater Vancouver Transit Police and Translink with office room for more businesses. There’s already a condo area in existence to the surrounding area and more homes are planned in the years to come. Even with the surprising news in the past two months of Thrifty Foods being sold by its umbrella company Sobey’s, the area still shows potential for consumer business to increase over time.
It isn’t just new buildings and businesses that New Westminster is proud to show off. Recently it has also developed a sense of pride for its past. Back in 2009, the Royal City celebrated 150 years. The Irving House on Royal St., now a museum, is its most classic building and open to the public and even has a Victorian style Christmas. The New Westminster Heritage Centre runs guidelines for running and developing its classic homes and buildings. This allows for buildings like the BC Penitentiary to be converted into an office or even the CPR station on Columbia St. to be converted into a Keg Restaurant for some time. There are also tours of heritage homes which still keep their own facades and designs despite renovations and modernizations for current occupancy. The New Westminster Mayday festival started in 1870 and still continues today as a tradition with participating children still wearing the traditional uniform and dancing around the maypole.
It’s not only what has been completed in the last five years or past buildings and traditions revamped that has caught a lot of buzz for New Westminster but also what’s planned for the future. Being constructed nearby Plaza 88 will be the brand new New Westminster Civic Centre or the Anvil Centre as it’s commonly called now. That area too was once part of an area that had a lot of old buildings that were also looking run down and also a common spot for homeless people and drug addicts to loiter around. The centre is designed in the shape of an anvil commemorating the Anvil fired off annually during the Battery Salute of the annual Hyack Festival. The centre which is expected to open next year promises a 350-seat theatre, art studios, multi-purpose rooms for arts and performing arts development, a conference space with banquet seating for up to 500, a new location for Tourist New Westminster on ground level, and a new home for both the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum of New Westminster.
There was one negative note. Back in October there was a fire that burned down the E.L. Lewis Building, one of Columbia St.’s older buildings still put to good use. The fire devastated the building and surrounding area leaving 30 businesses displaced. It was an unfortunate happening. This could however lead to promise of a new development in terms of businesses or housing.
New Westminster has developed a new sense over the years. It’s a city with a proud and celebrated past with a highly ambitious future. Despite the negative impact in the past 20 to 30 years, the city has made big improvements and promises more in the future. The Royal City is becoming Royal again.
For more information about New Westminster, click the link to the official website.
Hi. I know it’s been a while since I wrote something, especially of substance. So here I am getting back into the swing of things with my latest article. Hope you like it.
If you’ve lived in BC this past year and a half, you may have known for a long time about the most heated three letters in the province: HST. The tax came from nowhere, became part of BC faster than you think and is now up for public vote after a year of existence. The tax and the craziness surrounding it is both frustrating for the citizen and cartoonish in the media’s eye. Even more surprising is that the referendum involving the HST isn’t your typical ballot-and-booth referendum but a mail-in referendum lasting a full month. Most BC residents may not know a whole lot about this Harmonized Sales Tax but it sure has been far from harmonious in BC.
What few people know is that British Columbia is currently one of five provinces with an HST. The others being New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Actually it was the Atlantic Provinces who worked back in 1996 in having a Harmonized Sales Tax implemented in order to lower the amount of tax a citizen would have to pay. This resulted in a 15% HST that came into existence on April 1, 1997. When the GST lowered to 6%, the HST went down 1% to 14% and would go down to 13% when the GST was reduced to 5%. It was noticed that the price of goods fell when the HST came in. In fact one of the things in changing from a cascading tax to a value-add tax was to reduce income taxes, and instituted direct transfer payments (refundable tax credits) to lower-income groups, resulting in lower tax burdens on the poor.
The benefits of the HST were appealing. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper government said of tax harmonization: the single most important step provinces with retail sales taxes could take to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.” However it was in 2010 when the HST was implemented in BC and Ontario that the drawbacks came to light. It made businesses hard to manage and property values hard to maintain. Many food expenses which had either to the one tax or neither tax became more expensive. The price of gas increased. Services like haircutting and dry cleaning which had only one tax saw the raised price. Some items in BC, like public transportation, ferry costs and toll-bridge tolls. Children’s clothing, child-care items and feminine hygiene items were also exempt. Nevertheless the expenses that were already added were noticed soon enough.
In BC, the brouhaha about this tax is not just simply its existence but its introduction and implementation. It was first reported back in June 23, 2009 that the BC government under the leadership of Gordon Campbell intended to harmonize the two taxes. Full attention to this tax didn’t come until after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver had ended. Before it was to be implemented on July 1, 2010, the raucous was not only raised by BC citizens but former premier Bill Vanderzalm in campaigning to get the HST abolished. After the HST was made official in BC, Vanderzalm still continued on his campaign while Gordon Campbell’s popularity soon dipped to single-digit percentages, leading him to retire.
Now the fate of the HST lies in the hands of the citizen of British Columbia. All registered BC voters including myself were sent a mail-in yes/no ballot in which one is to vote not on keeping the HST but on abolishing the HST. The deadline for mailing in the vote was Friday July 22nd. During that time, there has been many pro-HST and anti-HST rhetoric. Those against the HST would speak of their drawbacks, most notably the increase in expenses for BC citizens and the businesses that have either faced huge economic difficulties or closed. The common citizen should also have its own experience with the HST in the past.
Those for the HST have come from economics or other sources that have studied the HST in the past. On May 4, 2011, an independent panel commissioned by the BC government released a report on the impact of the HST in BC. The report concluded that “Unless you are among the 15 per cent of families with an income under $10,000 a year, you’re paying more sales tax under the HST than you would under the PST/GST: On average about $350 per family.” The report also predicted that by 2020, the HST is anticipated to result in a BC economy that will “Be $2.5 billion larger than it would be under the PST. That’s about $480 per person or $830 per family.” There was even a prediction from the University of Calgary that the HST will lead to 600,000 more jobs in the next ten years. Economists have even spoken of the potential damages and drawbacks that could happen if the HST is abolished.
Anyways the referendum is over. If you didn’t mail your ballot in by now, tough cookies. Time will tell what the result of referendum will determine. Time will also tell which tax system was supported by the people and whether it will pay off in the long run. Stay tuned. The future of BC and its economy will be decided.
WIKIPEDIA: Harmonized Sales Tax.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonized_Sales_Tax>