Royal City No Longer Royal Slum

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 Plaza 88 Shopping Mall (shown here) and condo development has helped to give new life to the New Westminster Skytrain Station and Columbia St.
The Plaza 88 Shopping Mall (shown here) and condo development has helped to give new life to the New Westminster Skytrain Station and Columbia St.

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.

The addition of new buildings and new stores like Thrifty Foods has helped give new life to the Brewery District since the brewery closed in 2004.
The addition of new buildings and new stores like Thrifty Foods has helped give new life to the Brewery District since the brewery closed in 2004.

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.

The Anvil Centre, slated to open later this year, is slated to be the city's new civic centre.
The Anvil Centre situated across Plaza 88, slated to open later this year, is to be the city’s new civic centre.

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.

Movie Review: The Wizard Of Oz (3D IMAX Re-release)

The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the Imax treatment for one week only.
The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the IMAX treatment for one week only.

It’s interesting how many films have been re-released in 3D. However this week marked an opportunity to see a classic movie re-released in 3D for the first time ever, and in IMAX to boot. It seems appropriate that the first classic movie to receive a 3D re-release is The Wizard Of Oz. The big question is does The Wizard Of Oz work in 3D?

Just like my review of the 3D re-release of Titanic, I will focus my review in the 3D aspect of the film as well as other technical aspects. The most I will mention about the film itself is that it still qualifies as a masterpiece. The acting, singing and dancing are top notch and the movie is perfectly edited. The visual effects are very cheap and chintzy by today’s standards but they didn’t have today’s visual effects technologies 75 years ago. Nevertheless the movie continues to entertain families even to this day.  It’s no wonder why it’s stood the test of time. In fact I declare: “If you haven’t seen The Wizard Of Oz, you didn’t have much of a childhood.” The film has received a load of acclaim including a #10 ranking on the AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Films of all time, a #3 ranking on their list of the Best Musicals, a #1 on the Top Fantasy Films and a #43 rank on the Top Thrillers List. Three of its lines made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes with “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” being #4. Three of its songs made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Songs with Over The Rainbow naturally being #1.

Another interesting note to add is that it was directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming also directed another masterpiece released in 1939: Gone With The Wind. Both would become two of the greatest films ever made. 1939 would be considered one of the greatest movie years ever and you could bet it was because of those two movies. No doubt they established Fleming as one of the biggest directors ever.

As for the 3D IMAX re-release, I often questioned in the days before seeing it whether it was a good idea to re-release it in 3D? Technology’s changed a lot in the many decades since. The special effects would be seen as cheap by today’s movie goers. Would the 3D work? Would the IMAX theater format work?

I saw it Saturday night. Hey, this is a one-week only limited time thing. The film started on an impressive note. I noticed the 3D work with the MGM roaring lion and the opening credits with the clouds in the background. As for the story, I didn’t notice how the 3D addition made too much effect on the movie. The debris from the cyclone didn’t really surprise us. The bedroom window images Dorothy was looking at in mid-air was made too obvious this was film-on-film work. The pyrotechnics used didn’t appear 3D. The flying monkeys didn’t appear like they were coming for me as I was hoping they would.

I don’t think the 3D effect really added too much too the movie. Showing it on an IMAX screen did. It wasn’t necessarily the special effects that were enhanced by the IMAX screen but it was the viewing of the whole movie. I’ve seen it on television many times but just to experience it on an IMAX screen was definitely something. I think I would have been impressed even if I saw it on a regular movie screen. Nevertheless it was a delight to see. The movie must have been remastered because the colorful images of Oz were incredible. The ruby slippers shined, the makeup on the tin man looked fresh, the green face of the witch looked scary, Glinda’s gown looked majestic, the yellow brick road looked freshly painted, Emerald City glowed…I think I could go on forever. Even the sound appeared remastered as the movie score and the musical numbers from everyone, especially Judy singing Over The Rainbow, sounded completely fresh.

Funny thing is that it has me wondering if there will be any other classic movies that would receive a 3D re-release. I will admit that The Wizard Of Oz is the one classic movie that most deserves a 3D re-release but will others follow? I’m sure there are some, like say King Kong or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. I’m tempted to think some of those sci-fi B-movies from the 50’s would be great to re-release in 3D. So would Star Wars. Actually does Star Wars now qualify as a classic movie?

Oh yeah. For those curious about the box office biz, it made roughly $3.1 million this weekend. Ironically it made $3 million back during its original release in 1939.  Actually $3 million would be lots in 1939. I’m sure if you adjusted 1939’s total with inflation and added in the grosses of the various re-releases, it would be in the hundreds of millions.

I’ll admit that I find 3D releases of movies cash-grabs, including 3D re-releases. The 3D of the 3D IMAX re-release of The Wizard Of Oz didn’t add too much. However the IMAX format and the remastering of both the images and the sound made it an excellent viewing pleasure. Reminds you that it’s so right and proper that it be re-released on the big screen whatever format it’s given.

VIFF 2012 Review – City Lens: 60s Vancouver by Night & Day

I mentioned that I already saw one shorts program at the VIFF. I was lucky to come across a second one. City Lens wasn’t just any shorts program but one done by Vancouver filmmakers in the late 50’s and early 60’s and all were filmed in black and white. It was an interesting look at Vancouver through those years and what they showcased. Here are the films I saw and what I thought of them:

-City Patterns (1962)-This was a ten-minute short that featured images of Vancouver architecture to band music. It’s not necessarily the quality of the short I paid much attention to but of the places that were filmed. I often thought things like “So that’s what it looked back then” or “Does that place still exist?.” It was just a piece-by-piece film but I was amused with it.

-The Outcast (1963)-This was a biographical film of a former criminal trying reintegrate himself back to society. He’s both the subject being filmed and the narrator. We see him in a hotel on Main Street getting ready for the morning. We see him walk from industrial area to industrial area looking for work. We see him have a nervous look as a flashing police car drives by. During the filming shots he narrates who he is and what crimes he committed. He talks of his struggles to find a job with his criminal record. He also talks about his hopes to leave his bad past behind. The short left me wondering about former criminals and their opportunities to reintegrate into society back then. It left me wondering what was it like then? Is it better or worse now?

-PNE Midway (1960)-Now this is something that would definitely take a Vancouverite back in time. The Pacific National Exhibition fifty years ago. It was nice and fun to see how a day in their life of the PNE was like back in 1960 from workers setting things up to the rides and performances happening all day and night to the closing down for just another night. It was really neat and exciting to see. There was one scene I wasn’t happy to see which was the performance of an African American singing group with ‘Ebony Queen’ on the sign. It was a reminder that entertainment was one of the few big opportunities open to blacks back then and even having ‘ebony’ in the name was unpleasant to see. We should remember this was three years before Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

-The Seeds(1959)-This was actually a show meant for CBC Vancouver back then but it never was aired due to what claimed to be disturbing content. The movie starts with a gang of guys who like to control a diner. When the owner tries to stop the leader from harassing a girl, he gets beaten up. We later see the gang hang out in their favorite abandoned building playing cards and drinking straight whisky. At night they like to drive around like maniacs anywhere and everywhere. One day a young woman goes shopping with her young daughter when she caught the attention of the gang. She tries to get away only to be found in a shopping area. S tells the daughter to go home, sensing danger. They all try to chase her into a corner of the parking lot and it ends with her unhurt, unrobbed but scared. I didn’t understand what the point of the show was. Violence? Misogyny? I was left confused. I’m sure I would’ve felt uncomfortable watching that on television. I found it disturbing enough watching it in the theatre.

Overall I thought it was a nice break from the usual film fare. It was also nice to see how Vancouver looked those many years ago. I’ve only lived in Vancouver for 11 years but it was still quite an eye-opener to see how the city looked back then. Also it was unique to see four different types of films: documentary, a drama, a visual diary and a parade of images. This program was brought to us by Videomatica’s Graham X Peat along with some assistance from a Vancouver Archival Film company. It’s very rare to have a chance to see something like that.

City Lens was a welcome break for me at the VIFF. I think there should be something like this every year at the VIFF  that shows images of Vancouver past.

9/11 Remembered

September 11, 2001: A day that will live on forever. A lot has changed in the ten years since. Air security is way tighter. Arabic names and words no one could pronounce previously have since become part of our everyday vocabulary. Entering the United States is more regulated. Being Arab American has made people more victim to racism than ever before. We have a no-fly list and a terrorism alert of color grades. We have people claiming conspiracy theories. We have had two wars declared since which has further divided political sides. We’ve caught many to do with the terrorism but have more to go.

Around this time, you will read many articles and views surrounding the events, political climates and beliefs of the writers. You will hear many stories from those involved to those who lost loved ones to those in political power. As for me, I won’t be focusing on such. Instead I will focus on the day as I remember it.

Tuesday, September 11th 2001 started off like any other day for me. I wasn’t yet 30 and had recently moved to Vancouver months earlier and living in a character house with at least six other residents at the time. I was off to work and listening to a radio show talking about a bizarre contest where people do crazy stunts for the sake of an entry. Things wouldn’t be the same after that. In the morning while I was on a break from my first job, I saw one of my co-workers laughing. When I saw him, he said a plane hit the World Trade Center. Some of you may think it was insensitive but looking back, I think he was laughing at the bizarreness of the event. When I first heard the news from him, I first thought it was probably a small passenger plane and it hit one of the Twin Towers by accident. That afternoon I was working at my second job for a government business. I heard one of my supervisors talking about what happened and saying that it could have happened to a building like ours. Hearing that, I started to think that this may not be an accident after all, but how?

Later on in the day as I was returning home, I saw news stories and images of the events that happened. There was even a second newspapers issued that day about the events. I saw one of the towers hit by an airplane was burning while another airplane hit the other tower. When I first saw it, I was in disbelief. I thought it was something that could only happen in the movies. Then hearing of other crashes like the plane that hit the Pentagon and one that crashed in a failed attempt to hit Camp David. Then hearing how all Worldwide commercial air ground to a halt. Then seeing images of people running and screaming for their lives as the first of the Twin Towers crashed down. The events were just completely unreal in my mind. Until then, I always thought hijacking a plane was always about the terrorist using plane passengers hostages for the sake of making demands. Until then, I’ve only heard of airplanes used as weapons during the Kamikaze attacks of World War II. I never thought that terrorist could use passenger planes for the sake of a suicide mission. The attacks on the Twin Towers also immediately brought back a memory of how back in 1993, the World Trade Centre was bombed but there were only five fatalities at the time. I also remember that the mastermind was a Muslim cleric. Remembering that got me thinking that the attackers had the failed attempt from 1993 in mind to bring the towers down for sure that time.

Then back at my home, I met with the other residents in my character house and we were all shocked. One who was visiting from the Netherlands even videotaped the speech from President Bush. The day was just completely surreal. All networks were focused on all the events that happened. There was no changing the other channel. It would continue to be that way for at least two weeks straight.

Days later, I would hear stories of those who died that day. There was even a memorial service broadcast from radio at my workplace that consisted of five minutes of silence. I also heard from those who lost loved ones. Even later on I heard even further details of the activities. Hearing about how some of the terrorists went to flying school to carry out those activities completely surprised me. Hearing how Al-Qaeda had a worldwide network with followers even in Canada shocked me. Hearing of these countries having weapons given to them by the United Stated puzzled me even further. Hearing the various reactions around the world also caught my eye. Most of the world, including many Arab countries, expressed their condolences to the events. There were some, like Palestinians, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, who considered that day a day of celebration. Then there were the speeches of Osama bin Laden. Already infamous for his years of bomb attacks on American embassies in other countries, he led the taunts. Shockingly he promised a ‘great day of terror’ weeks earlier.

Despite all the nastiness, there were also a lot of positives. The United States however refused to let it defeat them and a renewed sense of patriotism happened. New York City also developed its own pride in itself. People who used to diss the police and firemen and politicians almost immediately rallied behind them. Families would help out stranded air passengers during that time. Nations would come to the support of the United States and some other nations even lost citizens of their own.

Ten years have passed. Yeah, you could say a lot has changed. Even reflecting back on the happenings of that tragic day still boggles my mind. Commercial planes used as weapons for a suicide mission. Four flights hijacked with the intent to destroy four places. Thousands dead. I was never involved with it nor did I personally know anyone who died that day but even ten years ago, it does seem like yesterday.

Anyways those are my thoughts on 9/11. I just wanted to reflect on what I remember from that day. I didn’t want to get into any political speech or political thought. If you want any political thought from me, read my Osama bin Laden is Dead article. Since I wrote it, Al-Qaeda has elected a new leader. Whether he has the same sophistication as Osama or not is something only time will tell. I just hope there’s no massive loss of life in the process. There you go. That’s the most political I will get in this article.

I hope you liked what I had to say because that’s what I remember. I was never an actual part of the events. I never knew anyone lost that day. Nevertheless I still remember the constant broadcast of the day’s events and the atmosphere surrounding it. You can’t deny how much it’s changed the world and changed people. I end my article saying: God Bless the souls of those lost that day and may God continue to be with the families.