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Research into (Re)Claiming New Westminster waterfront

New Westminster
New Westminster's waterfront is transitioning from the city's industrial hub to residential and recreational uses, like the new Pier Park.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, Peter Hall was fascinated with the workings and dynamics of the port in the city’s spectacular harbour.

Now he lives in New Westminster and is going to get a chance to thoroughly research his new home’s connection to the water.

Hall is an associate professor in the Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University, and he’s also the principal investigator in a project called (Re)Claiming the New Westminster Waterfront. He and a few partnership groups are looking for information and stories about how the city and river have evolved.

“It’s right outside of our doorstep that is actively changing. New Westminster is a great place to study because we have it all here from industry to condos,” said Hall. “We still have the full range of waterfront activities in a neatly defined area.”

The project also involves the New Westminster Museum and Archives, and the longshoreman’s union along with representatives from the community. It has also received funding from the Research Council of Canada.

Retired longshoremen and others are being trained to take oral histories from current and former New Westminster residents and workers concerning all areas along the river in the city including Sapperton, Braid, Queensborough as well as Downtown.

“We’re hoping that people who worked in those canneries, there was even a tomato cannery apparently, will come forward and give an oral history we can use or have photographs they can donate. Anything we collect becomes part of the New Westminster Museum and Archives,” said Hall.

It is not, however, a study on what direction the city’s riverfront should go in.

“This isn’t a planning project. This is trying to foster a conversation about waterfront and the work in the community,” said Hall, who noted eventually the participants will be taking the information it gathers to schools and other public venues. “Hopefully it does inform about the way the people relate to the water.”

“You go and read the way the story is told about False Creek (in Vancouver), is they talk about the place as a wasteland, and then it became a residential area. That way of telling the story misses the subtlety and humaneness of what happened along the way,” said Hall.

The project launched a website last week, www.sfu.ca/waterfront, with more information as well as a link for anyone wishing to participate.

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