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Capturing life on the waterfront

New Westminster museum and archives curator Oana Capota and Jackie Gootee worked on a SFU oral history project on the city’s working riverfront.  - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
New Westminster museum and archives curator Oana Capota and Jackie Gootee worked on a SFU oral history project on the city’s working riverfront.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Jackie Gootee has a bird’s eye view of the Fraser River from her 31st floor Plaza 88 apartment.

She’s fascinated by the comings and goings, always trying to figure out what’s going on. And her favourite website is one that tracks local marine traffic.

“I sit there everyday and watch the tugboats and fishermen. I get so excited in my part of the world,” says Gootee. “I’m like the Gladys Kravitz of the river.”

For those yet to hit the half century mark, she’s referring to the nosy neighbour in the 1960s sitcom Bewitched. So when Gootee, 56, signed up for an oral history course at Simon Fraser University that focused on New Westminster’s working waterfront it was a good fit.

The result of the class is two video projects to be shown at the Fraser River Discovery Centre today (May 14) from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Gootee worked on Preserving Community through Memory: The New Westminster Waterfront Oral History Memory Walk Presentation.

She collaborated with Jane French, as well as curator Oana Capota and archivist Barry Dykes from the New Westminster Museum and Archives.

“It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience,” says Gootee as she sits at the kitchen table of the historic Samson V. “It makes history come alive.”

Gootee had a blast talking to 91-year-old Tom Mark who operated a marine Shell station near the Pattullo Bridge. “He was just a delightful fellow.” (Editor's note: Mark passed away last week.)

Mark’s story about how a station next door to his burned down in the 1960s is the presentation’s grand finale.

Workers at the station were on strike and the ones left to run it didn’t know what they were doing. They overfilled their fuel tank, and it spilled over. Someone happened to light a match and the station went up in flames.

“He tells the story in wonderful detail,” says Gootee.

“History is people. It’s just not a dry book. It’s someone’s story.”

Gootee grew up in Montana and moved here from Decatur, Ga., just east of Atlanta.

The project showed her how tight-knit New Westminster can be. She interviewed two men who were born at St. Mary’s Hospital 50 years apart and still live in the city.

“It’s like they inject you with a loyalty drug,” says Gootee.

Her group’s presentation uses about 125 pictures and illustrations. The presentations will be donated to the archives.

Capota would like to expand upon them to cover the complete length of the river in New West from the Brunette River to Queensborough.

“We’re looking for more diversity to make sure all aspects of the waterfront are [remembered],” says Capota.

The other presentation is Small Town in a Big Place put together by Bailey Garden, Dean Johnson, Courtney Manlove and Colin Osmond.

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