Queen’s Park gets its very own master plan

Queen’s Park will turn 125 next year, and city council thinks it’s high time some changes were made. So, because it’s terribly en vogue right now, they’re drawing up a master plan for it.

Much like the city’s Transportation Master Plan, the QPMP development process will span several months and involve lots and lots of steps, committee meetings and public consultation. The parks and rec department is calling the first public input session an “ideas event” and it’s set to take place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the QP arena lobby (and remote locations around the park — intriguing.)

Queen’s Park is kind of a funny place. As a kid, it seemed huge. The section east of the road was so wild and expansive and ripe for exploring. Now? Not so much. Finley and I can do two, sometimes three loops of the Millenium Trail/1st Street in a 40-minute run. I’m familiar with every tree, every picnic table, every tennis court, every squirrel. I know the pathways and roads, paved and unpaved, like the lines that crisscross my palm.

So, as someone who has played, walked, ran, tobogganed and become very, very well-acquainted with the park over the past 20 years, do I have any ideas for how the park could be improved? Why yes, yes I do. I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with the buildings. For a so-called green space, Queen’s Park has a lot of concrete. The main gate at the foot of 3rd Avenue is probably the best/worst example: swathes of cracked asphalt parking lots, the arena and arenex (WordPress is telling me that this is not a word. To me, it simply means “gymnastics”) and the stadium. I’m not suggesting we get rid of these historic landmarks (with the arena’s new wooden floor, heaven’s no!) but I do think the area could be tidied up a bit, made to look a bit more presentable, given that it’s most people’s point of entry to the park. The parking area behind the arena is especially hideous.

I also think that the playground areas have gone downhill since my merry-go-round days. Queen’s Park used to have one of the best playgrounds going, with its high wooden platforms and super fast zip line, but all that has been traded in for the same cookie-cutter play structures you see everywhere else. Even the swing sets have shrunk (and not just because I got bigger). Safety is important, for sure, but so is risk. I happen to be writing an article all about this, so I won’t get into it here, but if I were in charge, I’d bring back the ladders and the merry-go-round and the firefighters pole and the fun.

And in a surprise move, I think I’d also vote to get rid of the petting zoo. I know, I know, baby bunnies. I love them too, but I honestly feel that the petting zoo is past its prime. It sits empty for 8 or 9 months of the year, and it kind of seems to be… rotting? In a park where so much space is taken up by unnecessary concrete and maintenance yards, green space is at a premium. We don’t need the potbellied pig barn. And the baby calf they get every year just seems really, really unfortunate. Let’s let it stay in Aldergrove this summer where it belongs.

Ultimately, I’m pretty happy to have a place like Queen’s Park a 3-minute walk from my house. It’s changed very, very little in the 20 years that I’ve lived here and if it were to remain the same for the next 20, I don’t think I’d have much of a problem with that. But as a gem in New Westminster’s royal crown (oh god…) I also think we have a responsibility to keep it polished and pristine. It’s pretty great as it is, but it could be even better.

Of dumbwaiters and wraparound porches

Monday marks the beginning of heritage week in B.C., and while New Westminster’s kids sharpen their pencil crayons to colour in Victorian homes, I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the city’s history and reflecting on the importance of preserving our urban heritage.

Galbraith House, located at the corner of Queen's Avenue and 8th Street in New Westminster, was built in 1894. Once decaying and in a state of collapse, Galbraith House has since been bought, renovated and turned into office suites and a conference centre.

There are around 1,000 registered heritage homes in New Westminster, and in my own neighbourhood, Queen’s Park, weekend warrior types have lovingly restored many of the area’s 100-year-old homes to their former (and in some cases, probably better than former) glory.

(If you’ve got some spare time to kill and are as fascinated by “old stuff” as I am, the Heritage Resource Inventory — an unofficial list of heritage properties drawn up by the city and some summer work students in the 1980s — provides hours of cheap thrills.)

Growing up in New West, servant stair cases, milk doors, laundry chutes and fold-out ironing boards made my childhood environment every bit as stimulating as my friends who grew up in more rural areas, building forts and playing games of their own invention in the woods.

After it was abandoned but before it was torn down, my brother and I spent our summers playing hide-and-go-seek in the overgrown gardens and empty swimming pool behind the A.M. Parsons house down the street (that’s what the HRI calls it — we, for some reason, called it the boat house).

"The boat house," captured sometime around 1985 as it appears in the Heritage Resource Inventory.

Over the years, we’ve dug up countless treasures in our backyard, including half a dozen ebony piano keys, a collection of  glass medecine bottles and a ladies boot that I would expertly carbon date to the “Barkerville era”.

Aside from the fact that I still have nightmares about the bullet lodged in the doorframe at Irving House, growing up in a place so steeped in and proud of its heritage as New Westminster is has contributed to my curiosity and my appreciation for this place.

Kids in most cities don’t get much of an education about their city, but events like May Day and girl guide trips to the old penitentiary (now home to my physiotherapist’s office) meant that I did.

Two years ago, the city introduced a unit on the civic history to the grade 5 social studies curriculum with the interactive book, My New Westminster: A Neighbourhood History. Elementary students now get the unique opportunity to learn about New Westminster’s beginnings as a Gold Rush pioneer settlement, to its regal days as the capital of British Columbia, to the Great Fire and the ensuing rebuild.

When so much of our attention is drawn to what is new, it’s important to take the time to think about what came before. Buildings, monuments, cemeteries, street patterns and homes are all important reminders of our city’s remarkable achievements, conflicts and changes. I’m grateful to live in a city that understands and values that.