Just over a decade ago my wife and I decided to leave Vancouver and move out to New Westminster. We found a well-priced heritage home built in 1911 that needed a bit of TLC…and the rest is history.
I readily admit to having a number of misgivings about giving up my Vancouver postal code in exchange for a Royal City address. Back then there were countless stories on the 6 o’clock news about drug deals near the SkyTrain stations and a community in decay.
If you visited British Columbia’s former capital today, it’s clear that something is changing. Not long ago the downtown core was once a wasteland of brides-to-be frequenting one of the many bridal salons along Columbia Street catering to their every need. While many of those shops remain, they have been joined by new coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries and other interesting enterprises.
It really must be a new era when the MSM begin describing New Westminster’s plethora of heritage buildings in the downtown core as the next Yaletown. If the craziness I witnessed at a show suite for the new Northbank development is any indication, they may be right. Dozens of people crowded in today to get a chance to purchase a condo in one of the newest towers offering stunning water and mountain views.
In addition to Northbank, several other new highrise developments are popping up all over the city and they’re being gobbled up by homeowners looking for a bigger bank for their buck. As you can imagine, a $350K condo budget will get you a lot more along the Fraser River than it will in downtown Vancouver.
There are so many reasons to really love the “new” New Westminster. Here are my top 10:
10. Trains: If you like trains, you’ll love New Westminster. That’s because we not only have five SkyTrain stations (the most of any city on a per capita basis), we also have a lot of old-fashion diesel trains as well. In the summer, if you have your window open you can hear the trains clanging along the waterfront on most nights. While the noise might bother some folks, I’m not one of them. The sound of a train whistle reminds me of my youth living near a rail line in southern Manitoba. Oh, the good old days.
9. River Market: It used to be known as the New Westminster Quay. However, over the last several years this tired building has been transformed into a retail space that I believe will one-day rival Granville Island and the Lonsdale Quay as “cool” destination to visit.With the addition of the Wild Rice restaurant and Donald’s Market, the River Market is now quickly attracting a whole new generation of customers from around Metro Vancouver. Did I mention it also has a circus training facility? It also doesn’t hurt that the market is situated next to one of the nicest river boardwalks found anywhere.
8. Historic Buildings: If you are a heritage buff, you will love New Westminster. As the oldest incorporated City west of Ontario, the Royal City is filled will hundreds of heritage homes and office buildings. I live in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood and a stroll along some of the local streets will truly take you back to a different era. Check out our slide show to see what I mean.
7. Small town feeling: It’s almost impossible to do any errands or attend sporting activities on the weekend without bumping into someone you know. With a population of just over 50,000 residents, New Westminster truly is a small town set in a larger urban centre.
6. Queen’s Park: On those rare hot summer days in this region, a visit to Queen’s Park is a must. The tall majestic cedar trees found throughout this urban oasis act as Mother Nature’s carbon free cooling system. In addition, there is a great free petting zoo for the kids and a number of excellent sport and outdoor recreational facilities found throughout the park.
5. Fraser River: The Fraser River remains the heart of the community, despite the fact we are no longer a tiny fishing village. A walk along the boardwalk is simply breathtaking on most days. If you enjoy watching a working river, you won’t be disappointed. That’s because it won’t be long before you see a number of tug boats working their magic in the fast moving waters. I should also mention that you can visit the recently renovated Fraser River Discovery Centre while you’re down there. Not only is it a great place to visit, but it’s free!
4. Transit: By far, New Westminster has some of the best transit service found anywhere in Metro Vancouver. As previously mentioned, we have five SkyTrain stations and very frequent bus service.
3. Housing Affordability: If you want to buy a nice condo or single family starter home in New Westminster, you still can. For some reason prices here remain much below what you will find in other cities north of the Fraser River. And the best thing is you don’t have to cross a bridge to get into Vancouver!
2. Walkable: Many of New Westminster’s older neighbourhoods are very walkable. The Uptown and Downtown commercial districts are filled with every kind of service and shop you might need and they are only a few minutes walk from thousands of local residents. The city has also densified significantly over the last couple of decades. As a result, this has aided the renewal process for many of the key retail areas.
1. Compact City: The fact New Westminster is only 15.3 square kilometers has helped to ensure that all of the key public amenities are very close by. Those include the Canada Games Pool, Massey Theatre, Moody Park and Queen’s Park arena to name but a few. The compact nature of the city means you don’t need to rely on your car as much as you would in other cities spread out over a larger geographical area.
So there you have it! My top 10 reasons to love New Westminster. If you haven’t paid the city a visit recently, you should.