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Soon after we were all safely back in our homes, the folks at ONNI posted on the doors of the buildings an invitation to a community barbecue party:
Today as I was going out the door for my free lunch, I noticed a second sign tacked to the first. At first glance, I actually did think it was from ONNI. “What horrible wording!” I thought:
After having gone to the thing, where they had some burgers, ice cream, and a pretty good blues band, I now realize it was a practical joke.
Here is what Woodlands looks like now:
Two crackerjack security guards are resting beneath the trees on the left, keeping us safe from the mess.
Some of you might have heard that the old, abandoned Woodlands school building caught fire this morning. For real – with flames and smoke this time. Our building was evacuated because of the risk of smoke inhalation, and risk of fire spreading.
I wasn’t home when all this was going on, so I’ve spent a worried afternoon. I’ve just gotten word that the fire is now mostly under control, and we should be able to go back to our apartment tonight.
It didn’t have to come to this however – the security around the building has been a joke, and the city and the developer have spent far too long wrangling about the heritage preservation issues rather than fixing the place up and moving on with it. In the meantime, squatters and others have taken refuge in there. I never cared whether people used the place because they needed a place to sleep, but we knew that sooner or later, there would be an accident like this that could put everyone at risk, homeowners and homeless alike.
In my communications classes, we talked about scripts. We use scripts, or knowledge of certain situations, to know how to act. For example, the grocery store, the doctor’s office etc. But crowded public events, such as a farmer’s market, can be a wild card. The best you can do is to try and stay out of one another’s way.
And then there are scripts-within-scripts, like how to line up for something. Full disclosure, this a story about how I made a booboo in a line-up situation, the ultimate booboo: cutting in line.
Now it wasn’t intentional. It was a busy produce stall with merch laid out on tables in a U-shape, with the cashiers in the centre of the U, in the back of the stall. Produce in hand, I scoped out the formation of the line-up. There were the people paying, a couple of people behind them, a couple browsing the lettuce bins, and people just generally milling around on the periphery.
I didn’t know if the lettuce people were browsing lettuce while in line, or just browsing. So I just picked a spot behind the folk who looked definitely to be in line. Cue the woman burning holes in my back with her eyes. I stared back. She says nothing. I say nothing to her.
To the lettuce people, she directs a question, “Are you both in line?”
Lettuce Man replies, “Well we thought we were!” Jocular chuckles.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I offer by way of apology.
I am by now next in line. Burning Eyes summons the courage to speak, “Well now that you do, you should go to the back of the line.”
It was the little skit for my benefit on proper line-up etiquette that burned my organic new potatoes. I completed my wrong by proceeding to the cashier. (Hey, as long as I’ve gone this far…) I knew I was in the wrong. I knew it as soon as Burning Eyes started shooting daggers at me. But no one was willing to simply and directly say, “Excuse me, line-up is over here…” I would have cheerfully corrected myself and waited my turn.
Cutting in line is just not done, I know, I know. But passive-aggressive behaviour in public places – that’s gotta stop, too.
Like every other good boy and girl in British Columbia, I received my official Climate Change Dividend cheque. Sweet merciful socialism, I just love a government that bribes the joyless citizenry. Even if it just a lousy $100, which will surely be clawed back tenfold with this new carbon tax.
Anyway, it’s not often you get free money in the mail so off I go to spend it. (If you’re one of those “Greater Good” types, check out ways to make a bigger splash with your cash through this The Tyee initiative.) In the spirit of the thing, I am planning to buy a rack and saddlebags for my bike so that I can do more shopping and errand-running with it. The fabulous Cap’s Bike Shop here in New West has a great selection. My cheque also comes just in time for the new weekly Farmers Market in the city. Or at least, the revival of an old tradition, since historically (personally defined by the time my Dad was growing up here), New West was the conduit for produce from the Fraser Valley into the city.
Speaking of the Fraser Valley, it’s also strawberry season! I know it’s incredibly nerdy, but I look forward to u-pick strawberries and blueberries all year. Hey, don’t make fun, or you won’t get any of my chocolate double-dipped strawberries.
This one’s for my fellow inmates in Print Futures.
The City of New Westminster is looking for a Poet Laureate:
The City of New Westminster is seeking a Poet Laureate to write poetry, at the request of City Council and staff, for special occasions and events.
A Poet Laureate is responsible for reflecting the life of New Westminster by writing and reading poetry to mark and record important civic occasions. The Poet Laureate will also serve as an advocate for literacy, creative arts and act as a literary ambassador for the City.
Candidates must be current or long-standing New Westminster residents with a thorough knowledge of New Westminster ’s history and heritage. Candidates must be poets and/or writers that have received awards or other public recognition; presented poetry at public events; and have been published.
Candidates will include, as part of their submission, a cover letter and resume that details their community involvement and portfolio of work including pieces related to New Westminster ’s community life.
The Poet Laureate‘s work will be posted on City websites and become the property of the City of New Westminster.
It didn’t say anything about grammarians, however.
Victoria Day Weekend is here and it’s the official start of summer. Life is good – we’re eating good, fresh food and drinking alcohol with juices mixed in out there on the IKEA patio ensemble. Herbs are growing, the lawns are green, and the sun is shining, natch.
It’s oddly quiet too, being in town when all the rest of the city seems to have gone off to get in ferry lineups and mangle themselves on the highways. Maybe the lack of construction noise – long weekend break – contributes to my sense of uneasy peacefulness here at the homestead. However, I am excited about going to the Hyack Festival, a New Westminster tradition for 30-odd years. Tonight, it kicks off with fireworks which is pretty goshdarned exciting. We’re going to watch them from our friend’s place that has a view of the Mighty Fraser River. (Officially its just the plain old Fraser River, but in my mind I suffix it with “Mighty.”)
Mostly, I’m just sitting around knitting, watching movies, and reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood for the brand-spankin’ new book club. I can’t believe no one ever invited me, book nerd, to join their book club before. I feel so validated. I miss my knitting group – we had such fun knitting with our beers and girl drinks.
Haven’t got much else to say right now, so I believe I’ll just shut it.
The pace of construction is pretty rapid around here. From the balcony, we watch every day as a little more highrise gets built in front of us. It’s actually pretty cool to watch a building being built. There is also a lot of progress being made on the grounds – a new sign just went in at the entrance, and they have planted all sorts of shrubbery that I have to be vigilant about keeping Levi out of.
As I wrote before, the place where we live has a lot of history – the building next door was built as the province’s first Insane Asylum. Even though that building and the Nurse’s Lodge, as well as a couple of others on the site have to be preserved in some fashion, they are nonetheless being altered as the new community is being redeveloped.
Because we have the dog, we walk around the grounds at least a couple times a day. So, I bring you the photo tour of the current state of the former Woodlands grounds.
This is the wall of the Centre Building that is closest to my building, right there as you go down the stairs to the paths. Workers are already clearing out the inside, so some windows have been broken and/or boarded up. Graffiti from people breaking in and exploring the interior is visible. At night, I can’t help but look for ghosts within.
If you walk right around to the front of the old building, you can see the original part of the Centre Building from Woodlands. They are keeping a lot of construction and landscaping equipment there too. Workers, for whatever reason, have begun to remove the stucco exterior, revealing the solid brick walls beneath.
Even the trees – gorgeous old chestnuts and various conifers – are protected by heritage preservation laws. Cut one of these babies down and the developer would be facing some hefty fines. Woodlands was named for its stately grounds with lots of lawns and trees. Behind our building at least, that character remains. Here you can see the lacy pattern the bare tree branches make. We can’t wait to see these trees in bloom.
The Nurses’ Lodge sits on the other side of our building. Right now, it’s being gutted in preparation for renovation into apartments. I wish they had stuck with the plan to turn it into an arts centre. My old apartment was next to a theatre/gallery/museum. James is right- I do like old things. I’m turning into my mother! Somebody turn off the Antiques Roadshow!
I think I’ve always lived near water. Some people might not think it so pretty, but I love the view of the Fraser River with its log booms and tug boats. The mountains, too. A classmate commented that this picture would be better without the cars, but they’re a constant in this scene, too. Below the road, trains thump and screech along at odd hours.
The old trees are amazing, aren’t they?
This is a detail of the front porches of the Nurses’ Lodge at Woodlands. This the front facade of the house; the other sides look rather plain, almost industrial, in comparison. When the workers are taking materials out of the house, they do it via the back and side doors.
So that’s where we are right now. I’m curious to know what these old buildings will look like 1, 2, 5 years from now. Back to watching the highrise, then.
I really enjoy my new home. When Levi and I stroll the grounds behind this new building, it is impossible to forget two things: 1) the view of the mighty Fraser River and 2) the history of this place. You see, for a long time, the parcel of land which is now being developed was known as Woodlands Institution. The large building to one side to us was built in 1878 as British Columbia’s first Insane Asylum (around the turn of the century the name was changed to the slightly more sensitive “Hospital for the Insane”).
On the other side of us is the old Nurses Lodge for Woodlands, which also has Heritage Designation. The windows are mostly boarded up, but you can see the beauty of the structure in the graceful porches. There were some plans for the city to renovate it and turn it into an arts centre, but apparently, now the lodge will be turned into apartments. Like the Administration Building pictured above, it has heritage status, so the developer has to keep the facades and work within the original structure.
In the mid-50s, Woodlands became an institution primarily for children with mental and physical disablities. It was surrounded by trees, tall hedges and fences (which have been preserved), which made for an isolating experience for many children. Surprise, surprise – there was abuse of the residents. After the government began shutting down institutions such as Woodlands and Riverview in the late 1990s, former residents of Woodlands began coming forward with stories of abuse at the hands of staff, There was an inquiry and report published in 2002. Soon after, the land was sold to the developer and what I am living in now is the beginning of a new neighbourhood on the 65-acre grounds.
One question I’ve been asked a lot is: “Do you think it’s haunted?” And since there is so much history here, not all of it pleasant, I think it could be. I am afraid of ghosts, and I did actually check it out before we decided to buy. However, the only story of haunting I can find associated with Woodlands is the one involving tombstones being taken from the institution cemetery in the 1970s and used as paving stones for houses and apartment buildings. (Not this one!) One story of such an associated haunting is in the book Ghost Stories of British Columbia, another is here.
In between the time the residents were moved out and the time development started, the old buildings were used for filming shows such as The X-Files. The caretaker for the site confirmed in a news story that he had never experienced a haunting on the site. So that was good enough for me. But it was still important to knw what I was buying into with my new home. Luckily, a New Westminster artist, Michael De Courcy, put together an exhibit in 2003 entitled “Asylum: A Long Last Look at Woodlands.” It was shown at the local library, and lives on as a wonderful website with interior photos of the buildings and portraits of former residents. The accompanying essay, “Thinking About Woodlands,” is quite remarkable too.
I often look at the buildings and wonder what they are like inside. I stumbled across an urban explorer message board where infiltrators discuss their adventures in the old Woodlands buildings, and in other abandoned, empty spaces. If I wasn’t such as a soulless yuppie, maybe they would invite me out for a tour.
When I find my camera, I will post some photos of the river and the old trees on the grounds. This is a beautiful and haunted place.