The City of New Westminster is set to take ownership of the Massey Theatre – for the princely sum of $1.
The theatre was part of the old New Westminster Secondary School and, as such, has been owned by the New Westminster school district. But, now that students have moved into the new NWSS and the old building is being decommissioned, part of the old structure is being recreated as a stand-alone arts facility – incorporating the Massey Theatre, Plaskett Gallery and adjoining classroom, rehearsal and multi-purpose space.
The city is now purchasing the facility and the accompanying piece of land at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Eighth Street.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said the city is looking forward to continuing the legacy of the theatre in supporting a variety of arts, cultural and community uses.
“This acquisition reinforces our commitment to the arts, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the Massey Theatre Society, which has provided outstanding artistic performances, services and education to our community and region for decades,” he said in a press release.
New Westminster school board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal said the board understands how important the Massey Theatre is to New Westminster.
“That’s why we’re so glad that we were able to work alongside the city, as we know they are equally as invested in supporting this iconic and important arts hub as we have been for years,” she said in the release. “It is another great example of where we share interests and values between our organizations.”
PROTECTION OF CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
The transfer agreement also includes protection of designated areas within the site that are historically and culturally significant.
A previous report to school board, in October 2020, laid out plans for the future memorial park that will occupy the land where the old school now sits. That park, which is planned to be built in phases over the next three years, will include greenery, pathways and a number of tributes – by way of art and signage – to the original uses of the land.
The current school, which opened in 1949, sits on a cemetery that was used between 1860 and 1920 as a potter's field where bodies of the poor, prisoners, stillborn babies and patients from Woodlands and Essondale (which later became Riverview) were buried. The land was also used by Chinese, Sikh and Indigenous communities to bury their dead.
Trustee Maya Russell, at a special board meeting held Sept. 27 to consider a property disposal bylaw, lauded the "enormous amount of work" it took district staff to get to this point in the process. She said she feels particularly good about the fact the district is able to ensure that the memorialization of the site will continue as planned.
“This is a really, really special site, and I think many of us on the board felt a real moral obligation to ensure that as it transfers ownership, that the commitments made followed with the site," she said.
WHAT LAND IS INCLUDED?
A city press release notes the sale of the property includes the Massey Theatre building, an adjacent parking lot, and an extension of land that will push out to Eighth Street. The new property line will run along the same line as the north end of Moody Park Arena and will now give the city full ownership of that stretch of Eighth Avenue, while keeping open the road and pedestrian access to New Westminster Secondary School that runs between the arena and the theatre.
For the land transfer to take place, the school board must pass a bylaw paving the way for the ownership change. It just gave two readings to that bylaw at its special Monday meeting, and it's scheduled to give third and final reading at its regular board meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).
The district and city must also complete a legal process around the land transfer, including a subdivision agreement and filing with the Land Titles Office, and it's expected to take about two to three weeks for that process.