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Tugger to set sail from New West waterfront with mini tuggers to take its place

Council wants truth and reconciliation lens to be applied to public realm projects in New West
An artists rendering shows the future play area that will replace Tugger on Westminster Quay. The tugboat structure, located next to River Market and Discovery Centre since 1986, is corroding and needs to be removed.

After more than three decades on New Westminster’s waterfront esplanade, Tugger is set to be replaced by a new play zone that includes a series of little tuggers.

The Tugger Pilot House, as Tugger is officially known, was created by Rivtow Marine Ltd. for EXPO 86 in Vancouver and relocated to New West in 1986. A staff report states the 13-tonne structure is in decline due to “significant structural corrosion” and years of vandalism, and would need significant work to remediate the corroded steel on the structure base and pilot house.

Instead of remediating the structure that’s located on the riverfront esplanade between River Market and Fraser River Discovery Centre, a new play area will be built in its place.

Inspired by the image of a tugboat hauling a large barge loaded with materials, the new design provides a series of smaller scale tuggers that are “hauling” a large rubberized play zone that will be sculpted to mimic a barge loaded with woodchips. The new play area will include small tuggers that include a steering wheel, throttle and control buttons, a rubberized play zone featuring climbing elements and perimeter bench seating.

The Rotary Club of New Westminster wants to partner with the city to develop a community amenity to commemorate the legacy of the late Dr. Irwin Stewart, a longtime New Westminster physician and Rotarian who spearheaded many overseas humanitarian health projects and was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. 

“Given the nature of Dr. Irwin Stewart’s work to improving hearing health care for youth and children, an auditory experience has been integrated into the design,” said the staff report. “Colour-coded sound tubes will run below the wood decking from the rubberized play zone to the small tug boats as a playful way to communicate. A sound tube will also be installed to the river, allowing users to hear the sounds of the river.”

After Tugger is removed at the end of March, repairs to the esplanade deck planks and construction of the new play area will follow. The play area is expected to be complete early this summer.

Bosa Development will pay for repairs needed to the deck, while the city and Rotary will fund the project. The city’s 2019 budget provides up to $100,000 to dispose of Tugger, the financial plan includes up to $150,000 to build the replacement project, and the local Rotary clubs will provide an additional $50,000 for the project in honour of Stewart.

Coun. Mary Trentadue expressed concern about having a lack of information about the city’s policy for organizations wanting to make contributions toward specific city amenities.

“The second challenge is that there isn’t anything in this design that reflects the indigenous work that we are doing. This is in a prime location, right alongside the Fraser River. I am a little bit troubled that there isn’t some piece of this design that is a nod to the people that lived in that place before us,” she said. “I do admit that I liked the idea around the hearing piece of this design, but I think what’s really missing is something that relates to the city’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.”

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said the Rotary Club of New Westminster has had 30-plus year history of supporting community amenities in the city. While there is no established policy for dealing with requests for being involved in the provision of amenities in New West parks, he said the city’s past practice has been to attach ideas to existing needs in the parks and recreation system.

According to Gibson, Tugger is “an outstanding maintenance issue that needs to be addressed with some urgency.”

Erika Mashig, the city’s manager of arboriculture, horticulture, parks and open space planning, said the tugboat/working river theme concept was designed to replace the Tugger with something that wasn’t too different from what’s there today.

“It is so loved by the community. It is a real place maker. It’s the identity of that piece of the riverfront so we thought we would keep with that working river theme and make it highly interactive for kids and families,” she said. “We do need to remove the Tugger soon due to the condition of the deck below.”

In a five to two vote, council approved a staff recommendation to proceed with the proposed removal and replacement of the Tugger Pilot House. Trentadue and Coun. Puchmayr opposed the motion, preferring to send the report back to staff for more work to address issues raised by council, particularly the idea of incorporating an Indigenous component in the play area.

While all members of council support the city’s efforts to address truth and reconciliation, the majority of council supported moving forward with the project as proposed.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she finds the city is “doubling down on its colonial history” at the site next to the tin soldier, but also recognizes the city in the process of building relationships and doesn’t want to do something that would be tokenistic.

“On the reconciliation part of it, I hate to put a patina on this so we can say we have done something,” said Coun. Patrick Johnstone. “It would inevitably come across as being a bit tokenistic.”

Coun. Chinu Das said there will be a lot more opportunities to incorporate Indigenous art along the waterfront and the city needs to carefully consider how it’s applied.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the city will need to consider how to design features in a way that recognizes the long First Nations’ history on the banks of the Fraser River, but noted that council hasn’t previously directed staff to connect the work being done on truth conciliation to actual projects.

“I think our riverfront is the ideal location to start to tell these stories, to connect and to start to be part of the truth and reconciliation process, but I don’t want that to just be a token act or something that’s added on top of tugboat to say we have included that,” he said. “To me that doesn’t seem genuine.”

Cote suggested the city should have a conversation about how to start to incorporate truth and reconciliation process into the public realm work that’s taking place in city.