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Westminster Pier Park celebrates 10th anniversary on June 17

“We all sensed we were going to be building something special”
Westminster Pier Park
Westminster Pier Park, located on New Westminster's waterfront is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Record/File

The City of New Westminster is commemorating the 10th anniversary of Westminster Pier Park with an evening of celebration and cinema.

Community members are invited to drop by the riverfront park on Friday, June 17., when a variety of activities, music, trivia, and more will be offered from 5 to 9:30 p.m. and Spider-Man: No Way Home hits  the big screen on the festival lawn from 9:30 to 11 p.m. Details can be found at www.newwestcity.ca/pierpark10.

In March 2009, the City of New Westminster purchased the 3.2-hectare (nine-acre) Westminster Pier waterfront site at 224 Front St. for $8 million. The $25.9-million park officially opened on June 16, 2012.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “I think the park has really ended up serving the important purpose that we hoped it would when it was originally built. First and foremost, it’s really become a city park that residents across the city are able to enjoy using. It has become a hub for a number of community events.”

Cote said Westminster Pier Park has also served the downtown neighbourhood in an important way.

“High-density neighbourhoods don’t have the luxury of back yards and, really, Pier Park has become the back yard of downtown New Westminster,” he said. “I think in that respect, the park has been really successful in achieving some of the public green space and open space goals and desires, not only from a city perspective but also from a downtown perspective.”

Westminster Pier Park includes a 325-metre waterfront boardwalk, a festival lawn, a concession, elevated viewpoints, a basketball court, public art, a children's play area, trees, gardens and places where folks can picnic or enjoy the sights.

Cote said the city took advantage of an economic downturn to purchase the waterfront property and was fortunate to receive a significant federal/provincial grant to help develop the park.

“When we were started the planning process, I think we all sensed we were going to be building something special, but I think it has even exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Early in the design process, city council made a decision to completely build out the western section of the park – including new infrastructure below the deck and a new park on top.

The eastern section of the site, known as the Timber Wharf, later became home to beach volleyball courts, an urban beach and the WOW Westminster public art installation. It remained on its original wooden pilings and was destined for future redevelopment.

On Sept. 13, 2020, the Timber Wharf caught fire and burned for more than 10 days, destroying everything in that section of the park. After an extensive cleanup effort, the park reopened to the public in April 2021. 

“Pier Park, as it is right now, is an incredible amenity for the community, but I am even more excited about what it can be into the future,” Cote said. “No doubt, the fire was devastating to the community, but the city is currently working through the insurance claim process, and I anticipate in the next few years will actually be involved in a really exciting conversation with the community about rebuilding the part of the park that was lost and really creating an important new expansion to the park on that end.”

Cote said the portion of the park that burned down will be replaced with modern infrastructure that will provide the city with more options than what were permitted on the old wooden piles.

Change will also be coming to the western side of the park – next to the Pier West project that’s currently under construction.

“A significant portion of that site is actually being gifted back to the city to expand Pier Park on the other side of the park,” Cote said. “I think in the next five years we are going to see Pier Park expand in both directions, and really be able to serve and be that much greater of a park amenity in the community.”

A few facts

Past uses: The Westminster Pier Park site’s past uses include coal storage warehouses, industrial equipment operations, industrial machine shops, marine works, foundries or metal scrap melting, coal-fired power generation, and marine and automobile fuelling.

Where’s the marina? A marina where people could moor their boats for a few hours was part of early discussions about the park but it was derailed by concerns about safety, the speed of the river and the likelihood of inexperience boaters encountering difficulties with the strong current. A marine engineer said water access would be dangerous at this site for many people, as there are “very high currents for a significant portion of time at this site.”

Lytton Square: The wood structure that’s home to the concession and washrooms was created to be representative of Lytton Square, which housed New Westminster first official public market and was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1898.

Award winning: Before the park even opened on June 16, 2012, it had won three awards: a 2012 Environment Award from the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, which recognized the innovation and administrative excellence demonstrated by the city in turning a contaminated brownfield into a usable greenfield; a Sustainable Communities Award in the brownfield category from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and a national Brownie award from the Canadian Urban Institute for sustainable remediation technologies. Other awards would follow.

Weight restrictions: Volleyball courts and a beach area were deemed to be suitable uses on the Timber Wharf section of the park, but some uses weren’t recommended – such as cars show and carnival rides – because of weight restrictions on the section of the park that still stood on its original wood piles. (This section was destroyed by fire.)

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
Email tmcmanus@newwestrecord.ca