Iconic public art on New West waterfront can’t be saved

Wow Westminster’s time on New Westminster’s waterfront is coming to an end.

A public art installation by Brazilian artist José  Resende,  Wow Westminster was erected in Westminster Pier Park in November 2015 as part of the Vancouver Biennale. The 140-foot-long piece consists of four 40-foot shipping containers positioned to form a giant W.

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Blair Fryer, the city’s director of economic development and communications, said fire and engineering staff have met with engineering consultants and determined the W can’t be saved.

“They have concluded that we cannot safely remove the W,” he told the Record Wednesday afternoon. “It will be dismantled and removed.”

Fryer said the challenges associated with saving the public art installation are too large to overcome. This includes the extensive damage to the wharf on which the W stands.

“The other issue is the connection points from the W to the surface of timber wharf have been significantly damaged due to the fire,” he said. “Therefore, it simply cannot be removed in one piece in a safe manner, so it is going to have to be dismantled and taken down.”

Fire Chief Tim Armstrong addressed questions about the fate of the W at Monday’s council meeting. He said fire and city officials had met with the engineer and contractor who were involved in the original installation of the public art installation, as well as Fraser River Pile and Dredge.

“One of the things that we are concerned about is the area underneath the W is the most heavily damaged area to the pier,” he said of the fire that broke out in Westminster Pier Park on Sunday night. “If we can at all think of a way to remove the W without putting any workers at risk, we will do our best to try and achieve  that but, at point right now, I’m not comfortable putting any personnel directly on the pier.”

Armstrong said the city would explore whether a large crane would be able  to lift the W from the pier as a unit, but that could be an issue as it’s bolted down to timber beams that are covered in asphalt.

“We are going to do the best we can to salvage it,” he said Monday, “but again, I don’t want to put anybody’s life at risk because the pier is quite compromised at that portion.”

Fryer said it’s been confirmed that the space where the W is located is too unsafe to allow any personnel on site.

“It’s a challenging operation given the fire damage and the size of the installation itself,” he said. “It’s a significant engineering challenge. It’s simply not able to be safely removed.”

Fryer said the focus will be dismantling the structure in pieces, while preventing as much of it as possible from falling into the river.

When Wow Westminster was erected on the waterfront, it was considered the largest outdoor public art installation in Canada. The containers were used in the installation to reflect the city’s history as a hub of shipping, industry and transportation in B.C.

"Containers circulate in abundance and are an integral part of the urban landscape of New Westminster," Resende said in a 2015 press release. "Their presence is an evident index of the city's vitality."

While some council members and citizens weren’t keen about the Wow Westminster public art, it’s gone on to become one of the most iconic and photographed spaces in the city.


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