Memories of days gone by in Massey Victory Heights

The Second World War ended in May 1945, and everywhere across North America people could be seen flashing the V for victory sign on the streets that summer.

Here in New Westminster, a new residential neighbourhood was in the works for those returning from battle overseas. The new area in the northernmost part of town was to be known, most appropriately, as Victory Heights.

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What had been a vast rural area with a goat farm, pumpkin patch on both sides of Columbia Street, and a single homestead with livestock, bordered by bush and timber, quickly became the most modern and coveted land for veterans as well as civilians. The City of New Westminster opened the sale of the lots on Oct. 1 of that year, for a period of 30 days, exclusively for returning veterans at a sale price of 30 per cent of the assessed land value. After that, regular citizens were able to purchase lots for 75 per cent of the assessed land value for another 30 day period.

One resident recalls her parents waiting in line for several days at city hall to buy a lot for less than $1,000. Donnabelle Olenick recalls living for 17 years in the house her father built himself in 1951 and where he and her mother lived until 1985.

"We were aware of the excitement of our parents as the land in Victory Heights was going on the market," she wrote in an anecdote for a Royal City history collection.

The only caveat for buying the lots was that the land had to be used immediately for the purpose of building new homes. The rule needn't have been applied, however, since the desire for a modern home in a new neighbourhood was widespread in the Royal City.

"The war is over, people are looking at moving ahead, there's money, you can now drive your car because you can get gasoline," noted local historian Archie Miller. "I mean, there's just so many things happening after the war that there's an excitement about being able to get property that's never been built on."

By 1953, development had begun on the Massey Heights section, named after the Governor General, Vincent Massey, and 32 of 46 lots were sold in this section within one month between William Street and McBride Boulevard, according to Miller.

The original boundary plans for Victory Heights were between Tenth Avenue to the north, Eighth Avenue to the south, Richmond Street at the east, and First Street to the west.

Today, however, the boundaries for both Victory and Massey Heights, collectively known simply as the Heights, are considered to be between Tenth and Eighth and between East Columbia Street and McBride Boulevard, with William Street being the division between the two areas.

As it was in the midcentury, the entire Heights neighbourhood is still considered by local residents to be an oasis within the city.

While the bordering roadways are busy traffic routes, the quiet residential streets between them make for a safe and quiet place to live, which is much the same as it's been since the neighbourhood was first established, according to Jason Lesage, the current president of the neighbourhood residents' association.

"All of the borders are all very busy thoroughfares and it seems to have become a part of life in New Westminster, and it seems to be increasing, to everyone's discontent," he said. "So this neighbourhood is kind of like an oasis of tranquility amongst that circle of heavy-volume traffic at times."

In keeping with the family-friendly aspect of the neighbourhood, every year, the association hosts a neighbourhood-wide garage sale, and every September, a family fun day block party for all local residents.

The fall event includes clowns, face painting, balloons and activities for kids, as well as a barbecue and community participation from the police and fire department with trucks and personnel on hand to give demonstrations.

Massey Victory Heights seems to have retained its 1950s charm, Lesage noted, with houses that have remained largely untouched since the area was first established - it's even possible to find a few of the original street lamps in the neighbourhood - and still holds a mix of all ages living in the single-family subdivision.

"I think every neighbourhood needs a good mix of retired people and single people and families, and we certainly have that here in Massey Heights," Lesage noted.

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