Slowing down in Trail, B.C.

Downtown Trail with the smelter on the hill

Downtown Trail with the smelter on the hill

The city of Trail, British Columbia, about 600 kilometres east of Metro Vancouver, lies in a valley near the American border. We visited Trail, which is my wife’s birthplace, as part of our summer vacation, and we took some time to walk around and see what hasn’t changed.

Bay Avenue, downtown Trail

Bay Avenue, downtown Trail

Central Trail presents a museum of mid-20th-century architecture, which is great for a visitor like me. Some residents, however, worry that the city has been forgotten by the outside world.

To be fair, there have been improvements since the 1970s; the city is much greener than it was, due to emissions improvements at the smelter that dominates the town. Trail’s 1961 hockey world champions were called the “Smoke Eaters”; the smoke used to kill the trees for miles around, as well as driving away tourists; but that is in the past.

On Highway 22 in the Gulch, near downtown Trail

At the Piazza Colombo

At the Piazza Colombo

The smelter provides a healthy flow of property taxes, and the City government has invested in parks and walkways along the Columbia River. Local government and private donors have created a garden along Highway 22 to celebrate Trail’s Italian heritage. Many of the pioneering industrial families came from Italy, and their descendants are still prominent in business and politics.

Other than the renewal of parks and heritage, however, the folks we met during our recent visit see a lack of investment and a lack of urban life in a town where the population is steady at 7,500 after peaking at about 12,000 in the early 1950s.

Bay Avenue

Bay Avenue

My wife’s uncle Harold Jones, a onetime star of the famous Smoke Eaters, used to work at the smelter, now operated by Teck Metals. He’s now an occasional tour guide. He says the facility still produces hundreds of tons of zinc, lead and other materials daily, to be shipped to manufacturers across the continent. But the workforce has dropped from a peak of close to 6,000 people to about 1,800. The central production areas are largely automated.

We heard from other sources that middle class people who come into the region choose Rossland, a ski community 10 kilometres up the hill. But provincial government numbers don’t award any advantage to Rossland; they show zero growth over the past decade in all the communities clustered around Trail.

We noticed a couple of newish commercial buildings in Trail, including the regional district (county) offices. But the taverns are closing, surely a sign of trouble in a drinking man’s town; and when cousin Brian went looking for a house a few years ago, he could only find one of recent vintage, on a hillside behind the mall and well away from the town core.

Other parts of B.C.’s southern Interior appear to be doing better, with tourism and Alberta retirement money driving real estate prices, new commercial development and employment. The city of Kelowna grew by 20 per cent from 2001 to 2011. Even Trail’s rival, the city of Nelson, is growing and said to be drawing conferences, recreational traffic and retirees.

Trail’s dilemma, if that is the right word, lies in having to compete with these other places — understanding that the city is off the main provincial highways, its reputation is rough, its building stock is aging; and also that the rewards, in terms of the quality of potential new jobs and development, may be debatable. What is the appropriate strategy for a place like Trail?

Riverside walkway

Riverside walkway

Detached homes, Columbia Ave.

Detached homes, Columbia Ave.

The smelter from Columbia Ave.

The smelter from Columbia Ave.

Along the Number 20 Line

Grain terminal in Port Metro Vancouver, seen from Powell St.

Grain terminal in Port Metro Vancouver, seen from Powell Street

Vancouver writer Rolf Knight published Along The No. 20 Line  in 1980. It’s a book of working-class memoirs and oral histories about the Vancouver of the 1940s.

Cordova Street

Cordova Street

The title essay recalls a 1949 trip on the Number 20 streetcar through East Vancouver, from the intersection of Kamloops and McGill streets, near where the author grew up, to Cambie and Hastings, “the informal boundary of Vancouver East’s downtown.”

My sister Morna handed me the book in early 2014, and we agreed to walk the streetcar route together. It took us six months, with a heavy rain interrupting our first attempt. We used Knight’s work as a guide. Many structures he spotted on his trip still stand, although traffic, greenery and other aspects of the environment have changed.

The NDP Shaughnessy -- Kamloops Street above the port

The NDP Shaughnessy — Kamloops Street above the port

“You proceed down the aisle with a rolling walk, holding on to the stanchions, and slide into a grass-yellow, split rattan seat. There’s a sharp turn onto Nanaimo. Even at dead slow the car heels over on one side, leaning on its springs, coming about…”

 “…from the vantage point of the No. 20 window you can look west — out over Wall Street a block below, out along the C.P.R. mainline curving around the base of the hill, down the tracks into the industrial waterfront.”

In 2014, the industrial waterfront is obscured by elevated roads, and pedestrian access is blocked for security reasons. On Powell Street, old apartment buildings and hotels that served the port are interspersed with newer industrial shops and warehouses, especially mini-storage warehouses. The streetcar, with its winding route, is gone; Powell now shoots commuter traffic directly through the lower end of gentrifying Strathcona and then through the Downtown East Side and touristy Gastown.

Princeton Hotel, Powell Street

Princeton Hotel, Powell Street

A section of the former "Little Tokyo" on Powell Street in the Downtown East Side

A section of the former “Little Tokyo” on Powell Street in the Downtown East Side

On the moving edge of Gastown: Carrall Street between Cordova and Powell

On the moving edge of Gastown: Carrall Street between Cordova and Powell

The old east side of Vancouver, like the rest of the city, is ever more expensive and trendy, but it has clung to its leftish inclinations. In the 2001 provincial election, when the New Democratic Party was eliminated in the rest of British Columbia, residents along the Number 20 line faithfully returned two NDP members to the legislature. I think of the Kamloops and McGill area as an NDP Shaughnessy, a shady, respectable retreat for well-paid trade union officials and a mirror of the elite neighbourhood on Vancouver’s west side.

On the day we got soaked in March, Morna and I ate at Kessel and March at the foot of Commercial Drive. Our friend the distinguished editor Gary Ross has asked everyone to avoid the word “uber”, so I will only say that Kessel and March is as trendy as a brunch place can be. And it’s pretty good, too. On our second outing we brunched at the Roundel Café on Hastings Street, popular with young-at-heart folks in the recently-branded East Village.

As I post this, Along the No. 20 Line is available in a second edition from the original publisher, New Star Books. The advertised cost is $24.00.

Much-renovated cottage housing on Wall Street, near where Rolf Knight grew up

Much-renovated cottage housing on Wall Street, near where Rolf Knight grew up

TransLink mayors speak with one voice, mostly

Lougheed at Madison croppedAbout a month ago, Metro Vancouver’s mayors broke with previous form and achieved near-consensus on a 10-year plan for transit investment.

Media coverage of this event has been limited, focusing on the projected cost of the plan rather than the promised improvements. The region’s trains and buses carry more than 800,000 passengers per day, and this should be enough to sustain a conversation on transit funding; but the transportation authority’s governance structure is convoluted, and its financial woes never-ending. Public interest, for now, remains at its normal lukewarm level. Continue reading

Langley Township’s “civic core”

Church

The Township of Langley website identifies the Murrayville area as the municipality’s “traditional civic core. Murrayville is home to the Langley Memorial Hospital, Langley RCMP Main Detachment, Langley School District offices, W.C. Blair Recreation Centre, and Langley Regional Airport.”

The old Porter's General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The old Porter’s General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The centre of the original village stands at 216 Street and 48 Avenue. It includes a church (1889) and a former general store that is now a café and bistro. Around this is a modest stock of pre-1930s houses, some converted for commercial uses such as real estate or accounting offices. Continue reading

2014 property taxes in Metro Vancouver

Queensborough 2012 cropped

In a report on property taxes in Maple Ridge, the District of Maple Ridge incudes a table showing municipal tax charges on the “average house” in cities across the Metro Vancouver region. The table is provided below, minus a few explanatory notes.

There are 21 municipalities in the region, and some of the smaller ones are not shown. Mission, which is adjacent to Maple Ridge, is not part of the Metro Vancouver region. Continue reading

Missing the boat in Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

Queensborough lies south of an elevated section of B.C. Highway 91A. From that perspective, it looks like a jumble of townhomes built on leftover land.

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-'90s, South Dyke Road

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-’90s, South Dyke Road

Viewed more closely, the neighbourhood is pretty in spots,  with dramatic waterfront views of mainland New West. My co-tourist Fred Armstrong was pleased with his photos of river and clouds. This is a fragment of the City of New Westminster located on Lulu Island, with a long industrial history that has left a working railroad running down its main street. Continue reading