Sapperton in bits

Columbia Street, showing the Sapperton area’s “Brewery District,” a nearly-complete development built on the site of a vanished industrial brewery. The head office of the regional transportation authority (TransLink) sits in the foreground. A new residential tower peeks out from behind.

An abandoned house, pre-1900, across looking across Columbia Street to the new Brewery District offices

Sapperton, as defined in the City of New Westminster maps, is a long rectangle with no adjacent residential neighbourhoods to the east or north. With recent development, Sapperton has become more self-contained and livable; proposed further development would add thousands more residents at the eastern edge, with unforeseeable results.  

As I drove to meet co-tourist Bob Smarz for a walk through Sapperton, an item on the radio reminded me that this is, in one sense, the birthplace of British Columbia. The Fraser Cemetery on the hill is the oldest in the Lower Mainland region: its dead include veterans of the American Civil War who moved to Canada, and presumably some Sappers, or British Royal Engineers, who landed on the Fraser River shore around 1860 to build B.C.’s first administrative capital.

The urban landscape in Sapperton today combines every period from the late 1800s to the present. There was clearly one wave of construction during the great land boom around 1912, and another one in the 1920s. The Richard McBride school dates from 1929, and a couple of the older structures on the high street display an art deco look, as in Cloverdale, a commuter rail town in the South of Fraser that thrived during the same period. One of the most common housing types is the 1,000-square-foot single-storey bungalow, dating from around 1950; with rising property values, these are being replaced by squarish houses with three to four times the floor space.

New Westminster communities, showing Sapperton at the eastern end, from a neighbourhood  profile issued by the City of New Westminster. Fraseropolis has also published posts on Uptown, Downtown and Queensborough.

Single-family home c. 1914, probably from a catalogue plan, next door to a new arrival.

The dominant feature is the Royal Columbian Hospital, one of the largest and busiest in the province. Just as the ICBC Claim Centre in Maple Ridge has attracted a cluster of auto glass and body shops, the Royal Columbian has drawn together an impressive array of medical offices and clinics. The hospital and the medical offices create a long divide between Columbia Street’s old Sapperton commercial strip to the north and the new Brewery District shops and offices to the south.

For this blog site, we visit such places partly to think about their livability. Having an active commercial high street is not the only test of an urban village — you also need a mix of housing, connections to transit, and some other stuff — but the availability of essential goods and services is a critical test. The old Sapperton strip, with its echo of Cloverdale, has a bike store, a couple of thrift stores and some cafes. This does not do the job.

With the addition of a bank and a supermarket in the Brewery District development, Sapperton becomes an urban village. Even so, and even with a pleasant lunch at Gino’s Restaurant, Mr. Smarz noted the relative shortage of commercial and public services, and of pedestrian points of interest.

A vintage commercial structure and Cloverdalesque street furniture, Columbia Street.

Brunette Street seen from the back of the Brewery District, with the Sapperton transit station on the far side and new residential tower construction on the left.

The City’s neighbourhood profile document, based on the 2006 federal census, suggests there might be 3,000 people currently living in the Sapperton rectangle on the map above. The new 230-page Official Community Plan, adopted by New Westminster’s elected council in September 2006, provides no guidance on how the rectangle will be developed as a community, suggesting (perhaps) the absence of a Sapperton community voice in the planning process. The longest reference, around page 173, shows that future development will be transit-focused, with up to 800 new housing units at Sapperton Station by the year 2041, and as many as 2,300 at Braid Station.

The master plan for the Braid Station project, known as Sapperton Green, is currently in public consultation phase. The plan portrays a whole new village at least equal in population to the existing Sapperton community, with 11 towers and a commercial centre. This village would be oriented to SkyTrain and the Highway 1 expressway. The 10-minute walk to the modest attractions of Columbia Street might be a low priority for most of the new residents.

[This is post #37 in our Urban Villages series.]

Land use in Sapperton: a detail from the 2017 city plan, showing a wide industrial zone to the south, and the proposed Sapperton Green Transit-Oriented Mixed-Use Community (SGTMC) to the east

Medical offices on Columbia Street by the hospital.

Part of the Royal Columbian hospital along Columbia Street

A Vancouver-style residential tower in the Brewery District






Ward Street, off Columbia













Houses 1

Early ’50s bungalow, Blair Street

Layout of the proposed Sapperton Green village, from a 2017 city report


Building a local economy on automotive repair

Crystal Glass and Boyd Auto Body, two blocks east of Maple Ridge City Hall

In most parts of Metro Vancouver, more than half the working population commutes to workplaces outside their home town — this is according to a Vancouver Sun analysis from 2014, which echoed findings from the previous decade.

A typical central area viewscape, with nature in the distance. T&T Auto Parts is on the left in this photo, Accent Glass & Locksmith (not visible) is in the strip on the right.

In my suburb of Maple Ridge, many people drive every day to the Tri-Cities (20-40 minutes one way), Burnaby (35-50 minutes one way) or even further. Not surprisingly, we have a big automotive sector. Auto dealerships are among the biggest employers, and they dominate the highway that connects Maple Ridge to the inner suburbs. Probably our most prominent head office belongs to Lordco Auto Parts, a chain with more than 120 retail locations around British Columbia.

Lordco’s office, retail parts outlet and machine shop anchor the automotive repair precinct adjacent to the Maple Ridge downtown core. The head office building looks over  Dewdney Trunk Road to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia Claims Centre, a supersize garage where technicians examine damaged cars before they approve them for repair. Our map below shows numerous auto service shops located close to ICBC, with parts retailers (including Lordco) nestled in around the repair shops.

Co-tourist Dominic Kotarski and I recently walked the precinct to document its complexity and drink some beer. We observed that after you have dropped your vehicle at the repair shop, you can catch a taxi at the taxi office, rent a car from Hertz, catch a bus from the bus loop (just west of Alouette Taxi) or turn yourself in at the police station. You can also consume an ale at one of the city’s three fine craft breweries. They are part of a trend that was noted in my previous post.

Haney Auto map

The automotive precinct in Maple Ridge, showing the city’s central park, malls, public buildings and craft breweries as of October 2017. Haney was the main village in the rural district of Maple Ridge; I have used the term “Upper Haney” to distinguish the upland plateau from Port Haney, which is my neighbourhood. There is no Haney Street in Maple Ridge, so I have invented one, taking the place of 224th. Thanks to Cindy Farnsworth for the map.

Start Automotive reduced


A democracy of beer

Brewing tanks at the Ridge Brewing Co. tasting room, Maple Ridge

Kory Tiemstra behind the bar at the Silver Valley Brewing Co. in Maple Ridge doesn’t usually advertise commercial enterprises, but we want to note the launch of The Growler, a print publication devoted entirely to a single burning question: where can I find fresh craft beer near my house?

The Growler illustrates a point that we often underline here: there is life in British Columbia beyond downtown Vancouver. The latest issue reports that there were four craft beer tasting rooms in Port Moody at the time of printing, four in Surrey or White Rock, and many more in the Fraseropolis region and in towns and cities around the province, with a full-page listing of venues that are “coming soon.” Each location offers a chance to sample what’s for sale, fill up a jar to take home, and talk philosophically about beer with the folks people behind the counter and whoever happens to be perched nearby. Continue reading

Suburban sprawl, German style

Garage entrance and back yard, Brunsbüttel

On a trip to Europe this month, Vicki and I stayed with friends in Brunsbüttel, a town of 13,400 on the North Sea. The town’s most notable feature is the entrance to the mouth of the world’s busiest artificial waterway, the Kiel Canal. Ocean-going ships sail past the eastern end of the high street on an hourly basis.

This pedestrian-cycling pathway also provides local  vehicle access to garages and laneway housing. The home on the right has solar panels on the garage and on the main roof.

Our friends are from southern Germany, but they own a retirement home in a newish subdivision on the northern edge of Brunsbüttel. They were among the first to build here in about 2002. Like its counterparts in similar-sized towns in North America, the neighbourhood is laid out in a cunning pattern of nesting crescents and dead ends to discourage vehicle traffic. Continue reading

Transforming Metrotown

Paterson SkyTrain station, looking to new residential towers south of the Metrotown shopping complex

The older retail blocks on Kingsway near the mall have struggled over the years. Tenants include payday loan shops, tattoo parlours and porn outlets.

The City of Burnaby has adopted a new long-term development plan for the Metrotown district. By 2040, Metrotown is to be transformed by the redevelopment of its signature shopping malls into a “finergrained network of public streets, lanes, pedestrian connections, plazas, squares, parks, and open spaces.” Metrotown is to become a classic downtown core in a suburban city of 240,000 that has lacked a focus until now.

The July 2017 plan replaces a 1977 document that, visually at least, had a creepy, adopted-by-aliens vibe. The old plan facilitated the growth of the Metrotown shopping complex, Canada’s second-largest indoor shopping centre, along with a surrounding ring of apartment towers. The shopping centre is a busy place with an enormous variety of services, but it shows blank facades to the outside world. As I pointed out after my 2012 visit, the streets and concrete plazas around the mall lack life and colour. Continue reading

Winnipeg, summer 2017

By six p.m., they’ll be lined up 15 deep.

“I don’t think Winnipeg is underrated,” says my brother Brian. “I don’t think it’s rated at all.”

He moved here about 10 years ago after an extended time in Canada’s far north. He and his wife Lorraine (she grew up in Winnipeg) decided that living the south would be better for the kids. They traded a three-bedroom house on the permafrost for a five-bedroom house on a quiet, shady crescent, and they made money in the process. Continue reading

Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.” Continue reading