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


Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 2 – Uptown (aka Downtown)

An apartment/commercial complex at Harris Road and Ford Road in Pitt Meadows. This was built in about 2010 on the site of a failed shopping plaza

Pitt Meadows City Hall, at the southern end of the commercial zone

Municipal governments in B.C. have a limited menu of responsibilities. They send delegates to regional bodies to haggle over various things, but their direct control is restricted mostly to fire protection, local streets, community recreation space and urban land use. And policing, in the odd handful of municipalities that have opted out of using the federal Mounted Police… Continue reading

Semiahmoo: 2030?

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Ave. captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Avenue. This rendering was captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

The City of Surrey’s 2014 official plan contemplates a city of 300 square kilometres organized around a city centre, intended to rival downtown Vancouver as it grows up, and five large-scale town centres.

Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey, 2014 city plan

The Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey

Each town centre is supposed to act as “the distinctive social, cultural commercial centre for its community… Support transit-oriented development…and build complete, walkable and green neighbourhoods.”  A successful town centre offers housing choice, walkable services, business and employment opportunities, and frequent transit. Continue reading

Steveston village: this ain’t Manhattan


The neighbourhood business association promotes Steveston as a place to visit, with its waterfront, cafes and gift shops. Co-tourist Robert Smarz and I walked the  ocean-facing pathway on the west side of the community and enjoyed lunch at the Shady Island pub on the boardwalk; we didn’t have time to stop at the Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, so there’s more to see.

development-reducedBut the designated core is attracting new residents as well as visitors, part of a general upscaling of Vancouver-area real estate. Postwar bungalows on the back streets are disappearing in favour of low-rise apartment buildings of three and four storeys. There are now enough essential services in place — such as food markets and professional offices — to make this a livable urban village with an affluent tinge. Rapid transit to downtown Vancouver is about 20 minutes away by bus, and bus service is frequent. Continue reading

Lynn Valley Town Centre: from humble beginnings

Intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway. The

Mountain Highway at Lynn Valley Road. The “Lynn Valley Life” site says the structure on the right, dating from 1912, is the only surviving commercial building from the original settlement. The photo is from

In the 400-page official plan of the District of North Vancouver, Lynn Valley’s commercial area is the designated “municipal town centre.”

On the first pass, this town centre is a crossroads row of shops flanked by gas stations and strip malls. And to an outsider, it seems an odd location for the action centre in a municipality of 80,000 people. It’s closer to bear habitat than to the Municipal Hall or the District’s busiest east-west street. But there are services and public amenities tucked away in various corners, and rapid new development may bring transformation over the next three to five years. Continue reading

Revisiting Downtown Maple Ridge

Donair reduced

Greater Vancouver’s Livable Region Strategic Plan, adopted in 1996, identified downtown Maple Ridge as one of eight town centres of regional significance. A year or two later Maple Ridge City Council agreed to finance an ambitious town centre development with an arts centre, office complex, recreation centre and park space, all aimed at bringing people and investment to the city’s core.

The planning and execution of the project split the community and created long-term political instability. In five of the six local elections since that financing decision, the incumbent mayor has been kicked to the curb. Downtown Maple Ridge has improved; but it remains a focus for civic conflict more than civic pride. In the single election where a mayor was re-elected, his opponent staged a concerted attack on central area investment, including an “unnecessary” sewer line replacement, and collected 40 per cent of the vote. Continue reading