Briana Tomkinson

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Briana Tomkinson

Shiloh's 'Blue Christmas' service reaches out to the grief-stricken

Shiloh Sixth Avenue church offered a special "Blue Christmas" service yesterday for people coping with loss and grief. Aside from a minor flood in our basement this season due to a burst pipe (eek!) and the occasional family tiff we have not yet been faced with adversity at Christmastime. We have been lucky. I imagine for those who do experience tragedy at this time of year, it must be especially hard because everyone around you seems so happy. Songs of joy and peace, and all that.

Writes the Burnaby Now :

For those struck by tragedy, the most wonderful time of the year can be a season of pain.
"Everything tells you that you're supposed to be happy and excited and getting ready for Christmas, and there's just this place inside of you that says, 'I'm not there,'" says Shannon Tennant, minister at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church in New Westminster.
Last Sunday, Tennant led the church's annual Blue Christmas service, a time of peaceful reflection - and a refuge from the bright lights and shopping mall Santas.
I was particularly intrigued by the description of the service later in the article:
The Blue Christmas service at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue has much in common with ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, held on the shortest day of the year, Tennant says.
"In ancient times, people would actually gather in the morning to invoke the sun, because they weren't absolutely sure it would come up without them."
The service is also a reminder that the first Christmas came at a time of hardship and uncertainty for the Jews.
"At that time, the Jewish people were heavily taxed. They had Roman soldiers stomping around being annoying," Tennant says.
"So (Jesus) was born partly to give people hope, to so show them that God is with them."
This is exactly one of the reasons why I love Christmas. As the days grow darker and the nights get colder I find it weighs on me. When the lights go up on the houses and the Christmas tree comes inside, it's a reminder that no matter how dark it gets, the light will return. It is a reminder to keep up hope when life is difficult, that good things are just around the corner. We are not a religious family, but I find this symbolism very meaningful.

Briana Tomkinson

A Christmas story

Here's a lovely hint of a story to think about as we approach Christmas: when soldiers were posted to B.C. in 1943 to guard against a feared attack by the Japanese, New Westminster opened its doors and made sure every last one had a home to go to for Christmas:

Despite omnipresent danger, tasteless bully beef and hardtack rations in the field, and nearly dying of pneumonia one year, Christmas in the army was the only place Charles Goodman wanted to be in his youth.
Having left home in Saint John any lying about his age so he could enlist in 1943, the 15-year-old found joy and escape from unhappy family life in military camaraderie.
Sent to B.C. to defend against a feared Japanese attack during his first military Christmas, Goodman recalls the town of New Westminster opening its doors to feed and fete every soldier on the festive day.
That gives me some warm and fuzzies. It's so typically New West.

Briana Tomkinson

On anonymity

I was just re-reading an post on the Burnaby Politics blog about a rumour that former Conservative MP Paul Forseth could return to politics in the Burnaby-New Westminster riding currently held by Peter Julian. As a resident of this riding, I am mildly interested, though at the moment it is nothing but a rumour. This blog post is not about the rumour, however. It's about the reader response: thirteen comments on the post, all anonymous.

I struggle with this on Tenth to the Fraser. We have our own semi-regular commenters who choose to remain anonymous. I like to hear from them, but I wish they would leave a name or a handle with their comments. I'm sure there are valid reasons why people would choose to be anonymous, but I confess my knee-jerk reaction is to assume either cowardice or axe-grinding.

Now, before you flame me (anonymously) in the comments section, this is nothing personal against any of our anonymous commenters (or any on Burnaby Politics). I just feel the level of dialogue on a public forum is better when people are willing to stand behind their comments. Using your real name is best, in my view, because it forces a person to consider the effects on reputation when they post a comment. A nickname is acceptable if it's how you are known online. Given the option to use a nickname, I just don't understand choosing to be "Anonymous."

I'm not planning to prevent anonymous comments at this point, unless such comments turn hateful. While they are sometimes stinging, so far I haven't felt they have crossed the line. Or at least, not too far past. But I would like to express my preference that commenters here include their name or nickname.

We aspire on this blog to represent a variety of voices and opinions in New Westminster, so we especially value the contributions of those readers who respectfully disagree. Thank you, all of you who have shared your opinions with us. Perhaps some of you will consider sharing your opinions in a guest post in the new year - assuming, of course, that you are willing to sign your name to it.

Briana Tomkinson

School trustee Lori Watt gives a kidney for Christmas

New Westminster school trustee Lori Watt calls giving a kidney to friend and acting coach Nathaniel Deveaux the "most unique" Christmas gift she has given in a recent Newsleader profile. No kidding!

It started with a phone call when Watt asked, “What blood type are you?”
“B positive,” he replied.
“I’m B positive too.”
That’s when she started thinking about it. After doing research on transplant surgery she told Deveaux she would donate her kidney.
A battery of medical tests showed they were a match and the surgery was scheduled.
“When we both got out of surgery we were each asking how each other was. The other day he walked over to my room in the hospital and thanked me profusely,” said Watt.
“I feel like we were brought together to work on [the play] The Museum Project. Then this happened. I just feel really blessed to be able to give back this way.”


Bee in my Bonnet

Hi! I'm Jen. Briana has invited me to be an occasional contributor for Tenth to the Fraser, and leave it to me to introduce myself by posting a slightly rant-errific type of post. This is re-posted from my personal blog at

I have a bee in my bonnet about an item that only really comes to light about 2 weeks a year. Kale and I walk every day, sometimes twice a day. I usually use the carrier, because I like having my hands free. Once in a while I will use the stroller.  Here is us two days ago: 
From Kale 3 to 6 months
Because it snows so infrequently here on the West Coast, I have a feeling that people feel like they have no obligations to remove the snow on the sidewalks in front of their property. In fact, I have a feeling that not all of them even own a snowshovel. 

New Westminster is rather hilly, one might say, and the neighbourhood I live in is right at the crest of the big hill and as a result, when we go out walking every day, we walk up or down a hill no matter which direction we walk in. The city is pretty good about plowing and salting the roads - as one of the oldest settlements in BC and one that is so proudly independant, I would suspect that they actually harbour a rather large fleet of winter snow removing trucks. 

But these days, being so… pedestrian, I hardly care about the roads other than Ross getting home safely. 
People: aside from moralling being obligated to foster a sense of a caring community and actually being concerned with whether or not your neighbour takes a tumble on the walk in front of your house, you are also legally obligated to do so.

Not to get all harrumph-y here but… ahem
506. A person being the owner or occupier of real property shall remove snow, ice and rubbish from any sidewalk and foot path bordering that person’s real property and from the roof and other part of a structure adjacent to or abutting on any portion of the street, not later than 10:00 a.m. of the day
after the snow, ice or rubbish is deposited thereon.

Certain neighbours of mine spend a great deal of time decorating their house for Christmas. But you think they bother to get out there and shovel the walk in front of their house? NO. So what happens? Well, the snow gets tramped down by those of us who have to or choose to walk on by.  Then it melts a little, because it’s so sunny and gorgeous out. And then at night it freezes into a sheet of glass. Never mind the fact that I’m carrying a baby and if I slip and fall I’ll likely hurt Kale, what about the seniors? I tried using the stroller but I had to give up - pushing it through the slush was even more dangerous than carrying Kale. 

I hate to get all “I’m calling the bylaw people!” but seriously, what options do I have? I considered knocking on their door and asking, but what happens if they freak out about the confrontation? People tend to get a little nutty when they realize that a) they are totally in the wrong, and b) someone is calling them on it, so do I really want to go and knock on my neighbour’s door and get sworn, yelled, or worse, swung at? Not really. 

So seriously. Be a good neighbour. Avoid getting sued. Shovel and salt your sidewalk. Those of us out walking say “Thank you”.

From Kale 3 to 6 months


What New West's teenage sledders really do

My fair brother posted previously on the many snowy and wonderful ways (and places) that people can sled in our fair city... however timely this may be, what with the freakish sub-zero weather and inches of snow and all, he has made one critical omission.

Ice blocking.

What is this, you ask? Well, in our (usually) temperate climate, what's a young non-drinking teen to do for fun in a city of hills but no snow?

Answer: Buy a few blocks of ice from your local gas station, and head on up to the steepest sledding hill you know - New Westminsterites (and churchy teens from miles around) flock to Burnaby Mountain Park, mainly, as well as the Eastern Meadow slope of Queen's Park (ending in McBride Boulevard) and Robert Burnaby Park. If it's one of the 360 days of our year when we have no snow at all in Vancouver, then you will have an open hill of green, green grass on which to sit your bum-on-iceblock, give a little push and voila! You are off, ice blocking with the best of them.
While this sport has variously been demonstrated on Saved By the Bell and MTV's Jackass, curiously, this phenomenon seems most common among church teens. Perhaps this population are the only ones crazy enough want to do this while still sober enough to accomplish it. Of the various youth & young adult church groups I went to over my time, they all had this one crazy, seasonless sport in common. While the history of the activity may be debatable, it's not hard to see why it remains so popular - apparently humankind simply has a mad urge to slide down a hill with a cold hiney once in awhile, regardless of the snow availability. It's universal.

Evidence #1: (the Las Vegas Association of pro-Ice Blockers)

Evidence #2: Wikipedia: Iceblocking (written seemingly from an Australian point of view)

Evidence #3: Jamaican Bobsled Team

I really can not believe Miss 604 beat me to it!

New Westminster is a haven for snow sledding for the youthful and the young at heart. As any one who has walked uptown from the New Westminster Skytrain station can attest, we have got some hills in this fair city! While there are a good number of sledding sites around the Royal City and a notable one at the North East corner of Queen's Park, perhaps the snowy hill most slid upon is the one on the South side of Grimston Park, in New Westminster's West End.

Miss 604 agrees noting briefly that it is "rather tube-friendly", an important technical detail for the sledding enthusiast. With the long, excitingly steep decline, gradual leveling bottom and stunning Fraser River / Delta Shore views, this park really offers the best slope available for safe sledding. While the diminutive denizens of New Westminster used to freely slide down 6th street and 8th street (a practice now reserved for BC Transit vehicles) the slopes of Grimston Park offer a safer thrill and an alternate "bunny hill" in the park by 7th ave for the young sledding fan that, let's admit, is still mastering walking.

I would love to post a sledding photo of the Queen's Park hill or another (perhaps by Richard McBride or Hume Park?) Send us one and we will post it up.

Briana Tomkinson

Speaking of school budget shortfalls

The Vancouver Sun reports that New Westminster will ask school district managers to come back to the classroom as teachers to help offset costs for substitutes due to the $2 million shortfall.

School district managers could be teaching in New Westminster classrooms next month as part of an urgent plan by the district to eliminate a $2-million shortfall without laying off staff.

Senior managers from the board’s head office will work as teachers on call from January until June in a move estimated to save $19,000. A manager is also expected to fill in as vice-principal at John Robson elementary to save $15,000.

More substantial savings are expected through cuts to school budgets ($818,000) and operations and maintenance ($325,000), according to a plan approved by trustees this week. District staff will talk to partner groups early in the new year to determine how such savings can be achieved with only six months left in the school year.
School Trustee Michael Ewen is quoted as saying he likes the idea of senior managers spending time in the classroom, because the experience would benefit them when making decisions that would affect students. 

A comment on the story by a Sun reader, on the other hand, points out: "One might be cynical enough to suggest that many of the folks who 'manage' are those who hated the classroom in the first place and thought they were moving up some ladder to escape the long hours and miserable conditions of the classroom drudge."

Ooooh, snap.

Grimston Park will be protected space, and will not be considered as a future school site according to last night's school board vote. This is great for the West End, who would have lost its only large park, but leaves New West in a bit of a pickle. New schools must be built, but where? To further complicate matters, our school district is facing a $2 million budget shortfall. We have neither time, nor money, nor resources. So what to do?

Some creative thinking is called for! Some of the ideas I've heard kicked around include:

  • Sending some New West kids to Burnaby schools (working with that city's school authorities, of course ... though attending by stealth would be funnier ... I'm picturing balaclava-clad kids scurrying across Tenth every morning, hiding behind bushes and trees like you'd see in some Merrie Melodies cartoon ... maybe that's just funny to me)
  • Building a new high school in Queensborough, where there's a little more room to breathe
  • Building multi-storey elementary schools instead of single-storey
  • Building parking lots underground in order to build on smaller lots (not currently funded by the province, but that should change IMHO)

Any other ideas? At this point I'm wondering if I should be planning to homeschool!

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