Look at those two on my right. They aren’t just one of the cutest couples known to history, they are a big part of the recent history of New Westminster. I’m celebrating them here today because they just got on a plane, headed for Montreal and a new home, a new adventure, and a new community.
Will Tomkinson was born and raised in New West, in a heritage home on 1st street across from Queens Park. He is variously third- or fourth-generation or something the other, which makes him “Old New West”, and he has the sartorial style, baritone singing voice, and respect for traditions to fit the stereotype. Briana is a transplant to New West, with new-fangled ideas about creating local connections through social media and social justice, rarely hearing a new idea she didn’t want to throw up a flag pole, just to see who salutes. They met in Douglas College and eventually fell in enough love to start building a homestead in the West End of New Westminster. They started raising a gaggle of free-range kids, and started blogging about being a young family in New Westminster.
It was only a few years ago, but I cannot remember for certain when I first met them, or when I became aware of Tenth to the Fraser, or which came first. However, it must have been around the 2008 Municipal Elections when the Tomkinsons’ hyper-local Blog became part of my usual web surfing routine. I vaguely remember helping run an all-candidates event at Douglas College in what must have been the May 2009 Provincial election with Will and Briana (I seem to remember pulling audience-member’s questions out of Will’s fedora, but my memory is more photogenic than photographic), so we must have been friends by then.
What Briana and Will (and Will’s sister Jocelyn, and later Jen Arbo) did with 10ttF was create a social media nexus in New Westminster. It was a general-purpose Blog back when Blogs were the cool new thing. Instead of just being about them, they covered events in the city, politics, business reviews, and general interest stories about being a young family in a growing and changing community. And as with all really effective social media, it created digital connections that soon became human connections. They introduced us to, and induced us to support, new local businesses like Re-Up BBQ and new social enterprises like the Royal City Farmers Market. 10ttF was a glue that brought people together without the commitment of a club or the constraints of common interest, and their comments section was often where conversation took place amongst that in-between generation of young professionals and young families who found Letters to the Editor a little too quaint, and those who were too profane or silly to be committed to newsprint.
Through 10ttF, I was encouraged to start my own Blog, first on environmental issues as GreenNewWest (I was the President of the New Westminster Environmental Partners and an Environmental Scientist- “write what you know”, they say), then as NWimby, as my interests expanded. It was through 10ttF that I first met Jen Arbo, who once told me I had to do this Twitter thing (much to James Crosty’s chagrin), and who eventually became a huge supporter during my campaign for City Councillor. It was through 10ttF that I was encouraged to get involved on City advisory committees and other volunteer work around town, which was one part of what led to my Citizen of the Year nomination. I have a lot for which to personally thank Will and Briana.
So now the Tomkinsons are pulling up stakes and relocating to la belle province. A great job opportunity, and a chance to escape a bit from the frenetic property-value-defined lifestyle of the West Coast, they are going to raise that gaggle of kids in a wooded semi-rural area with actual seasons and where half the people speak an entire other language. Can’t say I’m not a little jealous for the adventure those kids are going to have. But even as they have been recently pulling back from their central-organizer roles in New West due to work commitments, an expanding family, and some other pressures, we will now truly feel their absence at the next New Westminster Scotch Appreciation Society meeting, at the next NEXT-NW soirée, at the next Brew Westminster kettle boil, when we need a line on a sweet artisanal axe.
The legacy they have created, however, will go on. Tenth to the Fraser has a new owner (the ubiquitous and omniscient Jen Arbo), and pieces are being put into place to create a new look and a new vibe to appeal to that larger group of digitally-connected people who are increasingly making New Westminster their home. The many connections Briana and Will made remain strong: on line, at Beer Friday, or just down at the River Market at a Saturday where we somehow find there is always someone to talk to, someone who is so familiar around New West as you consider them part of the furniture, but you can’t quite remember when you first met them.
Thank you Will and Briana. You are good friends, and great citizens, and you made New Westminster a better place for those you are leaving behind. We’ll see you again soon.