That’s about all I could tweet last night, typo and all, in true Twitter style.
At the time, I was walking back down from the middle of the Pattullo Bridge with Councillor Nakagawa, hoping like the many hundreds of people in downtown New West to get a better view. Not for prurient fascination; just trying to account what we were losing, to support our hope the flames would end. And the loss started to hit me.
When we got to the site after exchanging frantic texts, the W was engulfed in smoke and flames as firefighters tried desperately to get water onto the site. This was a shocking vision. Love it or hate it (and few are indifferent), WOW New Westminster has become iconic – a vital part of our skyline and our brand as a City. Still balanced there, thin steel cables holding it up, it seemed only a matter of time before it was gone.
We were able to catch peeks from Columbia Street or the Parkade as the flames moved along the aged creosote timbers to the Urban Beach, creeping under the deck, veiled in its own oily smoke, then surging out of gaps with unbelievable intensity, so orange as to be red. We could see the firefighters tearing through the fence, but water was not going to stop this, not with tar-soaked wood capped by asphalt.
It became clear the best possible outcome was the fire being stopped at the end of the “timber wharf”, and that the decking change under the grass field and the gap between sections will give firefighters a chance to stop the downriver spread. Even this was uncertain, as the fire at the gap was substantial and burning fiercely. If it didn’t stop there, it seemed all would be lost.
Former Mayor Wayne Wright was in the growing Parkade crowd, looking on. He was visibly shaken. It was Mayor Wright and the Council before me who made the brave move to buy this land, to dream big and complete a City-defining vision against some vocal and sometimes malicious opposition. We shared a few words, but I know if my heart was breaking, his must have been tenfold.
I chatted on the phone with Ruby Campbell, former City staff member who did so much of the hard legwork of getting the funding model together, the partners onside, and managed to get bitter Federal and Provincial political opponents together for a friendly Grand Opening event to celebrate the achievement of all – and God did it rain that day! So many stories were made in this park between that day and now.
I sat in the Park on Saturday, slightly cooler than I might have liked under the sepia skies as I worked on my Council package on a laptop and watched people of every age, shape, and size use the park. Of course I took a picture, the picture at the top of this post, because you always want to show this park off to your friends.
This loss is for the entire community, but it is also personal.
Before I went home last night to shower the tire fire smell off, I stopped once more to check that the W was still there. The fire at that end had been pretty tamped down, more white smoke than black, and the W was indeed still standing. Amazing.
I got home, and a friend was raging on Twitter about 2020. A friend with a big heart who has felt many of the impacts of this year’s compounding disasters more than some others. He asked “is it okay to be crying over a park?” That is how much this place is part of our home. It is our living room, a parlor and a back yard and a playroom. Friends replied – he wasn’t the only one crying. People around the region sent us notes sharing our grief for the loss of a park.
It’s hard to put things in any kind of perspective this year. So much strife and anger in the air. Death is around us in a way generations have forgotten. This very weekend, our eyes have been watered and lungs scratched by the smoke of entire communities lost down south of us, tens of thousands of homes burning to the ground. But that doesn’t make it wrong to feel a personal loss, to remember the things that matter to us every day, and mourn still if they are taken away.
This morning news was more reassuring. Thanks to the firefighters working in incredibly challenging conditions with limited access, unknown deck conditions, needing SCBA to protect them from the creosote smoke, the fire was indeed contained to the Timber Wharf, and damage to the western half of the park was limited. We all owe a thanks to the New West Fire Department and crews from across the region who faced these challenges, and limited the loss to our community.
The Riverfront still belongs to New West. We will make it a place for people again. Of course the deck is still burning, and we don’t know what this looks like yet, but I cannot imagine our community turning its back on the river again. When the fire is out, we will get to work.