published sb 4/2017
New public life brought to industrial waterfront
History and sustainability join together in Westminster Pier Park, a 3.84-hectare park built partially on piers over the Fraser River in New Westminster. PWL Partnership Landscape Architects focused on the river, the past and the people to tell the story of British Columbia’s first capital city in a series of activity spaces highlighted by a boardwalk, historic photo panel and a Memory Band of words that spark reminiscences of the waterfront. The project is the first stage of a long-term plan by the City of New Westminster to reclaim its entire riverfront for public use.
The Westminster Pier Park project reclaimed and revitalized a previously industrial site containing a decaying wood pier and a contaminated derelict land parcel. In 1859, when New Westminster was founded on the site of the Kwantlen native people’s village, no one considered the lasting, harmful effects of industry along the Fraser riverfront. Booming sawmills, salmon canneries, shipping and rail services lined the shoreline and extended into the river on piers vital to the movement of goods and services. Industrial waste and garbage were simply dumped into the river for disposal leaving behind contaminates leaching the toxins, as well as the decaying piers themselves.
Restoration and renewal
The challenge for PWL Partnership in collaboration with Worley Parsons engineers was not only to clean up the site, but also to respect and embrace the history of New Westminster in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manner for people to use and enjoy. Approximately one-third of the long, narrow site consisted of piers 60 to 100 years old that needed to be replaced for the area to be reclaimed as park space. Adding fill to the Fraser River to create more land was not an acceptable option.
Between the newly constructed piers, along the shoreline at the edge of the boardwalk, is a new intertidal riparian foreshore for fish and wildlife. This ecological bench runs one-third the length of the park and is a food source for salmon on their way upstream during spawning seasons. Planted with the native dogwood, willow, serviceberry, native rose, and other native plants, it is also beneficial to birds, insects and animals, and part of what returns the riverfront to a healthy environment where none has existed for over 150 years.
Sustainability for a 75-year lifespan
In addition to ridding the site of contaminants and the re-establishment of fish and wildlife habitat, careful attention was placed on creating a long-lasting, legacy park. A mandate for all components to endure a 75-year lifespan, set by the City of New Westminster, called for careful selection of robust, easy to maintain materials including unpainted galvanized steel, heavy timber and high fly-ash concrete. Local materials, and in many cases, reclaimed materials like the timber piles, were used throughout the site to reduce the park’s carbon footprint.
Historical commercial and working environment
Located in the oldest city in western Canada, the first capital of B.C., on a previously industrial site, which represents the area’s settlement and immigrant working roots, historical and cultural commemoration was an important part of the project design. A weathered-steel Memory Band laser-cut reference from First Nations to Chinese Laundries runs the length of the park to illustrate New Westminster’s heritage.
Historic photographs set on aluminum panels on seat steps recall the waterfront from its settlement to its industrial significance.
A heavy timber-frame structure marks the park heart, Lytton Square, and recalls the old Front Street market timber-frame building reminding users of the site’s commercial past, while accommodating a wide range of activities today and tomorrow. The City Market was a key aspect of Downtown. Originally constructed in Lytton Square on the Downtown waterfront in 1892, the market complemented the transportation and shipping activities, allowing New Westminster to become an agricultural distribution centre and the site of food processing and cold storage facilities. The market would move to the west end of Columbia Street and operate well into the 1970s.
Hinged loungers inspired by hand trucks used on the docks may be tipped to face either the river or the city. The Pile Forest set in rolling lawn, a captain’s wheel, windsocks and hand cranks also dot the site and pay homage to the historical working river.
Bringing people back to the river
Once a chasm between the river, railway and city, the park site now knits the three together. The Pile Forest discovery area marks the ends of 4th and 6th Streets, which are important connection points to the park from the city downtown core. The boardwalk pier structure accommodates pedestrian circulation, large community gatherings and festival events, bringing people to the river’s edge while preserving the habitat foreshore below.
Multiple activity areas including children’s play spaces and a sports court for teens bring people of all ages to the site. The festival lawn that accommodates 2,000 people will become the living room of the city and a venue for New Westminster’s many seasonal festivals.
As a high profile, city-initiated, sustainable project, Westminster Pier Park, which was initially intended to be a destination park for New Westminster residents, has become a regional attraction due to its unique design character, which incorporates historical elements, reclamation of the Fraser River foreshore, and varied and interesting programmed spaces.