Community Papers

Best of Richmond 2014: People & Places

Jacqueline Ko and Robin Eder-Warren look at casting options for The Rabbit of Seville in Minoru Park. - Richard Lam
Jacqueline Ko and Robin Eder-Warren look at casting options for The Rabbit of Seville in Minoru Park.
— image credit: Richard Lam

Best tourist idea

Richmond council seems excited to spend money towards getting Steveston named a national historic site, UNESCO World Heritage Site and a dwarf planet. Meanwhile, another part of town that is a big hit with the tourists gets no such attention. Richmond’s City Centre is home to a diverse collection of amazing Chinese restaurants. Last year, Erika Simm, sought council’s support to designate an area of Richmond as a Chinatown, complete with an ornate gate to mark its entrance. Wouldn’t it be nice if Alexandra Road, the epicentre of Chinese restaurants in Richmond, had a Chinese-style gate? “Richmond has a Chinatown in the making, however, it has no character whatsoever… It is generic, bland and modern,” said Simm. Council didn’t shoot down the idea, but didn’t take it and run with it either. Considering the area is a draw already and well-served by transit, sprucing it up with a gate and other improvements would be a great idea.

Best tribute to Nordic countries

At a regular council meeting in March, Mayor Malcolm Brodie passed on a little bit of news to the community. Who knows how many people heard it. Plenty of seats could be had in council chambers, but we’re sure Richmond’s fine citizens were glued to Shaw cable to watch the evening unfold. Brodie announced council had chosen Mannini Way as the name for a new road that connects Knight Street to Jacombs Road. It’s a yet-to-open off-ramp linking Knight Street motorists to IKEA, whose workers, incidentally, continue to walk picket lines in a year-long labour dispute. The new road is Finnish, but IKEA is Swedish. At least they’re in the same region. And besides, IKEA already has Sweden Way. Mannini Way—basking in the glory of its two consonants and two vowels—takes its name from Peter Mannini, believed to be the first Finnish settler in Richmond, around 1890. But history isn’t always crystal clear. Finn Slough historian David Dorrington believes the family name was actually Manninen. In an article at the City of Richmond Archives, he notes many early Finnish settlers changed their surnames for ease of spelling and pronunciation. But it’s hard to celebrate this new Nordic road when a labour dispute continues to boil next door. Settle this IKEA, so we can all get back to eating meatballs in the comfort of our saunas.

Best spot for sidewalks

Years ago, our local politicians decided to pave over pasture for dairy cows around Knight Street and replace them with a bumper crop of industrial parks. Now that the area is reasonably well-served by transit, many workers take the bus to work. Unfortunately, on some roads, such as Viking Way, there are no sidewalks. Pedestrians get the choice of either walking on spongy lawn and dodging bushes or walking on the road, which can be quite hazardous on a dark winter’s night.

Best plinth proposal

There are two things we don’t like about Brighouse Station on the Canada Line: 1) it abruptly ends as an unadorned concrete plinth and 2) it’s often like a smoke pit. The City of Richmond has long been aware of the first problem and has approved public art projects for the plinth. But we’ve got an idea that would address both issues. Norman Wrigglesworth, Richmond’s great anti-smoking crusader, used to have what he called the word’s largest no-smoking sign on his roof. While it was dismantled after Norman moved from his home, how about putting up a replica at the Canada Line plinth?

Best display of government generosity

It’s all warm and fuzzy in Victoria. Governments are known for their spin-laden press releases—that’s nothing new. Christy Clark’s Liberal government and its three local Liberal MLAs are no exception. A 350-word release from the government’s caucus communications this month announced funding to the City of Richmond to fight invasive plants. Seems worthy, but the cash is just $7,000. That might buy the city a couple of gas-powered weed whackers, a few gallons of vinegar and weekend of work from summer students. Au contraire, the government says. The money will be invested in “public awareness,” “surveying invasive plant populations” and “actively treating high-priority sites.” All our MLAs weighed in to express their support for cracking down on these vegetative vagrants, using words like “action,” “managing” and “protecting.” Don’t say Victoria isn’t showing us love.

Best ghost cab

Police with the RCMP’s Deas Island Traffic Services have decked out a car to look like a taxi cab as part of a new enforcement blitz to catch distracted drivers. The mock cab watches out for distracted drivers on Richmond highways and radios the information to police further on up the road, who greet violators with a ticket.

Best place to watch a history of development on fast forward

Those who have lived in Richmond since the 1970s will remember how neighbourhoods with older homes, big lots, ditches and septic fields were paved over and rezoned to allow denser development. This process happened gradually over two decades. But on Alexandra Road, an entire old neighbourhood has been flattened for the Wal-Mart development. Until even a few months ago, driving down Alexandra (at least the south side of the street) was like travelling back in time to Richmond in the 1970s. But with Wal-Mart approved, the street will look like the rest of Richmond pretty quickly.

Best road for a Google Streetview update

Alexandra Road. See above.

Best politician to start a protest chant

Hey hey ho ho, so-and-so has got to go! Most of us recognize the classic political protest chants. We’re sure Premier Christy Clark and our other elected leaders have heard a few. Then we have Harold Steves, a 77-year-old politician who’s served as a city councillor for over four decades. Steves convinced a crowd of people who turned up at the March Against Monsanto event at Vancouver Art Gallery this month to join him in a protest chant that covered everything from genetically modified foods to fracking. The last bit of the chant was saved for the pesticide producing namesake of the protest. Steves belted into a microphone: “Do we really like Monsanto?” The crowd dutifully responded: “No fracking way.” Perhaps next time his council colleagues disagree on a vote in council chambers, Steves will unleash a version of this little ditty.

Best place to forget about the airport improvement fee

Sea Island used to have a small park called Flight Path Park. Its meagre offerings had deteriorated over the years. For kids less familiar with self-directed play and more in tune with modern play structures, there wasn’t much here but views of the airport beyond its barbed wire fence. But, dear citizens of Richmond, you can thank Larry Berg for reinventing this space. Days before Berg left his position as president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority, shovels hit the ground in the park. Workers left months later, and airport officials celebrated the refreshed two-hectare green space by renaming it Larry Berg Flight Path Park. It’s less pretentious than other possibilities: Larry Berg is the Wind Beneath My Wings Park or Stop Playing and Celebrate Larry Berg Park. Berg was a man who engineered significant growth at YVR during his tenure, but some passengers might simply remember him as the man who gave us the Airport Improvement Fee. Now they have a park to forget about all that.

Best way to park in Richmond

For some reason, a lot of Richmond drivers back in to parking spaces. It seems to be a geographical anomaly. Maybe the drivers have cars with those fancy cameras and sensors in the back. Maybe they wish to show off their grill. Or maybe they think it is safer for pedestrians when leaving the spot. Whatever the case, it sure is confusing to the rest of us who park the old fashioned way of just simply driving into the parking spot. The back-in crowd does create a lot of confusion in parking lots. The other day your correspondent was in a busy parking lot and saw a car pass one of the few vacant spots. A car driving behind pulled into the spot. But wait, car No. 1 was actually trying to back into the spot. Much honking ensued as both cars tied up traffic.

Best place to watch money shoot from a wall

It’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. Or the cash for the bottles covering that garage floor. But there’s help at your local bottle depot. In North Richmond, there’s Regional Recycling, where money shoots out of a wall. OK, so first you’ll need to gather up all those beer bottles and pop cans, bring them to the Vulcan Way depot and have a friendly staff member look over your sorting work. Those cauldrons of cola and jugs of juice are then wheeled away, and a piece of paper is handed to the customer. A sophisticated wall-mounted machine then reads this simple stationary and instantly dispenses cash. There. A forest of money.

Best hopping hope for humanity

Developers are busy rebuilding City Centre, displacing rabbits from urban homes they’ve been forced to adopt after being dumped by bored pet owners. This could make for some hopping mad hot cross bunnies, but instead of splitting hares these carrot-chompers are just trying to make do in a dog-eat-rabbit world. One resident has taken it upon herself or himself to give at least one rabbit the star treatment by creating a cardboard-and-duct-tape house—complete with sloped roof—next to a rabbit hole outside Townline’s development site at Granville Avenue and St. Albans Road. It’s not exactly a shelter with any permanency, but word around the rabbit hole is that these new digs have now given one hopper celebrity status. The Bun Affleck of Richmond, if you will. The Kirsten Bunst. The Barak Obunya. One can hope this small show of citizen compassion is the start of a shift in attitudes toward our pets.

Best new high-rise design

River Green and its seven-figure riverside condos are pretty impressive. There's still much more development on its way from developer Aspac, but what it's created already is living up to expectations. Flying under the radar somewhat is a project from Onni. No, not those riverfront buildings in Steveston that have a few people talking, it's the developer's Ora project across the street from the Richmond Olympic Oval. The mixed-use development includes three residential towers and street-level retail that will include a T&T Supermarket. It also includes an impressive design feature called "the birdcage," which faces the Hollybridge Canal. The towers, from 12 to 15 storeys, "shine as the gateway" (Onni's words) to a fast-changing neighbourhood called the Oval Village. Perhaps this birdcage will lure a few of our feathered fowl friends known as snow geese back to this area once construction is complete. Terra Nova can't have all the fun.

Best show of leading by example

It's an easy, low-impact form of exercise. Walking has many benefits, especially to office workers trapped at a desk for much of the day. Employees at the Richmond headquarters of WorkSafeBC—the provincial agency dedicated to promoting workplace health and safety—walk the talk. Seeing office workers pounding the pavement around the Oval Village neighbourhood is a common sight during lunchtime. Oodles of experts have weighed in on the positive health impacts of the simple act of walking, including Dr. Oz. The TV doc tells us walking fends off heart attacks and strokes, lowers risk of diabetes, cuts cigarette cravings, burns calories, keeps the brain sharp, reduces stress, increases energy and boosts the immune system. These sneaker-wearing steppers are on to something.

Best sign of a language debate

Plenty of opinions continue to percolate around the issue of language on storefront signs and public advertisements. Should those foreign-language banners have at least a little bit of English? Maybe even some French? Someone took the debate to a whole new level at the corner of No. 3 Road and Steveston Highway. A fenced lot at the intersection’s southeast corner proclaims “NO SIGN.” Existentialism? Objectivism? Dogmatism? What might be going on here is a statement to end this language debate once and for all. We envision a few problems with this new way of thinking—you know, a world with no signs. Then again, maybe this sign-poster aimed to simply put the words of Five Man Electric Band’s “Signs” song into action: Sign, sign. Everywhere a sign. Blockin’ out the scenery. Breakin’ my mind…

Best hyperbole in Steveston

Suggesting fish-and-chips are “to die for” comes close, but calling Onni’s new Imperial Landing commercial properties “a ghost town” is the fishiest. These vacant spaces, with rental apartments above, are zoned for maritime-related businesses. But the developer isn’t too keen on soliciting interest from folks who make a living because of our beautiful waterways. Instead it’s seeking rezoning to allow broader uses—the holy grail sought before with no success. Those supporting Onni’s latest bid decry the “eyesore” that this small strip of Bayview has become due to vacant buildings, but might be forgetting the unsightly fenced field that existed before. We're guessing most people stroll this stretch for the river views, not the ability to glance longingly at a Nester's market or outboard motor shop.

Best place for an outboard motor emporium

The final piece of Onni’s Imperial Landing development is up, but with vacant shops. The commercial portion of the development is zoned by the city for mixed-maritime use, but the developer says there’s no prospective tenants and would rather have a grocery store like Nester’s in it instead. City council has been sticking to its guns. Perhaps Onni should try a different tactic. We think this would be a great location for Outboard Warehouse. It would be a perfect place to sell outboard motors. Customers could even test ’em out right there in the shop. Of course being zoned mixed-maritime and knowing how boaters like to get an early start, these businesses could open at 7 a.m. Johnny Propane could even open up next door.

Best small town event in a not-so-small city

In that weekly CBC TV show Rick Mercer Report, Mercer does that thing at the end. You know, the thing where he starts talking about some random Canadian town’s festival that’s a little different from the norm? OK, so you may be among the millions of Canadians who don’t tune in, but if he happened to turn his gaze on Richmond, he might pick Shelter Island Marina’s annual Marina Days event. Sure the name is a little plain, but this annual appreciation of anchors includes a good ol’ fashioned chowder cook-off and swap meet. Just the thought of various vats of steaming seafood surprises is enough to send a foodie’s heart aflutter. Discerning samplers, who pay a buck a taste, ultimately award a $500 prize to the winner, along with $300 and $100 prizes to the runners-up. This year’s event was May 24, which also marked the marina’s achievement of a 4-Anchor environmental rating (out of five) from the Georgia Strait Alliance.

Best place to spend quality time with your soulmate

While many couples these days cringe at putting away their smartphones to spend quality time together, don’t count Liyi Le and Yuru Zhang among them. The couple have been married for 50 years, and can often be seen spending their afternoons on Williams Road, the octogenarians sitting side-by-side on their walkers, taking in the fresh air as they watch school children and other pedestrians pass by. Le said he and his wife, who have lived in Richmond for the past 14 years, walk regularly, and use the tree-lined stretch of Williams Road as a resting spot. From the content look of their faces, as long as they are together, any place will do.

Best a-developer-hasn’t-bought-this-yet?

It can sometimes seem like developers are overrunning the city. In City Centre, blocks are being levelled and rebuilt, as other properties are bought and held by developers waiting to make their move. In some single-family neighbourhoods, entire streets have been blown up, replaced by houses built to their maximum lot allowances. There are some neighbourhoods that remain untouched by the building boom, but those residential blocks aren’t likely in the Thompson neighbourhood. Yet, the Austria Vancouver Club, on Westminster Highway near No. 2 Road, remains. This prime one-acre lot still serves as a beacon of Austria, solid like a Swarovski crystal, firmly rooted like an Arnold Schwarzenegger squat. We salute the club and its classic-composer-like longevity.

Best listening skills

When the Vancouver Airport Authority announced plans for a luxury outlet mall on Sea Island by the Dinsmore Bridge, the move raised some alarm bells at Richmond City Hall. That stretch of Russ Baker Way isn’t the most pleasant place to be during rush hour and adding a giant mall wouldn’t help matters. Also, as Mayor Malcolm Brodie pointed out, YVR invested in the Canada Line on Sea Island so why build a mall which can’t be accessed by rapid transit? So give the Vancouver Airport Authority full credit for listening—it moved the mall to a site next to Templeton Station. Construction is well under way and the posh mall will open next spring.

Best example why guidelines don’t work

A guideline is a principle or criterion guiding or directing action. That’s Oxford. And from that other rock solid source Wiktionary: A non-specific rule or principle that provides direction or action or behaviour. If rules were made to be broken, what then do we say of guidelines? Ask West Richmond residents, who constantly endure the noise of floatplanes. Last fall, a city report showed the majority of noise complaints related to the airport had to do with floatplane operations. And complaints last year to YVR’s Official Committee in Charge of Noise from the Air (or something like that) were up substantially from the previous year. New guidelines published last year urged floatplane pilots to “avoid departure routes that fly over the City of Richmond, whenever possible.” Judging from floatplane activity over West Richmond, it’s not clear whether pilots are even aware of this new principle. Word is, these low-flying planes are even ruffling the feathers of local snow geese that just want to rip up playing fields in peace.

Best reason to find a realtor

Finding that perfect home is hard to do. Fans of House Hunters know that one property rarely ticks all the boxes. But if you find that perfect place next to the mighty Fraser River, the majestic water and estuary views just might make up for junky appliances, creaky floors or a lack of outdoor space. Riverside homes can be wonderful—unless your next door neighbour is a federal entity with unending power. Our advice: if Port Metro Vancouver buys property near you, find a good realtor. Last year the port bought land in Riverport that had long been home to a vehicle import business. It was a light industrial use whose zoning was controlled by the city. Residents of Waterstone Pier and Riverport Flats undoubtedly found this to be a pretty peaceful spot. Then the port moved it, rendering city zoning rules useless. Without having a nice chat with nearby residents, port officials opened the site to a container storage and distribution facility, leaving residents with new views of stacked shipping containers and sounds of semi-trucks and yard machines. As one resident told us, “The port will do exactly what they want to do.” It’s a shame our federal members of parliament aren’t sticking up for the little guys.

Best new sister city for Richmond

Richmond already boasts a trio of sister cities, but we think this city has more sisterly love to give. Why should we limit all this “mutual understanding and meaningful connections”—the Sister City Program’s boast—to Pierrefonds, Wakayama and Xiamen? No offence Pierrefonders, but you were swallowed up by Montreal over a decade ago, going from city to the “shared borough” of Pierrefonds-Roxboro. Wakayama? We really like you, but it’s been 40 years. And Xiamen, well, you’re so mysterious that the City of Richmond’s website can’t even explain you, choosing instead to only link to your Chinese government hosted homepage. We’re proposing Lausanne as our new sister city. Richmond has already shared plenty of Olympic secrets in this Switzerland city that’s home to the International Olympic Committee. Now city brass want to join an exclusive Olympic club based there, the World Union of Olympic Cities, even though 2010 was technically Vancouver’s Games. But never mind that. Richmond could become the West Coast destination for Swiss cheese, army knives, chocolate and watches. And just think of the “meaningful connections” we could have with Swiss cows and Swiss guards. This could be the gold medal of sister city relationships.

Best four-wheeled heroes

Hello Zipcar. Good day Car2Go. Hey there Modo. With a rapid transit link to the big city, Richmond is now being noticed by car-sharing companies. Car-sharing networks are small here compared to Vancouver, but locals are starting to get more transportation options. It’ll just be hard to pry us out of our own vehicles. Richmond citizens love their cars, MoneySense magazine once found, ranking Richmond first in new car ownership out of 154 Canadian cities. The magazine’s survey found nearly one in four vehicles were four years old or newer. Yes motorists, that 2010 model in your driveway is starting to look fit for a push-pull-and-drag sale. But with downtown Richmond quickly densifying and no new roads of significance being built, more Richmond families will likely question whether they need to own two cars—or a car at all. Car sharing vehicles just may be Richmond’s new sustainability supporters, pollution protectors and four-wheeled warriors.

Best surprise some don’t see coming

City planners are in the midst of deciding the future of a sprawling chunk of land council bought for $59.2 million four years ago. What it becomes might surprise people. Right now the Garden City lands is a 55-hectare field that’s occasionally mowed to expose its rich field-iness. What’s being planned here is strictly “Off the Grid”—the working title of the concept plan. No, this won’t be some living-off-the-land experiment led by the mayor. Nor is this some kind of an attempt to lure Jesse Ventura here to film his like-named TV show whose hashtag is the ominous #STAYVIGILANT. What’s coming is a plot of land focused on its Agricultural Land Reserve designation: farming. No soccer pitches, baseball diamonds or tennis courts will be found here. Instead, residents will get farm fields, a bog conservation area, sphagnum moss sanctuary, informal play area, pathways and community gardens. Early designs also call for something known as “the mound.” Maybe we need the bold, brazen and bare-knuckled Ventura to check this out after all.

Best place to drink up local farmland

Leave the liquid in flooded farm fields to the geese. To really drink in the Richmond landscape, visit one of the city’s local wineries. There’s three here now, serving up a range of delicious wines, which may or may not contain locally-grown ingredients. But most of the wines offered are at least made on local terra nova. Ice, red, white, fruit and specialty wines are all available. Tours and tastings are also popular with visitors. Sanduz Estate Wines, Lulu Island Winery and Isabella Winery are all located here, and offer great ways to experience the sweet nectar from farmland.

Best lawnmower that might get you into trouble

A landscaper was on to something last year when he herded a flock of sheep onto a vacant City Centre lot. A commercial complex that includes a nine-storey hotel is planned for the site, but until construction started, a little landscape maintenance was needed. Choosing hungry sheep over a John Deere is certainly innovative, but not everyone was cool with the idea. The property’s zoning of auto oriented commercial doesn’t allow for the keeping of sheep, and city officials gave the boot to the animals. The lot also happens to be on Alexandra Road—Richmond’s Eat Street—where restaurants number in the neighbourhood of 200. We’re not sure what restaurateurs thought of the idea, but curiously six sheep went missing during this pasture procedure. Police were called, but with no witnesses, they couldn’t find the animals. Word is, braised lamb shanks were on a few restaurant special sheets around the same time.

Best way to celebrate an anniversary

Jewelry, flowers and dinner are all recommended ways to tell your partner you care about an anniversary. So we’re told. Leaders at 195 Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Bicknell are kicking it up a notch to mark the unit’s 50th anniversary. There will be dinner, yes, but also a parade. The June 7 celebration (look up 195bicknell.ca) is open to all serving members and alumni, and takes place a week after the unit’s Annual Ceremonial Review June 1. Bicknell, the first and only sea cadet unit on Lulu Island, was born in 1964 and named after Richmond native Ray Bicknell. The unit held its first parade in September of that year, in quarters loaned to organizers by the Richmond Rod and Gun Club, at River and Cambie roads. A public parade in Minoru Pavilion followed. Next Saturday at 1 p.m., the unit will commemorate its history with an anniversary parade at the Navy League of Canada building, 7411 River Rd. A traditional 50th anniversary gift is gold. But a parade, now that’s even better.

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