New Westminster resident Ted Mason believes that his town will become the new West End.
He is convinced that B.C.’s oldest city is going to succeed the Vancouver neighbourhood—which has been the traditional hub of the LGBT community—as the foremost gay-friendly place in the province.
“The West End isn’t as gay as it used to be,” Mason told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
It’s simple economics, according to the retired City of New Westminster property manager.
“Young people are being, you know, forced out of the city [Vancouver],” he said. “It’s too expensive, and they’re coming to New West, and along with them come a bunch of young gay people, and that’s just sort of an overall urban trend.”
During his time with city hall, Mason witnessed New Westminster’s revival after a long period of decline.
A catalyst was the city’s purchase in 2000 of the old federal and post office building on Columbia Street, which was turned into a new police station with loft-style condos on the upper floors.
“They were sold at a superlow price and, of course, really attracted a bunch of young, new homebuyers,” Mason said.
According to him, that project encouraged other developments that offered homes that were relatively more affordable than those in Vancouver.
“With development…populations move, so again, no, I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the West End will always be the premier gay community,” Mason said.
The city also ventured into other projects that gave New Westminster what Mason described as a “cool vibe”.
One of these was Westminster Pier Park, a 3.8-hectare public space by the Fraser River that opened in 2012. Another was the Anvil Centre, a multi-use civic facility completed two years later.
In addition to housing, New Westminster is an accessible community.
The city has five SkyTrain stations. Downtown Vancouver is about 30 minutes away by Skytrain. The city is also served by over 20 bus routes.
Mason and his husband have lived in the city long enough to observe how much has changed in the LGBT scene.
Mason said that compared to old-timers who generally preferred house parties, newcomers, especially the younger ones, are “more out on the street, and just more visible”.
The city had its first Pride festival in 2010. According to Mason, the yearly celebrations allowed more LGBT community members to come out.
This year’s New Westminster Pride festival will be held on August 18 on Columbia Street from 3 to 8 p.m.