Don Stewart was born at St Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster in 1944, and had six siblings. He was the son of a mill worker at MacMillan Bloedel, who was also a caretaker at Spring Ranch located in the Connaught Heights area of New Westminster. It was called Spring Ranch because it had its own “artesian well” or spring that generated two small pools that Stewart and his friends would swim in during the summer. The family lived on the ranch between 1944 and 1952, and Stewart’s descriptions of the city during the interview are mainly from the 1950s. The ranch was demolished during the building of the new Queensborough Bridge in 1960, and Stewart shares his perspective on the shift from what was a quiet Connaught Heights life to what is now the busy city of New Westminster.The interview was conducted as part of History 461 – Oral History Practicum at Simon Fraser University.
Norm Stilitis is a retired longshoreman who spent his career working on the New Westminster and Surrey waterfronts. He got the job when he was 19 years old, when his father’s friend suggested he try longshoring around Christmastime, since lots of people would be off for the holidays. He became a union member two years later and was trained to drive a forklift, which was one of his main roles. He discusses favourite and least favourite parts of the job, as well as changes in equipment, and descriptions of the work itself.
Captain Ed Taylor worked on the water or on the waterfront since he was 16 years old and started out as a deckhand for Bill Hughes’ Husky Towboats. He attended Vancouver Technical Secondary School and was originally a mechanic. He became a tugboat captain, and later also worked in the office for Gulf of Georgia Towing and as a negotiator for the Canadian Merchant Service Guild. He was with Gulf of Georgia for over 30 years, and saw the introduction of navigation tools and radars, as well as the shift from wooden to steel barges.
Bill Ward started working on the waterfront in July 1939. He got the job at Alaska Pine as a labourer, leaving to join the Army for 5 years. During his stint in the Army, he was trained as a mechanic, and was hired back at Alaska Pine when he returned to New Westminster. He later trained as a millwright and a welder, and maintained the machinery at the mill until he retired in 1978. He discusses the work he did throughout his career, and talks about the union, the big fire in 1966, and the dangers of the job, as well as interactions with engineers, changes over the years, and the processing of lumber itself.
Winvan Paving is a family owned road construction company located in the Braid industrial area of New Westminster. The company has been located along the Fraser River since the 1960s where it first initially operated within sawmill owned by Commonwealth Construction. The company’s current location contains its head office, asphalt plant, asphalt recycling plant, barge ramp, and equipment maintenance and repair shop. Weismiller’s father and his partners purchased the company’s site from Commonwealth Construction in the 1970s. Since then Weismiller has been off and on with the company working various positions such as a crewman, estimator, project manager. In 2005 he became Winvan’s president and general manager. Throughout the interview Weismiller emphasizes the importance of industrial lands and resource extraction to British Columbia’s economy, and the difficulties in working with different levels of government to deal with various issues facing the business in Braid’s industrial area, especially traffic.
Lena Zablonski West is an 87-year old former resident of Queensborough. She first met her husband, Helmar West, when she was only 16. Years later when she was a bit older, she met him again and wound up marrying him. Helmar was a longshoreman and a boatman. They had four children: Cameron, Christine, Robert and Lorraine. Lena was active in the longshore ladies’ auxiliary. They would throw Christmas parties for longshoremen’s children, and pensioners’ dinners. She recounts a time in New Westminster’s history when the Queensborough swing bridge still was in place, and the May Day festival was commonplace. In this interview, Lena relays many anecdotes about people shemet as a longshoreman’s wife and the sights and sounds of New Westminster in the past.
Fiona White came to Surrey as a girl, and eventually met longshoreman Gerry White on a blind date in 1964. At the time of the interview they had been married for 46 years have two children. Fiona worked for BC Tel as a service representative for many years, was active in the Telephone Workers Union. In her experience as a union member and leader, Fiona took inspiration from the longshoremen and other unions to push for improvements to her own workplace. Having been married to a longshoreman for many years, White shares some of her perspectives on the occupation. Her niece and son-in-law are also longshoremen today, and she comments on the differences in their career trajectories in comparison to her husband’s.
White grew up in Surrey and attended high school in Newton. On January 10, 1961, at the age of 19, he got his first work as a longshoreman. He became a member 4 1/2 years later in 1965, and became the business agent for the local in 1970. For an unspecified period in the 1980s he served as a vice-president and then president of Local 502.
Spider Wilson is a tattoo artist who operated a tattoo parlour on Columbia Street for 17 years, and is a New Westminster native. He was born at St. Mary’s Hospital and attended John Robson Elementary and later Lord Kelvin Elementary. He believes his job as a tattoo artist is a mixture of being a social worker and a bartender. He reports feeling a strong connection to the business community on Columbia Street. Having grown up five minutes away from his current shop, he talks about the changes to Columbia and Front Street in the face of real estate development. In his recollection of New Westminster as a child, he shares stories of his visits to Rob Roy Meats, Royal City Café and how he cruised up to the A&W on Stewardson Way as a teenager. He spent time at the waterfront as a child, and remember the large number of tug and fishing boats on the Fraser River. He toured the Russian submarine on the Fraser River and states jokingly that he never saw longshoremen working, as that was never in their job description. In this interview, he mentions his friendship with Gary Lobel at Galo Shoe Services and how he tattooed, among others, the 67-year-old lawyer across the street. He repeatedly returns to what he views as the problem with the city’s parking system, and how the city has lost its character.
Pinky is a New Westminster woman who was born and raised at the top of Simpson St. above Sapperton Landing. During the Depression, she was 16 years old, and took her first job at the Royal City Cannery by Pattullo Bridge. She worked there for 3 summers (1936, 1937, 1938). She recalls the job as pleasurable, and talks about how she made a lot of money being young and fast with the knife. She finished school at St Anne’s Academy in the same area, and wanted to go to University of British Columbia to be a teacher. However, she needed to support her family and took a job as a cook at a nursing home, after a year she got a job at Pacific Veneer, working there from 1939 to 1946 when she became pregnant with her first child.