media release

Preserving waterfront diversity

December 17, 2013

Peter Hall (New Westminster resident), 778.782.6691,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Note: Over the holiday season, Hall is available until Dec. 19 and then again as of Dec. 28. Email is the best way to reach him.


A major project led by Simon Fraser University researcher Peter Hall reveals that ignorance of a city’s rich port history can foster disagreement among its many stakeholders about waterfront transformation.

That, in turn, can lead to a paving over of a port city’s labour history and losing evolving opportunities for economic diversification.

Two years into their four-year federally funded project “Reclaiming The New Westminster Waterfront”, Hall and his many collaborators see evidence that the Royal City’s stakeholders are headed down that road. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is funding the project.

“The waterfront is still of great interest to residents and policy-makers. But there is widespread dissatisfaction with both waterfront industrial activities that cause truck and rail traffic, and waterfront residential gentrification that claims to be based on heritage and environmental concerns,” says Hall.

“It is increasingly difficult for the general public to understand why it is important, for both economic and environmental reasons, to protect urban waterfront land for more than condominiums, parks and highways.”

An associate professor in Urban Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and a Faculty of Environment geographer, Hall is an expert on relationships between waterfronts, ports and their cities. Originally from another port city, Cape Town, South Africa, Hall studies how one-dimensional public understandings can lead to narrow political decisions about port development.

In this project, SFU researchers in geography, education, history and anthropology are partnering with people in municipal, labour, school and community organizations to create past and present portraits of New Westminster as a port.

Through public lectures and forums, which are only two examples of this multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional project’s myriad initiatives, the researchers are piecing together a fractured current picture. Most people, says Hall, don’t appreciate that 100 more businesses ply New Westminster’s waterfront today than in 1945, the date to which the research goes back.

“We seem to go from one day having a public understanding of waterfront work as vital to the city’s identity and economy to another day seeing it as vacant or even dangerous and yet another day as pristine and ready for residence and recreation,” says Hall.

To help broaden public perception of and political decision-making about New Westminster’s waterfront future, this project brings together diverse stakeholders to gather and disseminate history, stories, facts and opinions about the working waterfront.

“For example, SFU historians Willeen Keough and Mary Ellen Kelm are training retired longshoremen and community members in gathering oral histories from waterfront community members. Municipal planners, archivists and SFU students are involved in mapping all New Westminster’s waterfront worksites since 1945,” explains Hall.

“SFU education professor Susan O’Neill is working with retirees and New Westminster School District kids in developing intergenerational learning and arts programming. SFU anthropologist Pamela Stern is working with museum staff to turn project materials into an exhibit.”

All of the project’s work will eventually be publicly accessible through the New Westminster Museum and Archives and other channels.  

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.


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