New Westminster’s fifth annual Pride festival drew thousands, with organizers and participants describing the event as the Royal City’s biggest and best to date.
“We get bigger and better,” says New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy. “I know in the last few days it was raining and there was a rainbow over New Westminster, and I said to myself, ‘That same rainbow has been flying for nine long days, and there’s not going to be any rain tomorrow when the rainbow flies over New Westminster.’ Indeed there was no rain today and that’s a wonderful sign.”
The Aug 8 to 16 festival, which included more than 20 events, culminated with a party on Columbia Street, featuring three performance stages and three beer gardens that extended from the bars into the street.
“This was known as the Miracle Mile,” says Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian, who recalls that the area used to be the number-one shopping centre for all the Lower Mainland. “There’s interesting symbolism of [Pride] being here in the heart of New Westminster.”
Event organizers estimate that the Aug 16 street party attracted more than 10,000 attendees compared to the 1,300 who attended last year’s festival. Between 2010 and 2013, the festival was held six blocks up the hill, at Tipperary Park near New Westminster City Hall.
“New West baby Pride has grown up and just busted out of its shell,” says Shelly Reinhart, a New West Pride board member. “We knew we were going to be growing, and the idea was really to give the City of New Westminster and the businesses down here a real opportunity to move and grow with us. We had people in the city say, ‘You know what? I think it’s time you move from Tipperary Park where there’s more room because you’re going to bust out,’ and Columbia Street is the perfect place to do it.”
The new location, however, meant the Hills and Heels walk up 6th Avenue was no longer necessary.
“The purpose of Hills and Heels was really to get people up the hill to our event, so we created a little mini-event to get people up to the Pride proclamation, but because everything is down here on Columbia Street, we decided to do a small procession from Columbia Theatre to the stage area,” Reinhart says.
The new event, which was free and open, allowed organizers to integrate Pride with Columbia Street businesses and passersby. Tyler James Nicol, manager of Gamedeals Video Games, says the event doubled his Saturday sales.
“We’ve had people of all ages come in, from older gamers to brand new kiddie gamers, who were all just brought down from the Pride party here,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot of new faces and they are actually getting to know us, and since we have the stuff in the window, they are kind of coming in and celebrating with us, too.”
Nicol notes that Gamedeals supports many LGBT and LGBT-inclusive events in the area, including West Coast Geeks versus Nerds and the BC Superfriends.
“We’re really happy to be a part of that community because the nerd community is so vast and you cover all these things, so there’s no reason to not include as many people as possible in it,” he says. “We want to be part of the community, and that’s what’s so great about this, is that it’s also a part of the community.”
The Health Initiative for Men (HIM), which has supported New West Pride since 2010, used the event to spread the word about their new clinic at 40 Begbie St in New Westminster.
“The HIM in New West health centre offers many of the services we offer in our existing locations, so we’re doing testing and STI testing,” says Andrew Poon, communications manager at HIM. “In addition to that, we are doing HIV testing as well and will bring what we have in our other health centres there, too, eventually.”
Acting Mayor Jonathan Cote, who read the Pride proclamation, says the newly expanded celebration represents the best of New Westminster.
“I think it really gets out there that New Westminster is a progressive community,” says Cote, who is running for mayor in November’s civic elections. “New Westminster has just embraced Pride over the last five years, and the business community and all the residents really become engaged.”
Reinhart agrees, saying the event is a reflection of the “tremendous” amount of civic pride in New Westminster.
“We’ve received a lot more attention this year than we ever have before, and really the businesses have been so excited having us down here because we are helping the City of New Westminster build,” she says. “As we build Pride, they are building as well.”