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.”