Sunday, January 31, 2010

Marine Garage fuels our sense of nostalgia

This must be a pair of the most photographed gas pumps in Richmond, if not the entire North American continent.

They have been caught in the viewfinders of the simplest point-and-shoot cameras and the most sophisticated digital SLRs. They have patiently posed in the shroud of misty rain, under a fine dusting of snow, in the gentle and diffused light of dawn and dusk, and under the most unforgiving glare of mid-day sun. And X-Files movie devotees may recall that Marine Garage lent significant authenticity to a make believe town of Kenwood, Tennessee in the "Miracle Ministry" episode.

So, what's so captivating about these rusty pumps in the corner of Moncton Street and Second Avenue? I was drawn to the faded red Texaco sign and the nearly forgotten idea of choosing between unleaded and leaded gasoline. Unfortunately, the price displays on both pumps had been reset to zero and we are left to ponder how much cheaper they would have been in comparison to the astronomical prices we pay today.

What scant historical facts I could cull from the Internet told me that in 1970's, the garage had been owned by Ed Katai, Roy Okomoto, and Goro Omatani. Working side by side at the time were Ben Yoshita and Rich Jarvis, both in their twenties and both men with their feet firmly rooted in the community.

When the owners retired in 1989, Ben and Rich took over the business as co-owners and inherited the loyal following of regular customers, their children, as well as their children's children. This partnership would last for 32 years, until Rich passed away in 2003. What happened thereafter has remained a mystery to me.

I was curious enough to call the Marine Garage number listed in a local directory but discovered that it was no longer valid. Failing that, I walked up to the front door but found it locked tight.

It's good to know that on June 19, 2009, approximately 200 Stevestonites and property owners attended a public hearing in the City Hall Council Chambers and unanimously decided that at least 17 buildings in Steveston would be saved from potential demolition. Owners of these heritage-protected buildings are required to preserve the exterior of their buildings as a means to retain the Steveston village character. Thanks to this bylaw, the two pumps will remain where they are - waiting for yet another press of the shutter button and another dazzling flash of light.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steveston Museum shares park with new neighbour

The Steveston Museum lies in the heart of our village and in the heart of all villagers.

Not only is the structure stunning, but the park surrounding it offers a modest but welcome patch of green to those seeking a temporary refuge.

When my children were young, we loved threading our way through this park. In the spring, there was a chance of getting caught in a burst of cherry blossom shower. Once it rained caterpillars instead. The wriggling and writhing critters blew off the trees and landed on the hapless pedestrians below. Again, shrieks of laughter, but this time mixed with terror! When the summer temperatures climbed past "tolerable," we would grab a few cones from Sara's Ice Cream and cool our heels on a park bench.The white picket fence gave us a sense of privacy and safety and my children loved observing passersby from their secret hiding places.

Early in December 2009, my heart sank when I read the blue signs posted on the park property. After considering various sites and gathering community input, the City of Richmond General Purposes Committee recommended to the Richmond City Council, on February 3, 2009, to relocate the "Doctor's & Hospital Offices" heritage building from 4091 Chatham to the Steveston Town Square - i.e. the property where the museum and park are located.

Posted sign beside the museum

The preparation was already in progress. One section of the park has been stripped bare and orange cones marked areas off limits to the public.

On January 20, 2010, I caught sight of the "Doctor's & Hospital Offices" heritage building resting on its new site. Perched on the tall foundation, it appeared large, dwarfing the museum beside it and chewing up a sizable chunk of green space.

Back of the building, facing the park

Front of the building, facing First Avenue

I returned a few days later to view the transplanted heritage building with fresh eyes. It still looked disproportionately large for such a small lot, but at least from certain angles, I could see it blending in with its surroundings.

Not bad. What do you think?

According to the report to Richmond City Council, the relocated building will be set in place carefully, to make it aesthetically pleasing to the community. Having the building in the heart of the village will also maximize its public use and accessibility. And, most important to me, most of the existing trees on the property will be left unharmed and the park will remain open to the public.

I will be posting newer photos on this blog to keep you updated on the site transformation. Till then, let me leave you with a photo of the Steveston Museum before all these changes happened. I did not realize that Moncton Street has been Google mapped and thank goodness for that! Here is a screenshot of the street view directly in front of the building.

Street view of Steveston Museum

Better yet:
(1)Go to
(2)Click on "Maps"
(3)Type "Steveston Museum Richmond" in the text box
(4)Click "Search Maps"
(5)In the "Steveston Museum" pop-up box, click "Street view"
(6)Walk up and down Moncton Street

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Garry Point Park concession stand - a must for picnic lovers

Garry Point Park concession stand

The grass is still green but the concession stand appears lifeless today. The air is calm and the stillness unruffled by barking dogs and children's laughter. The service windows are tightly shut and the picnic tables look sadly abandoned.

Empty picnic tables

Once more I asked myself why, given its proximity to the village, didn't I ever grab fish and chips and frozen cones from here last summer.

Believe me, I don't get an adrenaline rush from racing down the plank to Pajo's on the dock or elbowing my way to the line-up at Timothy's on the landing.

The sad truth is, the existence of the concession stand on the corner of Garry Point Park, totally eluded me. I wonder if this happens to anybody else.

Which is remarkable, given all that it has to offer, such as:

Public washrooms and a drinking fountain

Strategically placed public benches

The Fisherman's Memorial

Japanese style Kuno memorial garden

And don't forget a spectacular view of the Fraser River and the Gulf Islands.

This year, I plan to make regular use of this outdoor food stand. Just in case you plan to join me, here's the schedule of hours of operation tacked onto the bulletin board.

Believe me, they won't be able to keep me out!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there is a Candy Aisle

Like Virginia, I was not sure if there was a Candy Aisle in Steveston.

Sure, I had heard about the great selection, the friendly owners, and the fact that they hire local high school kids for part-time help now and then. But up till a few weeks ago, it was as abstract as the black swan.

Then I decided to check it out for myself. I sent an email to the Candy Aisle website and asked if I could feature them on this blog. Of course I could, came the enthusiastic answer!

The Steveston shop is actually Candy Aisle’s first franchise. In addition to the head office in Burnaby, there are two Vancouver locations, one on Robson Street and the other on West 4th Avenue.

“My partner and I met with Candy Aisle owner Jason about opening a Candy Aisle store. Within one week, a retail space opened up in Steveston. Thirty days later, on July 18, 2009, we were up and running,” says shop owner Nicole. “It was as though it was just meant to be.”

Six months after opening day, Nicole has yet to meet a grumpy customer. “We have been getting a great response from the community. We get a real mix of happy customers. One of my favourite customers is a two-year old who walked confidently through the door last December and said, ‘Oh ya.’ The 50+ group also admits to feeling like kids when they set foot in the store. ”

And no wonder. Everywhere you look, you see the sweet stuff. You can get local goodies, of course, but the store’s inventory also hails from as far away as Australia, Great Britain, and South Africa. “A lot of candy and novelty stuff are from the US and we also have licorice from the Netherlands,” adds Nicole, “and, of course, we carry chocolate bars.”

Out of this plethora of lip-smacking treats, Nicole couldn’t pinpoint a single bestseller. But the bulk section tends to draw a crowd. Customers just naturally gravitate towards the wall of gumballs, Gummi bears, Jelly Bellies, caramels, salt water taffy, etc., which they can mix and match for $1.99 per 100 grams.

Bulk food section

The M&M's corner also attracts hardcore candy devotees. Two rows of tall plastic dispensers are stacked vertically and hold twenty rainbow colours. That’s enough colours to inspire the creative streak in just about everybody. Think pink and blue for baby showers, red and yellow and blue for home-made cookies, and seasonal colours for whimsical Christmas confections. "There is a lady who is a Seattle Seahawks fan and she buys the blue and grey ones," adds Nicole.

The M&M's section

The gross candy section also holds a peculiar fascination for the younger set. It offers treats that test even the most adventurous palates. Would you believe scorpions, larvae, and insects? Last fall, at a little girl's tenth birthday party, a game was arranged where, to win an extra point, a team must eat chocolate covered crickets and worms. Real crickets and worms. Ugh! I couldn't crunch on creepy crawlies, even if they are embedded in a lollipop, dipped in white chocolate, or smothered in BBQ and Cheddar Cheese flavourings.

Gross candy, anyone?

You will be glad to know that Candy Aisle is open seven days a week. Just make your way down Second Avenue and look for the bright red and white sandwich board. And here’s a juicy tidbit for you, Nicole is planning a surprise for her customers in honour of the 2010 Olympics.

Nicole in candy land

While you’re wondering what this delicious surprise could be, let me leave you with some candy factoids I pulled off the Candy Aisle Twitter site:

· The world's largest chocolate bar weighs 2.67 tons at the Plaza Singapura of Singapore
· The world's Biggest Dispenser of Pez stands 7 foot 10 inches tall - over 20 times the size of a normal Pez dispenser
· The Gummi bear is a German creation by Hans Riegel, invented in 1922.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Arts Connection provides free outdoor art show

Have you ever visited an outdoor art gallery before?

I have. Just a couple of weekends ago, as a matter of fact.

It was a dark, cold, and rainy afternoon - the kind that drives everyone indoors. But, as I walked past The Arts Connection building, something caught my eye.

I retraced my steps and entered the parking lot. And there, arrayed in a line just above my head, was a set of bold, colourful, and delightfully folksy looking paintings. I was so smitten that I whipped out my Canon camera (yes, I almost never leave home without it) and started snapping photos, one at a time, walking crablike from one end of the wall to the other. Then my batteries went dead and a disheveled looking man appeared from behind a dumpster and sent me running for safety (did I tell you that no one was about?). So much for being a serious photo-blogger.

It turned out that the outdoor collection comprises two sets of paintings that were done at different times.

The first set of four paintings date back to 1990, when The Arts Connection first opened in the back half of what is now the SOS Children’s Village store. They were done by art students under the guidance of Anne Tait, an Emily Carr Art School graduate and winner of numerous awards. The second set of paintings was completed nearly a decade later by students of Adrianne Moore, a Richmond artist. Together they still captivate the eyes and warm the hearts of passersby.

Obviously, I was not the only one charmed by them.

"When the paintings were first done and hanging on the side of our building facing what is now the SOS Children’s Village parking lot, someone came during the night and stole one of them right off the wall," says The Arts Connection director Linda Shirley. "An appeal and photo was published in an article in the local newspaper and the painting was returned in the middle of the night."

Want to see all of them again without scrolling up? Here's a slide show:

OK, enough of this personal commentary. Just grab your coat and head down to 12191 First Avenue and have a look for yourself. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in this case, there are eleven pictures, so you do the math.

As far as the rumpled-looking gent is concerned, however, well – you’re pretty much on your own.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Remember January 1, 2009?

Just thought I'd start our new year off with some photos I took exactly a year ago.

Do you remember what was going on at that time?

According to my photo file, it was all about the weather - which was uncharacteristically snowy and cold. I recall my husband dragging the shovel across the sidewalks fronting our and our neighbours' front yards. Over and over again, it seemed.

I also remember our growing concern with the birds' ability to scavenge for food that laid deep under the unforgiving blanket of snow. To lend nature a hand, we drove to a big box store, bought bags of birdseed, and scattered it all over the backyard.

Then ... nothing. Hours elapsed. More time passed.

Just when we felt that our good intention had been for naught, some birds fluttered down from the bare branches and alighted on the snow. A pecking frenzy followed as more and more birds partook of the feast. We kept on replenishing the food supply as quickly as we could and pretty much kept at it until all the snow had melted and the ground emerged once again.

Here are photos of those first few brave feathered critters that weighed the risks against the benefits and decided, wisely in this case, to go for the goodies:

At first the birds remained guarded and aloof, preferring to stay on the fence or tree branches

Once the precedent was set, however, more and more of them decided to set their caution aside

Finally, they grew so bold that they started pecking on our patio and in our flowerbed

Do you remember and perhaps have photos of what you did last year today? Email me at and I will be happy to publish them on this blog.

Happy New Year, everyone!