The Renewed Newton Grove

The following submission appeared in “We Are Newton: A Neighbourhood Anthology.” See here for more information about the project.

By: Dawn Miller

Have you ever walked through the Newton Grove? In case you haven’t, I wish to tell you about the transformation that has happened there. The Grove is a mini forest nestled between Safeway, the Newton Wave Pool, the skating arena and the bus exchange.

I am a senior who is addicted to one cup of Tim Horton’s coffee every morning. The Grove is part of my walk there. Many had advised me to take another route because the area had a high crime rate. I still went through there, but did see arguments, exchange of suspicious parcels and the remnants of homeless people. I would scurry through, holding my purse more tightly, averting my eyes and speaking to no one.

Then in the winter of 2013 Julie Paskall was murdered as she went in to pick up her son from a hockey game. Yellow police ribbon enclosed the whole area, including The Grove, as a crime scene for quite a while. The reputation of Newton became even more negative.

But in the spring of 2014 things started to change. First, there was a lot more security in the form of police, dogs and security patrolmen. This was reassuring but did not give me a warm, cozy feeling. In a way it emphasized the danger.

A group of people called Friends of The Grove started to reclaim the tiny forest for the residents of Surrey and change it into a positive and enjoyable place for anyone to be; a place where dishonourable people wouldn’t be comfortable. Many branches and trees were cut so every part of The Grove could be easily seen. It became lighter and there were no places to hide … or fear. Next, they put in loads of fine pebbles on the beaten path, eliminating low areas that previously became muddy on rainy days.

The next steps were more surprising and fun. Huge eyeballs attached to trees throughout The Grove made you feel watched … or protected. Inexpensive wooden frames were tied to tree trunks. Some held pictures children had drawn, others had encouraging words of wisdom or interesting information. I found myself walking from tree to tree, and around each tree. Frequently these pictures changed, so I would often pause.

One day there were three comical signs saying, “Don’t Bite, Smile and Say Hello.” Then I heard a “squawk” at my foot. I looked down and there was a very realistic plastic frog right beside a tree with new pictures to look at. A little farther, another “squawk” resulted in my spending more time at another tree. Several frogs awaited along the path to encourage people to pause and enjoy The Grove. People were smiling and greeting each other.

There were planned activity days especially for families. One day children were making mobiles and wind chimes. These were made of feathers, ribbon, small plastic hoops, and other odds and ends. The next day these were hanging from a rope between trees and made an interesting moving collage.

Another day, brightly decorated pails were tied upside down to the trees. Children were happily pounding on the “drums.” They were not “in tune” but the sound was certainly pleasing. Another day, children were given homemade stilts, which they accessed from tree stumps. Families gathered were served food. The ethnic diversity of the people of Surrey was being incorporated into the atmosphere of The Grove. Often now I hear the laughter of children. The Grove has become a happy, safe place to be.

More recently, a piano was delivered to The Grove! Yes, a real piano! There was a concert that night and students played. The piano stayed and was painted a variety of bright colours. People were encouraged to play the piano; even videotape themselves and enter a contest as part of a wider Vancouver project. Didn’t they know humidity would alter the tune of a piano? Crazy? Maybe, but a warm, fun crazy.

One of the unchanging signs has been, “May love emerge from our brokenness.” Indeed, evil did seem to be ruling the area for a number of years. However, this happy, childish, playful place is no longer a suitable place to meet if you have evil thoughts or plans. Love is emerging from the pain our community experienced. I wish to thank the Friends of The Grove for all the smiles you have given me.

Friends of The Grove have shown that little, but ongoing, positive changes can overcome negative influences. The ideas behind many of the changes they made can be applied to our lives. Most of us have some unpleasant aspects of our life due to strained or broken relationships, finances or health. Often small changes can make all the difference.
The Friends of The Grove challenged us to work within our personal brokenness. The transformation of The Grove did not depend on expensive playground equipment. They worked with what they had or what was easily available.

Similarly, we are capable of making our personal environment as healthy as possible by making small, frequent changes to uplift ourselves and others. Love yourself enough to emerge from your brokenness and smile again. Some discouraging things will continue to happen in life, but they do not need to ruin your personal peace.

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