Exhibit recreates downtown New Westminster out of Lego

Downtown New Westminster is recreated with more than 100,000 Lego blocks in a museum exhibition that examines the city's transportation history.

Two dozen volunteers with the Vancouver Lego Club spent a year building the exhibit

A well-known stretch of Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster. (New Westminster Museum/Supplied)

It's downtown New Westminster like you've never seen it before: built out of more than 100,000 Lego blocks. 

Step into the "People Gotta Move" exhibition at the New West Museum and you'll be struck by the distinctly geometric and colourful landscape that runs from the Fraser River to Carnarvon Street. 

The exhibit examines New West's transportation history, from roads and sidewalks to waterways and tracks. New West has long been a thoroughfare for regional movement, says curator Oana Capota. 

But take a closer look — really, crouch down and scrutinize — and you'll catch some historical gems.

The Copp's shoe store, for instance, which burned down in 2013, has been brought back to life.

Also replicated is the scene of a young boy in New West waving goodbye to his father as he heads off to serve in the Second World War, initially captured in what would become one of the most famous photographs in Canadian history. 

'Wait For Me, Daddy' was printed in Life magazine and was hung in every classroom across B.C. during the war years. (Claude Dettloff)
 
The "Wait For Me Daddy" photo is an important part of New West's history. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

Why Lego?

It's approachable, says Rob McCullough, manager of museum and heritage services.

"People from three to 93 years old can get into it," he said. 

"It's an opportunity for us to address some of the historical issues with traffic in our community. Not just traffic but ways of getting through the city and to the city and mobility in general." 

A year of building

It took about a year — and thousands of hours — for two dozen volunteers from the Vancouver Lego Club to design and build the exhibit.

"A lot of passion and creativity went into this," said club member Andrew Delbaere. 

Some members referred to photos and improvised when building, while others were more meticulous and used a design software, Delbaere said. 

The Samson V was the last steam-powered sternwheeler snagboat to operate in Canada. (Alex Migdal/CBC)

One of his favourites: the Paramount Theatre, which operates today as a strip club. Its Lego version, however, features a tamer marquée. 

"It's almost like a Disney movie," Delbaere said. "Kids are going to really appreciate it but an adult will see that and get a chuckle out of it." 

The exhibit runs to November 16, 2018.

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