Past, Present and Future Work on the Waterfront: An Intergenerational Arts Program


There are few opportunities in the school curriculum for students to learn directly from those in our community who have lived the history and experienced the places and events that are studied in the classroom. Intergenerational collaboration provides opportunities for “real world” learning about issues that matter in the local community as well as opportunities for relationship building and enhanced communication between generations. With these aims in mind, Dr. Susan O’Neill from the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University developed an intergenerational arts/civic history educational program as part of the (Re)Claiming the New Westminster Waterfront research partnership led by Dr. Peter Hall from Urban Studies at SFU. The program is designed to bring together longshoremen who spent their working lives on the waterfront with children who are learning about the history of the waterfront. As the longshoremen share their experiences of working on the waterfront, the students gain a stronger sense of the history and importance of the waterfront in their community. A series of projects were coordinated and taught by art teacher and SFU research assistant Sue Dyer with volunteer retired members of Local 502, International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union.

/In Spring 2012, an eight-week pilot project took place with students in Grades 5-6 from the New Westminster Homelearners Program. A highlight of this project involved a field trip where the children joined Joe Breaks, a retired longshoreman, who led a guided walk along the waterfront. The children were each given a disposable camera to take photos that they compared to photos of the waterfront from the past. They also created clay sculptures that represented different aspects of working life on the waterfront in partnership with Joe Breaks, Gerry White and other retired longshoreman that attended the art classes taught by Sue Dyer. The students also created drawings of what they imagined the waterfront to be like in the future and a celebration display of their art projects took place with parents and invited members of the community attending.

cfXyVYEOGRS1lZVibKuoOZ8zclHs-cXNxC7zNPv5yKEIn Spring of 2013, a second project was conducted with Matthew Sol’s class of students in Grades 3-4 at Howie Elementary School in New Westminster and longshoremen retirees Joe Breaks, Gerry White and Brian Ringrose. This project followed a similar model as the pilot project and illustrated the benefits of how intergenerational sharing of lived experiences can enhance classroom learning and provide a social and generative opportunity for the retirees. Classroom learning about the past, present and future of the waterfront was enhanced by the intergenerational relationships developed, and the children and longshoremen collaborated on the creation of art projects that included clay sculptures, mask making, wire sculpture, puppet shows and comic book creation using an iPad.

Qo2QLduxNvhhqCInEMfXeklh8lRF5LGsSKu2YQU35K4A third project was conducted in May 2013, with Grade 10 students in Pat Dyer’s Social Studies class at New Westminster Secondary School. This project involved students working in small groups together with retired longshoremen in the creation of short “documentary” films exploring the history of the working waterfront using everyday technology available to the students such as smart phones and computers. The longshoremen (Joe Breaks, Gerry White, Brian Ringrose, Ken Bauder, Dean Johnson, Ron Noullett) shared stories with the students about the evolution over time of working conditions and the improvements that were made through ILWU and government labour laws. Using story telling, photography, film and music the students and longshoremen created films that communicated meaningful messages about past and present work on the New Westminster waterfront.


Hall, P., Keough, W., Kelm, M.-E., Stern, P., Farahani, A., Minardi, R. Walisser, A., O’Neill, S. A., Dyer, S., Capota, O., Breaks, J., White, G., & Ringrose, B. (2013, June). Past, Present and Future Work on the Waterfront: An Intergenerational Arts Program. Poster presented at the Congress 2013 Canadian Historical Association (CHA) 2013 Annual Conference, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.