Discover New Westminster, British Columbia: A Blend of History and Modernity
New Westminster, colloquially known as New West, is a city in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, Canada. It is a member municipality of the Metro Vancouver Regional District. Founded by Major-General Richard Moody as the capital of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858, it continued in that role until the Mainland and Island colonies were merged in 1866. It was the British Columbia Mainland's largest city from that year until it was passed in population by Vancouver during the first decade of the 20th century. The city is located on the banks of the Fraser River as it turns southwest towards its estuary, on the southwest side of the Burrard Peninsula and roughly at the centre of the Greater Vancouver region.
The Rich History of New Westminster, British Columbia
The area now known as New Westminster was originally inhabited by the Kwantlen First Nation. The discovery of gold in BC and the arrival of gold seekers from the south prompted fear amongst the settlers that Americans may invade to take over this land.
Richard Clement Moody arrived in British Columbia in December 1858, at the head of the Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment, having been handpicked to "found a second England on the shores of the Pacific". Moody "wanted to build a city of beauty in the wilderness" and planned his city as an iconic visual metaphor for British dominance, "styled and located with the objective of reinforcing the authority of the Crown and of the robe".
Subsequent to the enactment of the Pre-emption Act of 1860, Moody settled the Lower Mainland and selected the site and founded the new capital, New Westminster. Moody and the Royal Engineers were trained in settlement and selected the site because of its defensibility: it was farther from the American border than the site of the colony's proclamation, Fort Langley, possessed "great facilities for communication by water, as well as by future great trunk railways into the interior", and possessed an excellent port.
It was suggested by Moody and the Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment that the site be proclaimed "Queensborough". Governor James Douglas proclaimed the new capital with this name on February 14, 1859. The name "Queensborough", however, did not appeal to London and it was Queen Victoria who named the city after Westminster, that part of the British capital of London where the Parliament Buildings were, and are to this day, situated. From this naming by the Queen, the City gained its official nickname, "the Royal City". A year later New Westminster became the first City in British Columbia to be incorporated and have an elected municipal government. It became a major outfitting point for prospectors coming to the Fraser Gold Rush, as all travel to the goldfield ports of Yale and Port Douglas was by steamboat or canoe up the Fraser River.
However, Colonial Office secretary Edward Bulwer-Lytton "forgot the practicalities of paying for clearing and developing the site and the town" and the efforts of Moody's engineers were continuously hampered by insufficient funds, which, together with the continuous opposition of Douglas, "made it impossible for [Moody's] design to be fulfilled".
Governor Douglas spent little time in New Westminster and had little affection for the city; and the feelings were amply repaid by the citizens of New Westminster, who avidly supported Colonel Moody's city-building efforts and castigated the governor, who preferred to remain for the most part isolated in distant Victoria. In contrast to Victoria, where settlers from England had established a strong British presence, New Westminster's early citizens were largely Canadians and Maritimers, who brought a more business-oriented approach to commerce and dismissed the pretensions of the older community. Despite being granted a municipal council, the mainlanders in New Westminster also pressed for a legislative assembly to be created for British Columbia, and were infuriated when Governor Douglas granted free port status to Victoria, which stifled the economic growth of the Fraser River city. Moreover, to pay for the expense of building roads into the Interior of the colony, Douglas imposed duties on imports into New Westminster.
In 1866, the Colony of British Columbia and the Colony of Vancouver Island were united as "British Columbia". However, the capital of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Victoria, was made the capital of the newly amalgamated Colony of British Columbia following a vote in the House of Assembly. On the day of the vote, one member of the assembly, William Cox (one of the colony's Gold Commissioners and a Victoria supporter), shuffled the pages of the speech that William Franklyn from Nanaimo (a New Westminster supporter) intended to give, so that Franklyn lost his place and read the first paragraph three times. Cox then popped the lenses of Franklyn's glasses from their frames so that the Nanaimo representative could see nothing at all of his speech. After a recess to settle the resulting uproar and allow the member from Nanaimo a chance to sort out his speaking notes and his spectacles, the Speaker John Sebastian Helmcken (from Victoria) refused to allow Franklyn a "second" chance to speak. The subsequent vote was 13 to 8 against New Westminster.
With the entry of British Columbia into the Dominion of Canada in 1871, as the sixth province, New Westminster's economic prospects improved, but the Royal City would lose out again, this time to the new railway terminus town of Vancouver, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was extended to the shores of Burrard Inlet, even though a spur of the railway did reach New Westminster in 1886.
In 1898, a fire destroyed downtown New Westminster, and in 1916 the federal government shut down the "common" reserves set aside for Coastal First Nations people who visited New Westminster during the fishing season. In 1916 the remaining land on Poplar Island was turned over to the BC government.
From 1927 to 1969, the British Columbia Shore Station Oceanographic Program was collecting coastal water temperature and salinity measurements from New Westminster every day for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In 1991, the New Westminster Armoury was recognized as a Federal Heritage building on the Register of the Government of Canada Heritage Buildings. Along with the rest of the Greater Vancouver region, in 2020 New Westminster experienced the worst air quality in the world due to the combined effects of the 2020 Western American wildfires and a fire at the old Pier at the quay. In 2022, efforts were made within the city to phase-out the "Royal City" moniker and undergo a rebrand of the city's logo and mottos.
The Geography of New Westminster, British Columbia
New Westminster is located on the Burrard Peninsula, mainly on the north bank of the Fraser River. It is 19 kilometres (12 mi) southeast of the City of Vancouver proper, adjacent to Burnaby and Coquitlam and across the Fraser River from Surrey and Delta. A portion of New Westminster called Queensborough is located on the eastern tip of Lulu Island, adjacent to Richmond. The total land area is 15.62 square kilometres (6.03 sq mi).
The Historical Urban Geography of New Westminster, British Columbia
New Westminster has changed markedly over time and by the results of its incorporation into the wider urbanization of the Lower Mainland. (See also: Architecture of Greater Vancouver.)
The Demographics of New Westminster, British Columbia
In the 2021 Canadian census conducted by Statistics Canada, New Westminster had a population of 78,916 living in 36,099 of its 37,737 total private dwellings, a change of 11.2% from its 2016 population of 70,996. With a land area of 15.62 km2 (6.03 sq mi), it had a population density of 5,052.2/km2 (13,085.2/sq mi) in 2021.
Ethnicity in New Westminster, British Columbia
Note: Totals greater than 100% due to multiple origin responses.
Languages in New Westminster, British Columbia
The 2016 census found that English was spoken as mother tongue by 50.47% of the population. The next most common mother tongue language was Tagalog, spoken by 4.5% of the population, followed by Mandarin at 4.4%, and Punjabi at 3.5%.
Arts and Culture in New Westminster, British Columbia
The city has several live performance venues, ranging from the Massey Theatre adjacent to New Westminster High School, to the Burr Theatre, a converted cinema on Columbia Street, and two theatrical venues in Queens Park (One being the Bernie Legge Theatre, home of the Vagabond Players, which were formed in 1937.) The Royal City Musical Theatre, a long-established New Westminster tradition, uses the Massey, while comedy and mystery theatricals use the stages in Queens Park. Also in Queens Park is the Queens Park Arena, longtime home to the legendary New Westminster Salmonbellies professional lacrosse team, as well as an open-air stadium used for baseball and field sports. The Burr Theatre (originally the Columbia Theatre), named for New Westminster native Raymond Burr, was operated by the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society who produced professional -quality mysteries and comedies between October 2000 and January 2005. February 2005 saw the theatre reopen as a vaudeville theatre with three major productions by The Heartaches Razz Band and in February 2006 collaboration with The Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society produced the first Annual Vancouver International Burlesque Festival. The theatre was sold by the City of New Westminster through a public request for proposal process to the owner of Lafflines Comedy Club. After extensive renovations to convert it into a cabaret style theatre, it is now called The Columbia, home of Lafflines Comedy Club. Douglas College also offers post-secondary training in theatre, stagecraft and music, as well as non-credit courses in music for all ages and ability levels, through the Douglas College Community Music School. Theatre productions and music concerts at Douglas College take place in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre and the smaller, more intimate Studio Theatre from September to April. Every year, New Westminster hosts the New West Cultural Crawl to showcase the city's unique and talented artists. The unique Mushtari Begum Festival of Indian Classical Music and Dance, debuted in 2012, is produced by internationally acclaimed artists Cassius Khan and Amika Kushwaha to preserve the rare Indian arts, and is partnered with the Massey Theatre.
Heritage of New Westminster, British Columbia
The main feature of the New Westminster Museum and Archives (NWMA) is the 1865 Irving House, which is said to be the oldest intact house in the BC Lower Mainland. In the museum are treasures such as the 1876 coach used by Lord Dufferin, then Governor General of Canada, to tour the new province of British Columbia including Barkerville via the Cariboo Road. The city's archives hold corporate and personal treasures such as 1859 maps of the city drawn by the Royal Engineers and official city records. Other heritage artifacts in the city include the 1937 Samson V paddlewheeler, the 1890s armouries, 1850s historic cannons, two of the old BC Pen buildings, numerous cemeteries, and dozens of heritage homes, many of which are from the 19th century. The Museum is affiliated with Canadian Museums Association, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, and Virtual Museum of Canada.
Hyack Festival and the Hyack Anvil Battery in New Westminster, British Columbia
New Westminster's May Day celebration began in 1870 and continues today as an important civic tradition, lending the city the distinction of having the longest-running May Day celebration of its type in the British Commonwealth. Within BC, at least four other communities still celebrate May Day: Port Coquitlam, Ladner in Delta (whose May Day Festival began in 1896), Bradner in Abbotsford, and The Sunshine Coast's Pender Harbour.
The May Day festival, held on the Victoria Day weekend and more formally known as the Hyack Festival, is distinguished by the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute, a tradition created by The New Westminster Fire Department during colonial times as a surrogate for a 21-gun salute. With no cannons available in the early colony, the Fire Department—known as the Hyacks, from the Chinook Jargon for "fast" or "quick", here derived from its use as a command for "hurry up!"— improvised by placing gunpowder between two anvils, the top one upturned, and igniting the charge from a safe distance, hurling the upper anvil into the air. Each year, in preparation for May Day, local schoolchildren are taught to dance around a maypole with colourful ribbons. Elections are held at elementary schools in the city, and, from them one girl is selected to become the year's May Queen, and two students from each school to become members of her "May Queen Suite" and "Royal Knights." On a Wednesday of the festival, elementary school students gather at Queen's Park Stadium to dance, and the May Queen is crowned.
Transportation in New Westminster, British Columbia
Road Network in New Westminster, British Columbia
Much of New Westminster's street network still conforms to the original grid laid out by the Royal Engineers at the time of settlement. The grid is oriented to the riverfront and therefore deviates from the compass directions: streets run northwest to southeast, and avenues run southwest to northeast. The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) is accessible from nearby Coquitlam, via the Brunette Avenue interchange, and Burnaby, via the Cariboo Road and Canada Way interchanges, and provides expressway access to Vancouver, the North Shore, and the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal (to the west), and to the British Columbia interior and the communities of the Fraser Valley (to the east, via the Port Mann Bridge). On its northern and western edges, New Westminster is connected to Vancouver by the street system of the city of Burnaby. The three major arterial streets in Burnaby connecting New Westminster and Vancouver are Canada Way (until 1967 named the Grandview Highway, and called 8th St. once it enters New Westminster), Kingsway (12th St.), and Marine Way (Stewardson Way). Kingsway connects New Westminster with the major shopping and entertainment district of Metrotown, in central Burnaby, and then proceeds to downtown Vancouver. The Queensborough Bridge (part of Highway 91A) connects mainland New Westminster to Queensborough, Richmond, and, via the Alex Fraser Bridge, Delta. The Pattullo Bridge links New Westminster with Surrey. The lesser-used Derwent Way Bridge connects Queensborough with Annacis Island of Delta. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city reallocated road space in New Westminster for cyclists and pedestrians as part of Streets for People in 2020 initiative.
Public Transit in New Westminster, British Columbia
Public transportation is provided by TransLink. Along with a number of bus routes, the city is served by the following stations on the SkyTrain system:
- 22nd Street station (Expo Line)
- Braid station (Expo Line)
- Columbia station (Expo Line)
- New Westminster station (Expo Line)
- Sapperton station (Expo Line)
The city is located within Zone 2 of TransLink's fare structure. A passenger ferry runs from the Quay to the neighbourhood of Queensborough on Lulu Island.
Railways in New Westminster, British Columbia
The city is served by four railways: Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, and the Southern Railway of British Columbia shortline. None offer passenger service.
Streetcars and the Interurban in New Westminster, British Columbia
Until the 1950s, New Westminster was linked to Vancouver and other municipalities by the BC interurban tram network (a type of interurban electric railway) under British Columbia Electric Railway. The Central Park Line was operated from 1891 to 1958.
Sports and Recreation in New Westminster, British Columbia
The New Westminster Salmonbellies are one of the oldest professional lacrosse teams in Canada, and also have junior and midget teams. The 'Bellies, as they are also known, have won the Mann Cup twenty-four times. New Westminster is also the location of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The New Westminster Royals were a professional minor-league team from 1911 through 1914, in the heyday of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. Their home rink was the Denman Arena in Vancouver, which they shared with rivals the Vancouver Millionaires. Playing at Queen's Park Arena were two incarnations of a Western Hockey League junior team, the New Westminster Bruins (1971–1981 and 1983–1988). The Royal City Hyacks Football Club offers football and cheerleading for youth aged 5–13, while the local high school, New Westminster Secondary School has high school football. Pocomo Rugby Football Club and Douglas Rugby Club (both teams play in New Westminster) merged in 2005 to form the United Rugby Club. Pocomo moved to New Westminster in the late 1960s, eventually calling Hume Park its home field. Douglas was formed by Pocomo players attending Douglas College in 1972. United Rugby currently uses Hume Park and Queens Park for home venues. Youth soccer in New Westminster is represented by the New West Youth Soccer Club (formerly known as Royal City Youth Soccer Club), established in 1965, with teams for boys and girls aged 4 to 17 that participate in league play from September to March. Additionally, the club offers spring programs for children aged 4 to 9 and futsal for children aged 10 to 17. The Sapperton Rovers men's soccer team has a long history in New Westminster. Soccer in the Sapperton Community goes back to mid 19th century; the first soccer game in BC was played in New Westminster on Victoria Day,