In 1859, New Westminster became the first capital of the new Colony of British Columbia by Queen Victoria, who named the city after part of London and henceforth its official nickname became "The Royal City". Soon after it became a major outfitting point for prospectors en route to the Cariboo gold rush, as all travel to the goldfield ports of Yale and Port Douglas was by steamboat or canoe up the Fraser River.
In 1866, the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island were united as "British Columbia". However, the capital of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Victoria, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, was made the capital of the newly amalgamated Colony of British Columbia.
In September 1898, the Great Fire destroyed the downtown area of New Westminster, sparing just two buildings - the Queen Hotel and the Burr Block. The citizenry had little choice but to accept the enormous challenge of rebuilding the city, which was accomplished by 1910. Even today, the downtown shopping district along Columbia Street is still known as The Golden Mile.
By the 1970s the distinctions between the various surrounding communities had blurred to the point where one hardly noticed a transition from one city to the next, particularly between Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Port Moody. Today New Westminster is part of the area known as Metro Vancouver.
New Westminster is located on the Burrard Peninsula, on the north bank of the Fraser River. The city is 19 kilometres (12 miles) southeast of the Vancouver city proper, adjacent to Burnaby and Coquitlam, and across the Fraser River from Surrey. A small portion of New Westminster called Queensborough is located on the eastern tip of Lulu Island, adjacent to Richmond.
In April 1865, the British Columbian newspaper described the new home built by Captain William Irving as "The handsomest, the best and most home-like house of which British Columbia can yet boast". Today you can revisit the splendour and grace of those pioneer days. Appreciate the glow of original wallpaper in the parlours. Imagine getting dressed before a coal heater in the bedroom. Envision cooking a meal using the gleaming wood stove in the kitchen. Be sure to visit during December, when the house is transformed for a Victorian Christmas.
The Fraser River is recognized as one of the great rivers of the world, and has played an important role in the development of not only New Westminster, but also British Columbia. The Fraser River Discovery Centre is a world-class interpretive centre, focusing on the economic, environmental, cultural and historical importance of the Fraser River.
New Westminster's flagship park (constructed in 1886) is a 75 acre haven for outdoor enthusiasts and families. Enjoy the many trails, flowers, sporting opportunities, petting farm, playgrounds, and wedding facilities that await you at First Street and Third Avenue.
Located next to City Hall, this beautiful community park offers the visitor a waterfall and pond, a majestic totem pole, walking paths, and benches to relax and enjoy the many trees and flowers. Friendship Gardens is the perfect setting for relaxing walks or photographs. Designed by Mr. Gordon Sales, the late Parks Director, the Gardens were built in 1963 as a tribute to New Westminster's Sister City of Moriguchi, Japan. The creation is a blend of the basic Japanese garden and the city's own informal garden tastes.
A favourite place for both locals and visitors to shop and browse, the River Market at the Quay is just a block from the New Westminster SkyTrain Station. Set on the edge of the Fraser River, the market is a favourite destination for foodies and is about celebrating local foods in a sustainable way.
Downtown New Westminster - Columbia Street
Downtown New Westminster is in the heart of the Lower Mainland, easily accessible by car or at one of two SkyTrain stations - New Westminster and Columbia. A mix of unique character buildings both old and new, Downtown features tree-lined streets that light up at night, with old-fashioned street lamps casting a warm glow. Stroll the flower-laden esplanade overlooking the Fraser River, or explore the beautiful architecture of heritage buildings. The New Downtown features sidewalk cafes, gourmet coffee bars, and shopping from art boutiques, gift stores and hobby shops to the funkiest fashions and a niche of bridal shops.
Massey Theatre opened in 1949 as British Columbia's largest theatre. Since then its lights have shone on Broadway touring companies and international stars of dance and music. Today, Massey Theatre proudly hosts professional orchestras like the Vancouver Symphony, stars like singing sensation Jewel, and stunning productions like Hello Dolly, South Pacific, 42nd Street, and The King and I. The theatre has been home to community groups, competitions, festivals, student performances and performers of culturally diverse communities.
British Columbia's first Royal City, New Westminster is a small community with charm to spare. Walking tours are an ideal way to experience this amazing city at your own pace. Choose from two historic walking tours: take the Esplanade Walking Tour to view the best of the Fraser River, or travel through Upper New Westminster. There are also other areas of the city that offer interesting walking. Sapperton features two historic churches and Fraser Cemetery, with spectacular views of the city. Queensborough offers a more rural setting, where you can stroll along the dyke at rivers edge, past fish boats, docks, and boat houses. The Brow of the Hill residential neighbourhood is another popular spot to wander the streets admiring the many heritage homes. Walking tour brochures are available from the New Westminster Museum.
The 7-11 Trail is an easy 40 kilometre (25 mile) cycling path that follows the Sky Train route from New Westminster to Clark Drive in Vancouver.
This nostalgic look at almost 200 vintage cars of yesteryear is sponsored by the Totem A&T Car Club, and is the largest Easter Car Parade in the Pacific Northwest. Every Easter Sunday, enjoy the entertainment at the Quay, then watch as the cars wind their way through the city streets to Queens Park. There you can have an afternoon of family fun with an Easter Surprise Hunt, children's rides, face painting, and more, all put on by the New Westminster Parks and Recreation Department.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia