As the oldest city in western Canada, the ‘Royal City’ of New Westminster is chalked full of lively history and culture that set it apart from its neighbours. This truly unique locale was set aside in 1859 by the Royal Engineers as the premiere capital for England’s’ new colony, British Columbia. The scenic landscape on the Burrard Peninsula that was chosen for New Westminster was selected for its strategic spot on the mighty Fraser River, but also for its elemental natural beauty.
Now home to 70,000 people, New West, as it’s called by locals, is a proud member of Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland with a vast economic progression that’s supported industries like fishing and lumber, to its modern day high-tech and fibre optic industry.
The territory now known as New Westminster occupies the traditional lands of the Qayqayt First Nation. In 1858, the leader of England’s Royal Engineers, Richard Clement Moody arrived with the intent to build a “city of beauty in the wilderness,” planning New Westminster to be the capital of British Columbia. The site was selected for its port on the Fraser River and its endless transportation capabilities, as well as its potential for railways to access the interior. It was originally requested that the city be named Queensborough, although London didn’t favour the name. Queen Victoria herself wanted to name the settlement after Westminster, capturing its name and official nickname as the “Royal City.”
New Westminster became the first incorporated city in western Canada, and also the first to feature an elected municipal government – both feats achieved in 1860. This is when New Westminster’s storied history gets interesting…
Moody’s Engineers were plagued with insufficient funds that made clearing the land very difficult, and therefore made his unique vision for a wilderness city almost impossible. New Westminster experienced quite a ‘trying’ relationship with the city of Victoria on the colony of Vancouver Island. Governor James Douglas, who doubled as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Chief Factor, wasn’t fond of New Westminster’s earliest Canadian and Maritimer residents, and when the Island colony and the British Columbia colony were amalgamated in 1866, Victoria was chosen as capital after a divisive vote in the House of Assembly. William Cox, a gold commissioner and Victoria compatriot, shuffled the speech papers advocating for New Westminster’s capital bid and popped the lenses out of New West’s speaker, William Franklyn’s glasses. Speaker John Helmcken refused to allow Franklyn, a civic leader from Nanaimo, a second chance to speak. A vote of 13-8 in favour of Victoria was the result.
When British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871 as the 6th Canadian province, New Westminster again faltered when Vancouver was handed favourable rights over the Royal City to receive the new Canadian Pacific Railway terminus.
Parks & Recreation
Following Moody’s desire to build a beautiful city amongst the forest, New Westminster has a huge number of parks to explore. Boasting 12 community parks, 30 neighbourhood parks, seven off-leash dog parks scattered through differing neighbours all over town.
The City also features an interactive trail and greenway space networking system on their official website, outlining all of the trails and bikeways that residents and visitors can explore. Trails are featured all over the city – from south Queensborough to the north end of Sapperton – enabling pedestrians and cyclists to traverse the entire city without using a drop of fuel.
Of particular interest, Moody Park one of the largest parks in the city, and is a multidimensional park facility that features sports activities like soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball and lacrosse amenities, as well as an outdoor pool, playground and spray park. Moody Park is also home to the New Westminster Youth Centre, Century House, as well as the city’s recreation office. New Westminster’s flagship park, however, is Queen’s Park – established in June of 1887, this 75 acre park houses a wide range of outdoor lifestyle pursuits and horticultural features. The park is renowned for its running trails, mature trees, outdoor fitness circuit and the infamous Rainbow Playland – a two playground epicentre that has a spray park as well as picnic areas and a petting zoo.
A newer park, Sapperton Landing Park is a regional Metro Vancouver Park, meaning that it was funded by the Millennium Skytrain Line development based on City property given to Vancouver’s Transportation Authority, Translink. This 8 acre park lies on the shores of the Fraser River, integrating environmental designs including backwater tidal channels, and riparian woodland environments used to encourage salmon and wildlife back into the area.
A vibrant and successful city, New Westminster benefits from its strategic location within Metro Vancouver as an integral community for its intellectual capacity, its manufacturing prowess, and its affordability for businesses and organizations – showcasing some of the most affordable rental spaces and transit-accessible office and retail space in Metro Vancouver. It was also recognized in 2017 as one of the world’s 21 top Smart21 Communities, for its dedication to improved information and communications technologies and the installation of its fibre optic network, BridgeNet.
Some of the largest employers in the area include the Royal Columbian Hospital (3500), Douglas College (930), Translink (900) and the New Westminster School Board (900). The City also benefits from an active and popular film industry.
The percentage of the population of New Westminster that holds some form of a University or College diploma, certificate of degree jumped up by 31% from 2006-2011, at a rate of 2-5 times that of Greater Metro Vancouver. The average household income for the city is $60,408 (2005).
New West is home to four post secondary education facilities, including Douglas College, the Justice Institute of British Columbia, the Boucher Institute, and the CG Masters School of 3D Animation and Visual Effects.
The public school system is upheld by the New Westminster School District is home to nine elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. French immersion education is offered at all middle and secondary schools and through two elementary schools. The Urban Academy is another option, as an independent private school for Jr. Kindergarten-Grade 12 students.
Arts & Culture
New West is in touch with its arts and cultural scene in such a way that exciting exhibits and public art programs are never far from reach. The City operates a beautiful contemporary art gallery called the New Media Gallery that is home to stunning features that blend video, sound and electronic media artworks into powerful statements of postmodern art. The city’s history and cultural geography is kept at the New Westminster Museum and Archives – managed through three individual locations – focusing on stories of people, land, and the development of New West.
The Anvil Centre is a 361-seat state-of-the-art facility that offers flexibility for all types of events – including the performing arts, concerts, film, festivals, corporate events and residencies. New West has also developed an innovative Cultural Map, an educational site that links people to the places, organizations and cultural institutions within the city.
Of note, and known as the Hyack Festival to locals, the May Day celebration is held over the May 24th weekend as New West’s rendition of a colonial 21-gun salute and has been observed since 1870 – making it the longest May Day celebration of its kind in all of the British Commonwealth.
Transportation & Healthcare
Although much of New Westminster’s residential and infrastructure layout has changed over the years, the framework of its transportation grid has largely been left unchanged. The city is orientated to the riverfront. The Trans Canada Highway runs to the city and is accessible through nearby Coquitlam, providing expressway access to downtown Vancouver. New West is also intrinsically linked to Burnaby to the north via the Kingsway – which also connects to downtown Van City.
Public transportation in New West is provided by Translink, like all communities in Metro Vancouver – served by the SkyTrain system through five stations:
- 22nd Street Station (Expo Line)
- New Westminster Station (Expo Line)
- Columbia Station (Expo Line)
- Sapperton Station (Expo Line)
- Braid Station (Expo Line)