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New Westminster
The Corporation of the City of New Westminster
Uptown New Westminster
Uptown New Westminster
Flag of New Westminster
Coat of arms of New Westminster
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): "New West"
Motto: "In God We Trust"
Location of New Westminster in Metro Vancouver
Location of New Westminster in Metro Vancouver
Country  Canada
Province BC/BCE
Region Lower Mainland
Regional district Metro Vancouver
Founded 1858
 • Total 15.63 km2 (6.03 sq mi)
Elevation 60 m (200 ft)
Population (2016)
 • Total 70,996
 • Density 4,222.2/km2 (10,935/sq mi)
 • Private Dwellings 32,605
Time zone PST (UTC-8)
Postal code V3L, V3M
Area code(s) 604
Website City of New Westminster

New Westminster is a historically important city in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, Canada, and is a member municipality of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. It was founded by Major-General Richard Moody as the capital of the new-born Colony of British Columbia in 1858, and continued in that role until the Mainland and Island Colonies were merged in 1866, and was the Mainland's largest city from that year until it was passed in population by Vancouver during the first decade of the 20th Century.

It is located on the right bank 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.


A view of New Westminster from the Fraser River, circa 1865.

Before the settlers arrived from various parts of the world, the area now known as New Westminster was inhabited by Qayqayt First Nation. The discovery of gold in B.C. 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 hand picked 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. Moody was also struck by the majestic beauty of the site, writing in his letter to Blackwood,

"The entrance to the Frazer is very striking--Extending miles to the right & left are low marsh lands (apparently of very rich qualities) & yet fr the Background of Superb Mountains-- Swiss in outline, dark in woods, grandly towering into the clouds there is a sublimity that deeply impresses you. Everything is large and magnificent, worthy of the entrance to the Queen of England’s dominions on the Pacific mainland. [...] My imagination converted the silent marshes into Cuyp-like pictures of horses and cattle lazily fattening in rich meadows in a glowing sunset. [...] The water of the deep clear Frazer was of a glassy stillness, not a ripple before us, except when a fish rose to the surface or broods of wild ducks fluttered away".

Cuyp, Aelbert - Cattle near the Maas, with Dordrecht in the distance - Google Art Project
Moody likened his vision of the nascent Colony of British Columbia to the pastoral scenes painted by Aelbert Cuyp

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.

StateLibQld 1 125131 Coquitlam City (ship)
Coquitlam City, of New Westminster

However, Colonial Office Secretary Sir 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, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, 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, on the members' return to the House of Assembly, 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.

City of New Westminster in Flames, British Columbia
City of New Westminster, in Flames, Sept. 10, 1898.

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 1879, the federal government allocated three reserves to the New Westminster Indian Band, including 104 acres (0.42 km2) of the South Westminster Reserve, 22 acres (89,000 m2) on the North Arm of the Fraser River, and 27 acres (110,000 m2) on Poplar Island. A smallpox epidemic devastated the New Westminster Band, reducing the band members from about 400 people to under 100. Many of the remaining Qayqayt were assimilated into other local reserves, such as the neighbouring Musqueam Indian Band. Their reserve on Poplar Island was turned into an Aboriginal smallpox victim quarantine area. For decades, the Poplar Island reserve was designated as belonging to "all coast tribes". In 1913 the federal government seized most of the New Westminster Band's reserve lands. In 1916 the remaining land on Poplar Island was turned over to the BC government. Eighteen years earlier, in 1898, a devastating fire destroyed downtown New Westminster.

In 1991, the New Westminster Armoury was recognized as a Federal Heritage building on the Register of the Government of Canada Heritage Buildings.


New Westminster is located on the Burrard Peninsula, 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. A portion of New Westminster called Queensborough is located on the eastern tip of Lulu Island, adjacent to Richmond. The total land area is 15.3 square kilometres (5.9 sq mi).

Historical urban geography

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.)

B.C. Penitentiary

The B.C. Penitentiary being constructed circa 1877.

In 1878, the Government of Canada opened the British Columbia Penitentiary, the first federal penitentiary west of Manitoba. "BC Pen", or simply "the Pen", as it was known (and also in old days as the "skookum house" in the English-Chinook Jargon patois common in early BC), was located between the Sapperton neighbourhood and what is now Queen's Park. It housed maximum-security prisoners for the next 102 years, closing in 1980. The original centre block of the Pen still stands and has been converted into offices. The Gatehouse, steps leading up to it and old Coal House still stand. The rest of the Pen's grounds have been filled with newly built townhouses and condominiums and parkland. Below the main complex on the waterfront the prison's old armoury still stands as part of a new waterfront park; this was also the location of the prison's wharf which was much-used when steamboat was the main means of transportation within the Lower Mainland and for some years after.


The mental hospital for children, was located to the west of the BC Pen and was adjacent to the offramps of the Pattullo Bridge. After it was closed, the derelict main building was, except for the tower entrance, destroyed by fire on July 9, 2008. In October 2011, all remaining old structures were leveled and cleared, to the joy of some former residents who had bad memories of their childhood experiences.


New Westminster's Chinatown was one of the earliest established in the mainland colony and initially the second-largest after Victoria's. Prior to the rise of Vancouver's Chinatown it was the largest on the mainland following Barkerville's wane as a centre of population.

It was located along Front Street. A second Chinatown opened

Chinatown was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1898 and only partly rebuilt afterwards, with a church and cultural and community events hall the first to be started.

Columbia Street

1932-2008 Columbia Street
Contrasting views of Columbia Street in 1932 and 2008.

Until the 1964 completion of the Highway 1 freeway, which bypassed New Westminster to its north, Columbia Street, the downtown core of New Westminster close to the city's waterfront, was the main commercial retail and service centre for the Fraser Valley and nearby areas of Burnaby and Coquitlam. Known as "the golden mile", it hosted major department stores such as Eaton's, Kresge's and Woolworths as well as long-established New Westminster retailers. This was a time when road travel to Vancouver remained distant for Valley communities, and daily interurban rail service to and from Chilliwack was still in place (the service ended in 1950). The quality of shops was such that even Vancouverities would make the trip by interurban rail or, later on, via Kingsway (originally called the Westminster Highway or Westminster Road), to shop on Columbia Street. In addition to the retailers, Columbia Street was home to major movie houses, the Columbia and the Paramount, rivalling in size and quality to those on Vancouver's Theatre Row. The freeway and the building of suburban malls with free parking is generally conceded to have "killed" Columbia Street, which fell into a slump despite the building of a large parkade above nearby Front Street in the 50s and 60s. Department stores (other than the Army and Navy) left downtown as the Uptown area continued to develop to become New Westminster's main retail and services centre. In October 2006, Columbia Street underwent reconstruction to change to one lane in both directions, with a bike lane and reverse angle parking. This was done to encourage more foot and bicycle traffic. Major high-rise or renovation projects are completed or nearing completion. By May 2012, these include the Plaza 88 development which includes three condominium towers, the complete renovation of the Columbia which is now a cabaret style theatre for concerts, weddings and fundraisers, and the home of Lafflines Comedy Club. The new $25 million Westminster Pier Park officially opened on June 16, 2012, and a new civic centre and office tower named The Anvil Centre on Columbia Street at Begbie Street completed Sept. 2014. The Salient Group built a tower on top of the Trapp + Holbrook buildings (while restoring the facade) and another condominium called Northbank was built at the east entrance of Columbia Street. Close to the Trapp building, a major fire razed the E.L. Lewis Building and the Hamley Block on October 13, 2013, displacing 30 businesses and destroying a chunk of Columbia Street’s historical character. One of the most well-known of these businesses was Copp's Shoes, which had not changed between its 1925 opening and its closure in early 2013.

Front Street

Originally a dockside street and market, and also the location of the original Chinatown, Front Street was converted into a truck-route bypass and elevated parkade during the 1960s in an effort to provide increased parking for adjacent Columbia Street. In recent decades it has been the focus of the city's thriving antiques and second-hand trade, which is also concentrated on 12 Street. It has also been used as a location in feature films such as Rumble in the Bronx (substituting for the Bronx), I, Robot (as a futuristic Chicago), Shooter (doubling for Philadelphia, with the Fraser River being the Delaware River), and New Moon. In early 2016, a partial demolition of the parkade commenced as part of the City's continued efforts to revitalize and improve their waterfront area.

Government House

The original colonial Government House was located approximately where Royal City Manor is now. It was originally occupied by Colonel Richard Moody, who commanded the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers who established the city. Rarely used by Governor Douglas, its first full-time vice-regal resident was Governor Frederick Seymour.

New Westminster CPR Station

Adjacent to the New Westminster SkyTrain Station, the city's former Canadian Pacific Railway station had been renovated and converted into a branch of The Keg restaurant chain. In 2013, The Keg restaurant closed its doors due to structural faults and a large number of reported hauntings. The building has remained dormant ever since. It had been occupied by The Keg restaurant since 1973, but it closed and laid off all its staff in January 2013. The station is owned by Westminster Station Brewing Co., which signed a 15-year lease with The Keg in 2002.


Queensborough was the name originally chosen for the colonial capital by Royal Engineer commander Colonel Richard Clement Moody. When Queen Victoria designated New Westminster instead as her new capital's name, the name Queensborough became applied to New Westminster's portion of Lulu Island, across the north arm of the Fraser from the southern end of the city. Queensborough is today a low- to middle-income housing area with its own distinct identity. Some new condominium complexes have been built adjacent to the Westminster Quay development. In the Chinook Jargon, "Koonspa", an adaptation of the name Queensborough, is the usual name for New Westminster as a whole.

New West Mansion
A replica of a Queen Anne house opposite Queens Park

There are now some big-box stores such as Walmart and Lowes, as well as the large Starlight Casino.


Sapperton was originally a "suburb" of New Westminster, named for the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers ("Sappers"), whose camp was on the hill now occupied by the Fraserview neighbourhood. It is the location of the historic Fraser Cemetery, which rivals Victoria's Ross Bay Cemetery for the number of historically significant graves and monuments. Sapperton is the home of the first commercial brewery to operate in British Columbia known as the "City Brewery". Over the years the brewery changed hands and was operated by Labatts until it closed in 2005. In its place is a recent condo development known as the "Brewery District", although there is no brewery on the premises. New Westminster does have one brewery currently, named Steel & Oak which opened its doors in 2014. Also located in Sapperton are the Royal Columbian Hospital, Sapperton Station, and Braid Station.

Uptown "6th and 6th"

Development of an uptown commercial area around 6th Street and 6th Avenue started in 1954, with the opening of Woodward's department store. Added momentum came with the relocation of the public library from downtown to uptown in 1958. In 1992 Woodward's was expanded and modernized into a shopping centre and took the name Woodwards Place. With the bankruptcy of Woodward's in 1993, the name of the centre was changed to Royal City Centre Mall. Moody Park is an important recreational area in the uptown area.

The West End

Opposite Sapperton's north end, New Westminster's West End was once fairly separate from the city proper, and has a neighbourhood commercial node along 12th Street and 20th Street approximately between London Street and Eighth Ave. The 12th Street area features antique and one-of-a-kind stores.

Westminster Quay

Westminster Quay

Westminster Quay was an Expo-era (mid-1980s) development to revitalize New Westminster and accompanied the development of the SkyTrain line to Vancouver. In addition to a large public market and a 2.5-diamond-rated hotel, The Inn at the Quay, a large condominium tower and townhouse complex was built, accessed from the older Columbia Street area of downtown by an overpass. The impetus provided by this project has spilled over onto the inland side of the rail tracks, with new tower developments focusing on the area southwest of 8th Street (the area known formerly as "the Swamp" and Chinatown). As of July 2007, the Quay's commercial component had noticeably decreased, with many vacancies, compared to the much more active Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. Responding to the decrease of business, the ownership group closed the Westminster Quay Market for renovations. The market re-opened as The River Market in September 2010 with Donald's Market as the main anchor.


The city has a total population of 70,996 (2016 Census).

Canada 2011 Census Population  % of Total Population
European Canadian 39,785 61.1%
Visible minority group
South Asian 5,500 8.4%
Chinese 5,500 8.4%
Black 1,155 1.8%
Filipino 4,765 7.3%
Latin American 1,155 1.8%
Arab 550 0.8%
Southeast Asian 650 1%
West Asian 765 1.2%
Korean 1,165 1.8%
Japanese 775 1.2%
Other visible minority 95 0.1%
Mixed visible minority 515 0.8%
Total visible minority population 22,625 34.8%
Aboriginal group
First Nations 2,010 3.1%
Métis 815 1.3%
Inuit 80 0.1%
Total Aboriginal population 2,680 4.1%
Total population 65,090 100%

Arts and culture

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.


Irving House
Established 1865
Location New Westminster British Columbia Canada
Type historical house museum
Website [1]

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 the 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 CMA, the CHIN, and Virtual Museum of Canada.

Hyack Festival and the Hyack Anvil Battery

May Day celebrations in 1913. Young girls dance around a maypole.

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 B.C., 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 Queen circa 1887.
Mayor at Hyack Anvil Salute
Wayne Wright sets off an anvil shot during the 2008 Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute.

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. If it had been approved, the club would have been the first division three club in Canada and the sixth professional team in the country.

International relations

Sister cities

  • Japan Moriguchi, Osaka, Japan: The Sister City relationship between New Westminster and Moriguchi in 1962–1963 was the first Sister City agreement between Canadian and Japanese cities. (Subject to research confirmation)
  • Philippines Quezon City, Philippines in 1991. The agreement was signed in 1991.
  • People's Republic of China Lijiang, Yunnan, China in 2002.

Friendship cities

  • People's Republic of China Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, China (2008)
  • People's Republic of China Yunfu, Guangdong, China (2009)

Adopted city

  • Russia Anapa: During World War II, after the Soviet Union (USSR) had changed sides, New Westminster "adopted" Anapa, a town on the northeastern Black Sea coast, in 1944. This was not a formal Sister City arrangement and it has lapsed in the intervening years.
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