West, has suffered many snubs and as many disasters over the years
House on Canarvon Street
year is 1860. Richard Clement Moody, the Lieutenant-Governor, Land
Commissioner, and Commander of the Royal Engineers of the new colony
of British Columbia stands on the north bank of the mighty Fraser
River near its mouth. Coast Salish villages are scattered nearby.
The Hudson Bay Company's fort at Langley is also close by, on the
south side of the river. Moody surveys the hillside covered in towering
cedars rising from the waters edge, and declares this place
the site for the capital of this new frontier. Moody chooses this
site above all other possibilities in the colonys vast landscape.
The sloping site has a clear view of America to the south, and in
the frontier mentality of this era, this is considered a strategic
military advantage, as the new inhabitants of the North American
continent are still jostling for territory, staking claims. The
place is named Queensborough, but soon after is renamed New Westminster.
The future looks promising. Gold has recently been discovered in the Fraser
and Thompson rivers, a few hundred kilometres into the interior. Prospectors
with dreams of riches will soon be streaming through the town. Saloons,
hotels, maybe a brothel or two, and more saloons will be built to meet
the demand. And, soon there will be talk of the forming of the dominion
of Canada, as well as the building of a unifying trans-continental rail
line. New Westminster will be the most likely candidate as the lines
The year is 2002. Close to two million people now live in the region at
the mouth of the Fraser River; the area is comprised of several sprawling
municipalities. New Westminster is at the geographic centre of the region,
but is no longer the centre of attentionand has not been for well
over a century. The city of 55,000 is not the capital of B.C., and it
is definitely not what it could have been. As it is situated at the centre
of the bustling, fast-growing Greater Vancouver regional district, the
city on the hill sees a steady stream of commuters pass it by daily as
they head in to Vancouvers downtown corea familiar feeling
for this once chosen town. Vancouver has completely overshadowed
the Royal City.
Columbia Street 1898
the buzzword along historic Columbia Street, the main drag that
runs parallel with the river, is "rejuvenation." It must
seem like a familiar refrain to the long time residents here: The
city is always recovering, rebuilding, rejuvenating. New West,
as it is commonly known, has suffered many snubs and as many disasters
over the years, but it has shown an amazing resiliency.
Some highlights: 1868: The first rebuff comes soon in the
history of the new capital. When New West was declared capital a mere
eight years ago, the BC mainland and Vancouver Island were two separate
colonies. The capital of the Island colony was Victoria, and when the
two colonies amalgamated in 1866, New Westminster was proclaimed the capital
of the new union. But less than two years later, the legislature takes
a vote and decides that Victoria would make a better capital after all.
Early 1880s: The Canadian Pacific Railway dynamites its way through the
Rockie mountains and a decision must be made at the Coast: where will
the line terminate? Vancouver, with its large, protected harbour, is chosen,
and New West is bypassed completely (a spur line from Port Moody to New
West will be added later).
The Street Car
Late 1880s: The last twenty years have been boom years. During the peak
of the Fraser and Thompson River gold rushes, paddlewheelers have regularly
steamed up and down the Fraser River, making it as busy as the Mississippi
has ever been. New Westminster is a natural calling point, and it has
bustled with prospectors and their packs full of gold. But now the gold
fever is fading, and the fortunes of this town take another blow.
1898: A great fire destroys three quarters of the town, including the
city market, the wharf and all the ships at berth. The city rebuilds.
1948: Many communities along the Fraser River suffer extensive flood damage
this Spring, but in New West, after as many as a million sandbags are
stacked up along the shores, with a peak tide of fourteen and a half feet,
the threat passes.
1970s & 80s: The sprawling Vancouver suburbs, including Burnaby, Surrey
and Coquitlam, allow huge shopping malls and big box retail outlets to
be built in their respective municipalities. Local businesses suffer as
residents are lured to the big malls.
2002: Today, the city is a diverse mix of industry (paper, fisheries)
and heritage and commerce. It is likewise populated by an eclectic mix
of professionals, seniors, students attending Douglas College, and small-time
drug dealers and grow-op owners. Heritage buildings are home to many antique
stores and other eclectic shops and make for great window-shopping. Parts
of the riverfront have been redeveloped with condominiums, as well as
the New Westminster Quay and its public market, and the nearby Riverboat
To the east of the Quay is a three-level parkade that stretches for several
blocks along the riverside. This area is ripe for redevelopment: more
condos, inevitably, but plans have been stalled due to debate over the
design and height of the numerous structures that will eventually redefine
the citys waterfront skyline. It may not be the power it once was
or could have been, but it does have a charm that the surrounding urban
sprawl cannot shake a stick at.
Royal Visit to New West in glory days
City council this fall approves the rezoning of a large lot in an industrial
area for use as a big box retail outlet. Could the invasion of Wal-Mart
or a similar retailer ruin the livelihoods of local small businesses?
That is a new fear for many locals, and they wonder if this city will
eventually end up as a small retailers ghost town, or whether it
will survive yet another challenge in its storied history.
Bowering, George. Bowering's B.C. A Swashbuckling History (Toronto, Ontario,
Canada: Penguin Books, 1996).
City of New Westminster
New Westminster Heritage
the Street and Onto the Wall
Artist Martin Budny shines at DV8
my dreams. Im open to my passions.
© Stewart Clayton - Writer/Teacher/Import-Export Business Developer
- Intern on hackwriters
October 9th, 2002
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