Music in New Westminster

City east of Vancouver near the mouth of the Fraser River. After its designation (1859, incorporation 1860) as the capital city of British Columbia it was named New Westminster by Queen Victoria, and hence nicknamed 'The Royal City.

New Westminster, BC

New Westminster, BC. City east of Vancouver near the mouth of the Fraser River. After its designation (1859, incorporation 1860) as the capital city of British Columbia it was named New Westminster by Queen Victoria, and hence nicknamed 'The Royal City.' The seat of government was transferred to Victoria in 1866, and a fire destroyed the business section in 1898, but New Westminster grew nevertheless into a thriving industrial and commercial centre with a population of 42,500 in 1991. Although culturally in the shadow of Vancouver, it has a longer musical history.

An active Bell Ringers' Club performed on the peal of eight bells (the first chime in British Columbia) installed in Holy Trinity Church in 1865. All but one of the bells were destroyed, however, in the 1898 fire.

The New Westminster Choral Union, conducted 1882-93 by Bishop Acton Windeyer Sillitoe (b Australia 1841, d New Westminster 1894), presented Messiah, Elijah, Bennett's May Queen, Stanford's Revenge, and other choral works in its home city and in Granville (Vancouver) and Ladner. By 1893 it had given 37 performances. The Westminster Amateur Operatic Society also flourished in the 1890s, and a mixed choir of more than 100 voices, prepared by A.E. White, sang with orchestra under Sir Alexander Mackenzie in the 1903 Cycle of Musical Festivals. The Westminster Operatic Club began its productions (usually Gilbert & Sullivan) in 1914.

By 1920 the New Westminster Symphony Orchestra had presented 18 concerts; this group lasted another 15 years. A competition festival was initiated after World War I and the New Westminster Oratorio Society and Orchestra ca 1933. In 1944 the Civic Orchestra (New Westminster Symphony - see Orchestras: 7/Some Canadian community orchestras) was established; it numbered about 50 musicians in 1977 (many from other centres) and though at that time still an amateur group it had undertaken ambitious programs (including Schumann and Brahms symphonies) with some success. The Symphony Society has sponsored the Pacific Evergreen Youth Choir (begun in 1968) and the young-adult Con Brio Singers (1971-6).

From the early 1950s the Massey Theatre (the second largest public auditorium on the lower mainland) has been the venue of countless performances of local and visiting ensembles, including (in recent years) visits by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The Karellers (1955-63) and the Handel Society of Music (formed in 1966) have flourished under the direction of Karel ten Hoope. The pipe organ in Holy Trinity Cathedral was rebuilt by G. Herald Keefer, who was the cathedral's music director and organist 1969-80.

Bands have been a notable feature of Royal City music. These include the New Westminster Boy Scout Band (later the New Westminster Junior Band), conducted 1926-46 by C.J. Cornfield; the Royal City Concert Band (fl 1935); the New Westminster and District Concert Band (established ca 1930, incorporated 1958); the Royal City Boys and Girls Band (established 1932); the Royal City Alumni Band (established in 1988 as an outgrowth of the Boys and Girls Band), which toured Great Britain in 1990; and various school bands.

The music department of New Westminster Schools began an annual jazz festival in 1970, known as the New Westminster Hyack Jazz Festival. Devoted to British Columbia and northwest US school stagebands, the festival was recognized in 1990 as one of the largest in Canada. The New Westminster Secondary Schools Jazz Ensemble, directed by Bob Schaeffer, won a first in its class at the 1978 Reno (Nevada) International Jazz Festival.

Two significant local groups were founded in 1989: the Royal City Youth Ballet Company and the Royal City Musical Theatre Company (the latter mounted productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1990 and Wizard of Oz in 1991).

Two country music firms established offices in New Westminster - the publisher Empire Music (Sharrell Music) and Aragon Records - and the Rhythm Pals began their career on radio station CKNW.

Musicians born in New Westminster include Judith Forst, Ralph Grierson, Ray Nurse, Joan Peebles, and Lyn Vernon.


Further Reading

  • Morey, Henry. 'Musical pioneers of the far west did much to promote growth of art,' Vancouver Daily Province, 26 Oct 1927

    Salisbury, Dorothy E. 'Music in British Columbia outside Vancouver,' CMJ, vol 2, Summer 1958

    'From the archives,' ibid