New Westminster

New Westminster, BC, incorporated as a city in 1860, population 65 976 (2011c), 58 549 (2006c). The City of New Westminster is located on the north bank of the FRASER RIVER, 20 km east of Vancouver.

New Westminster, BC, incorporated as a city in 1860, population 65 976 (2011c), 58 549 (2006c). The City of New Westminster is located on the north bank of the FRASER RIVER, 20 km east of Vancouver. Surveyed by the Royal Engineers and named by Queen Victoria, "The Royal City" was established in 1859 by Governor James DOUGLAS as the capital of British Columbia.


Sailing Ship, New Westminster
View of sailing ship loading lumber, New Westminster, BC, c. 1863 (courtesy BC Archives and Records/B-06377).
Government House and Camp
New Westminster, BC, 1860-65, by Francis George Claudet. New Westminster was proclaimed capital of BC in 1859 and controlled traffic entering the Fraser River (courtesy PABC).

New Westminster, western Canada's oldest city, was the mercantile centre and the transportation hub on the mainland during and after the FRASER RIVER and CARIBOO gold rushes, but never displaced VICTORIA's overall dominance, due to the latter's easier access to ocean shipping. In 1868, the Legislative Council chose Victoria as the permanent capital of the recently united colonies of BC and Vancouver Island.

Although New Westminster secured a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) branch line in 1886, the completion of the main line to Vancouver in 1887 further relegated it to secondary rank. Nevertheless the city remained an important freshwater port, a major lumber producer, a salmon canning centre, a commercial centre for the Fraser Valley and an administrative and service headquarters with such institutions as the County Court, the BC Penitentiary, the Provincial Mental Hospital and the Royal Columbian Hospital. The city also secured rail links to the United States via the Great Northern Railway and Fraser River Railway Bridge (1904); to the eastern Fraser Valley via the BC Electric Railway (1910); and to eastern Canada via the Canadian National Railway (1915).


Population growth has been uneven. Rising during the CPR boom from 1500 (1881) to 6678 (1891), the population remained steady until it doubled to 13 199 during the boom decade of 1901-11. It then rose gradually to 42 835 in 1971 and, after a slight decline, has stabilized.


Although the once-famous salmon canning industry and the penitentiary have gone, the forestry industry remains important, employing over 40% of the manufacturing work force in local mills producing lumber, shingles, plywood, and pulp and paper for local consumption and export. Other major employers include Labatt's Brewery and the Royal Columbian Hospital.

The Fraser River Harbour Commission has transferred most of the port activity to the river's south side and to Annacis Island, paving the way for the revitalization of the waterfront as a retail commercial, residential and recreational area. The city is becoming a residential centre with a mix of apartment buildings, townhouses and a nice collection of Victorian and Edwardian homes. The rapid transit system known as SkyTrain, the city's strategic location as the centre of the Lower Mainland and the redevelopment of the waterfront have given rise to a rebirth of the community and increased tourism.

Cultural Life

Few of the city's colonial era buildings remain, the most well known being the Captain William Irving House (1864-65), now the city's historic centre. A major fire in 1898 wiped out the downtown section and some residential areas but many structures built in the following decade have survived. Behind the Irving House is the New Westminster Museum and Archives. A retired paddlewheeler on the waterfront of Westminster Quay is the site of another museum, the Samson V Maritime Museum.

New Westminster has been home to 3 BC premiers: John ROBSON, founder of the British Columbian (1861-1983) newspaper, Richard MCBRIDE and Byron JOHNSON. It has also been known for the national success of its lacrosse teams. The city is home of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

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