In just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, via SkyTrain, you can discover the Royal City. New Westminster was founded by the Royal Engineers under the command of Colonel Richard Clement Moody, and named by Queen Victoria after her favourite neighbourhood in London, Westminster.
The oldest city in western Canada, it was the capital of British Columbia between 1858 and 1866.
Founded on a lofty hill where two branches of the Fraser River meet, New Westminster was chosen as much for the strategic value of its natural defenses as for the commercial potential of the area. In 1859, New Westminster was the mainland berth for the fleet of sternwheelers that plied the waters between Victoria and Yale, the starting point of the Cariboo Wagon Road. Fortunately, the only action the young city saw was the furious traffic and trade of the Gold Rush years.
On July 17, 1860, New Westminster became the first incorporated city west of the Great Lakes. However, by the late 1860s the Fraser River gold rush had faded, and eventually the city lost its capital status to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
In September 1898, the Great Fire destroyed the downtown area of New Westminster, sparing just two buildings – the Queen Hotel and the Burr Block. The citizenry had little choice but to accept the enormous challenge of rebuilding the city, which was accomplished by 1910. Till today, the downtown shopping district along Columbia Street is known as The Golden Mile.
Not long ago, it used to be easy to distinguish Vancouver from its neighbours. Bridges spanned Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River to connect with communities to the north and south, while buffer zones of undeveloped land defined where the Big Smoke left off and all else to the east began. By the 1970s, such distinctions had blurred to the point where one hardly noticed a transition from one city to the next, particularly between Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Port Moody.
Positioned at the hub of the Greater Vancouver network today, New Westminster is a charming mix of old and new, with a picturesque waterfront and fabulous Victorian architecture – a vibrant and progressive city with a community rich in tradition and respect for its heritage.
Location: New Westminster is located on the north bank of the Fraser River, 12 miles (19 km) southeast of Vancouver.
The history of the oldest city in Western Canada comes alive for discovery at the New Westminster Museum and Archives. Experience the devastation and regrowth of New Westminster after the Great Fire of 1898, relive a ride through the Fraser River Canyon in 1876 in the gleaming red Dufferin coach, and remembers days gone by when irons didn’t steam, toasters didn’t pop and cameras didn’t zoom. The Archives house an extensive collection of historical photographs, newspaper clippings, souvenir programs, and much more.
Relive history and savour over a century of memories at Irving House, once the home of King of the River Captain William Irving, the most successful of all riverboat captains. Perched high on the hill in New Westminster, this elegant 1865 pioneer home is now a historic centre showcasing the splendour and grace of the pioneer days.
The riverfront boardwalk leads to a floating maritime museum, the Samson V Paddle Wheeler. The Samson V is a sternwheel snag boat that patrolled the Fraser River from 1937 to 1980, clearing away logs and other debris. It is the last remaining original Fraser River paddlewheeler.
Riverboat Tours: From the waterfront Westminster Quay an authentic sternwheeler departs up the famous Fraser River to historic Fort Langley, a journey that follows the paths of hundreds of steam-driven paddlewheelers that transported people, goods and supplies, ranging from boots to whisky, fortune hunters to fur traders, and bankers to stagecoach robbers. The tours are daytime, dinner, and themed cruises that last between three and seven hours.
Down on the waterfront of the Fraser River you’ll find River Market at Westminster Quay, where you can enjoy the friendly, family-oriented atmosphere in the colourful market and shopping area. The Quay has everything you need to prepare a salmon barbeque, pick up a gift for friends back home, or just take an hour to plan your evening over a couple of frothy lattes.
Take a tour with the Fraser River Discovery Centre. The interpretive centre organizes walking tours from Westminster Quay, highlighting the environmental, cultural and historical significance of the Fraser River, New Westminster and the surrounding area.
Take a trip down Antique Alley, located in the heritage buildings on New Westminster’s historic Front Street. Featuring a wide array of antiques and collectibles, ranging from Atomic Age memorabilia to vintage toys to Victorian antiques, Front Street offers something for every collector.
Stroll through time and visit Columbia Street, with its many attractive heritage buildings and unique shops. Other downtown attractions include the Old Court House, the City Hall, the Armoury, the CPR Station, Burr Block/Queens Hotel, and exquisite churches.
Queen’s Park is located on the site of a converted fairground and is as old as Stanley Park. The fact that it doesn’t receive the same recognition as a destination makes it even more valued by local residents. Although not as large as Stanley Park, it features a number of similar attractions, including the province’s first spray park, Rainbow Playland, a petting zoo, sports and picnicking facilities, and beautifully groomed gardens to wander through. The park features particularly eye-pleasing pathways bordered on all sides by intensely planted gardens. At certain times of the year the colours and perfumes are almost overwhelming.
Wander the Esplanade along the Fraser River and watch working tugs, fishing boats, log booms, and pleasure craft come and go.
New Westminster is connected to central Vancouver by Sky Train – three stations serve the city, including one just a block from Westminster Quay.
Come explore New Westminster’s new award-winning Westminster Pier Park along the banks of the Fraser River and in the heart of downtown.
Cycling: A cycling trail of interest is the 7-11 Trail, an easy 25-mile/40-km return trail that follows the Sky Train route between New Westminster and Clark Drive in Vancouver.
Golf: The contemporary designed 18-hole layout at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course has always been a favourite with players of all levels. It requires precise shot making to achieve par, but recreational players find it very forgiving. The natural tree-lined beauty of its fairway and the gentle rolling terrain at the foot of Burnaby Mountain offer a blend of charm, character and serenity that will enhance your enjoyment of the game. Par 71, 6,431 yards. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
In 1870, New Westminster held it’s first festival, the May Day Celebration celebration. With a tip of the hat to its past, New Westminster continues the tradition to this day, and the celebration is now the oldest continuing event of its type in the British Commonwealth. The Hyack Festival is the City of New Westminster’s premiere annual arts and cultural celebration. Festival Week highlights include the Ancient and Honorable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute, May Day Celebrations, the DiverseCity Multicultural Festival, the acclaimed Uptown Live street festival, and the iconic Hyack International Parade.
Circle Tour: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for a scenic tour of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and looping through the Coast Mountains. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, travel outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.