In just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, via Sky Train, 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 favorite neighborhood 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 stern-wheelers 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 neighbors. Bridges spanned Burkard 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 some 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 Duffer in 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 savor 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 center showcasing the splendor 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 stern-wheel 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 paddle wheeler.