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Life in the City of New Westminster

For more than a century, photographers have captured "views from the Fraser" from canoes, steamboats and the opposing shore. These waterfront skylines dramatically chronicle the growth of New Westminster from a "stump city" to an urban centre. Benchmarks of this change can be seen in photographs of Columbia Street taken through the decades. A streetscape of wooden buildings gives way to more substantial brick and stone edifices. After 1911, Columbia Street's dirt surface is paved, and sophisticated streetlights installed. Transportation shifts from the horse and wagon, to the streetcar, to the automobile. From time to time, the view from the Fraser has been significantly altered due to circumstances that caused the city to build, and then rebuild.

The Royal Engineers under the command of Colonel Moody established a Treasury, Assay Office and Mint, to serve the gold rushes of the Fraser River and the Cariboo, and what was to become the capital of British Columbia. In 1868, when the capital was moved from New Westminster to Victoria, these buildings met their demise.

The great fire of 1898 dealt a devastating blow to a thriving New Westminster. The inferno raged for an entire evening. By the time it was contained early the next morning, its flames had engulfed the entire downtown. Today the Guichon and Burr blocks (now The Met) at Fourth Street and Columbia Street demarcate where the fire stopped. The speed at which New Westminster started to rebuild herself, at first with makeshift business premises, is testimony to her courage. The town's amazing survival sparked the Columbian newspaper of September 9, 1899, to wax poetic, proclaiming the "new Royal City, with pluck true and gritty/ Rose phoenix-like from the wreck."

Before the influence of the ever-growing metropolis of Vancouver was felt, New Westminster was truly the commercial and social hub of the Fraser Valley. Queen's Park became the site for the provincial, as well as the dominion exhibitions, which featured agricultural and industrial accomplishments. The farmer's market was always packed with people and business was so lucrative on Columbia Street that by the mid 1940s it was known as the "Golden Mile".

The heritage buildings and houses standing today remind us of our past. Moody's well-laid plan and mapping of this area is reflected in large stately house lots and tree-lined boulevards, particularly in the Queen's Park area. It can also be seen in the presence of lovely gardens throughout the city.

The photographs in the following pages capture the building and life of a city.

- Wendy Turnbull

 

 

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Last modified August 2000 - Created July 2000

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