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The People of New Westminster

Through the camera's eye, you can glimpse a cross-section of the people of New Westminster. Many of the customs, social, and intellectual pursuits of the day have been captured in photographs.

Even before the city developed, the seeds of culture were sewn. New Westminster was founded by the Royal Engineers. In 1858, a contingent of Royal Engineers set sail from England aboard the "Thames City", accompanied by "a valuable library of excellent works". These books, selected by Colonel Bulwer Lytton, were considered civilizing amenities for men going into the wilderness. Eventually the books became a cornerstone for the Library's collection. The Royal Engineers not only brought their provisions and specialized talents to our shores, but part of their own familiar culture as well.

New Westminster's British heritage is reflected in events held today. As part of the Hyack Festival, New Westminster maintains the English tradition of May Day. The Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery still gives a unique anvil "21 gun" salute to the Queen on Victoria Day. Children continue to perform the traditional English folk dances introduced at the 1915 May Day by Beatrice Cave-Brown-Cave. New Westminster's first May Day was rather colourfully described in the Mainland Guardian newspaper of May 7, 1870: "Old Sol got up on Wednesday morning rather hazily, as if he had a 'drop in his eye' but as Dick Swiveller would say, the 'old man was agreeable' and looked down with sort of a quaint smile till the amusements of the day were over."

Although New Westminster's roots are British, its branches involve many other cultures. Out of the same woods occupied by First Nations people for thousands of years, rose the 1st capital of British Columbia. Successive waves of immigration have resulted in various ethnic and religious groups enriching our society with their own heritage and traditions.

There is a long history of music in New Westminster. One of the earliest ensembles was a Bell Ringers' club that performed on the peal of eight bells. These bells were installed in Holy Trinity Church in 1865. Over the years, bands, choirs, and symphony orchestras have all enjoyed performing. One of the most memorable groups was the Westminster Operatic Club, which began its productions in 1914. They enthusiastically performed Gilbert & Sullivan in full costume, complete with elaborate sets.

The citizens of New Westminster loved to play. There are a number of photographs of steamboats chock full of passengers, cruising the waters of the Fraser River in search of the perfect picnic spot. Sports have always been popular, particularly lacrosse which was played as early as the 1880's. One highlight was the participation of the Salmonbellies at the 1928 Olympic Lacrosse Championship in Amsterdam.

Much of this colourful history will speak for itself in the sample of photographs that follow.

- Wendy Turnbull

 

 

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Last modified July 2000 - Created July 2000

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