Part of the Vancouver Then and Now Series

New Westminster

September 1, 2015

Vancouver Archives Item CVA 99-751

The 85th Battalion parades down Columbia Street in 1918. Recently returned from the front, they are celebrating the Armistice ending the First World War. Crowds line the streets to watch them go by.

The Royal City

By Canadian standards the city of New Westminster has a long and storied history. It was chosen as the capital of the colony of British Columbia in 1858 because its location on the north bank of the Fraser River could be easily defended against an American invasion. As the main stopping point for gold prospectors heading into the interior, the city gained a rather rough and tumble reputation, and its people developed a strong commercial spirit.

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An early photo looking across the Fraser River towards Sapperton. A few buildings can be seen on the far bank. Despite its small size, at this time New Westminster was one of the largest European settlements in British Columbia.

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Thirty years later and the city has grown rapidly, as seen from today's Brownsville Bar Park.

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The great fire on September 10, 1898, started in a warehouse on Front Street. Here we can see it just after it started, looking towards Front from Begbie. People running to see the commotion cast strange shadows on the image.

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The cathedral did not survive the blaze, though it was rebuilt in the same style incredibly quickly.

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Here is the old courthouse, which didn't survive either.

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A ghostly view down Columbia Street from Mackenzie on the morning after the fire. The devastation is complete, and makes it all the more remarkable the city's inhabitants were able to rebuild as quickly as they did.

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Actually one of only two buildings in the city to survive the fire, the Romanesque revival Burr Block. It gives an idea of how large many of the pre-fire buildings were, as many of the buildings made after the fire were rushed and quite a lot smaller.

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We can see a lot of these smaller buildings here a couple years after the fire. With a population at the time of only a few thousand, its not surprising the streets could be so empty, compared to the hustle and bustle we're accustomed to today.

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A crowd has gathered on Columbia Street to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith - a British army that had been besieged by the Boers in South Africa. I believe the original photographer was perched on a street car.

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Two women stand in front of the rebuilt Romanesque courthouse. A new courthouse across the street, built in the post-war brutalist style, is where most legal business occurs today.

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A packed street-car running between downtown Vancouver and New Westminster along the "Westminster Highway", now Kingsway.

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A group of people are milling around on Columbia Street. If we were to judge by all the pennants and banners, they must be celebrating a public holiday or event.

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The grand exhibition hall in Queen's Park during the agricultural exhibition. The buildings have since been demolished and replaced.

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Barges and equipment to be used in the construction of the railway bridge across the Fraser have been laid up at high tide.

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A span of the railway bridge is being floated into place.

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A few fashionably dressed women overlook Columbia Street and the newly completed railway bridge.

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Ice on the Fraser River. Sapperton is in the background and the B.C. Penitentiary can be seen.

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The Guichon Block on the corner of Columbia and 4th Street in New Westminster. Aside the Burr Block, beside it, it was the only building to survive the great fire of 1898, making these New Westminster's oldest buildings.

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Fishing boats have been decorated for King George VI's visit to the Royal City.

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Vancouver Sun paperboys proudly pose by the distribution office on 12th and Nanaimo.

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No photo essay of New Westminster would be complete without this photo, titled "Wait for me, Daddy." It shows a column of soldiers marching down Eighth Street to be embarked upon a troopship. A small boy reaches out to his father, hoping for one last goodbye before he marches off to war. It has since become one of the most famous photos in Canadian history, and indeed at the time it became famous around the world.

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