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New Westminster: royal city on the river


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As Western Canada’s oldest city, and the former capital of British Columbia before it was moved to Victoria on Vancouver Island, it’s no surprise that New Westminster has a vibrant history. England’s Royal Engineers established the city on the shores of the Fraser River, and Queen Victoria gave New Westminster its regal name in 1859. Soon afterwards, it became known as “The Royal City.”

The picturesque city retains much of its heritage. Arundel Mansion, a 1910 Edwardian home, for example, has been converted into a luxury hotel, complete with vintage claw-food bathtubs.

To imagine what it would have been like to live in New Westminster during the Victorian Era, visit the Irving House Historic Centre, which is also home to the New Westminster Museum & Archives. Irving House is the 1865 gothic revival-style house of riverboat captain William Irving. Its 14 rooms feature original wallpaper, Victorian-style furniture, and an 1898 grand piano.

To get an idea of how New Westminster — past and present — is connected to the busy Fraser River, take a sightseeing cruise. Paddlewheeler Riverboat Cruises operates  a “Discover the Fraser” tour on the “M.V. Native,” an authentic replica of the paddlewheeler boats that cruised this river a century ago.

A more modern way to explore New Westminster is to rent a bike. Pedal the historic downtown, stopping in the antiques shops on Front and Columbia streets to search for a treasure from the past. Bicycle routes also lead to some of New Westminster’s 48 community parks, including Queen’s Park, which has a 19th-century rose garden. Here, you can also find Rainbow Playland, designed for children, with farm animals and a playground.  

The brand-new River Market at New Westminster Quay has become a new destination, with restaurants and boutiques. It’s just one-block from the New Westminster SkyTrain station and right on the riverfront. Public art is also prominent in New Westminster. One impressive piece is the world’s tallest tin soldier, which stands 9.7 meters high, and honors the Royal Engineers who helped establish New Westminster.