Exploring New Westminster

Photo by Oleksandr Lyubar | ID 90126614, Dreamstime

Can you guess Western Canada’s oldest city?

If you guessed New Westminster, just outside Vancouver, you’re correct. It was named by Queen Victoria, who was eager to bring civilization to the farthest outposts of her British Empire. Fueled by gold fever, the city was founded in 1859 and was the original capital of British Columbia. It is steeped in rich history and, today, has emerged as a cosmopolitan cultural hub. Vancouver and other lower mainland cities grew up around New Westminster. Sadly, many travelers to Vancouver never get out of that city, so they miss out on this gem just up the Fraser River.

Alas, the capital moved to Victoria, and, since then, New West survived many tests of endurance, such a devastating downtown fire in 1898. It has experienced boom and bust, and boom again. But New West proved resilient.

Whether you spend a day or a weekend in New Westminster, it helps to learn the lay of the land. This riverfront city has six unique commercial districts—Uptown, Queensborough, Sapperton, Downtown, the West End and the Quay—each with a distinct personality, like six siblings that make up a family.

Downtown New West has gone through a revitalization over the last decade or so, earning it the moniker “New Brooklyn”—it’s a thriving community with its own identity and life in the shadow of a major city.

New West’s River Market (rivermarket.ca) is a must for anyone who loves food and creativity. This 70,000-square-foot venue right on the Fraser River offers a variety of food options as well as an opportunity to see what local makers are up to.

Speaking of creativity, New West is a destination for art lovers. Check out the four-year-old civic gallery, New Media Gallery (newmediagallery.ca), located at the Anvil Centre. This venue presents the works of A-list contemporary artists from around the world—so far New Media exhibitions have shown more than 100 artists from 25 countries. The focus? The creative world transformed by technology. Whether you’re a techno geek or a Luddite, you’ll find this cutting-edge art space worthwhile.

For those who love festivals, New West delivers. It plays host to a Heritage Home Tour (newwestheritage.org) in May (the longest-running homes tour in Canada); also in May, the Hyack Festival (hyackfestival.com/hyack-week) presents a parade and a week of events; in July, the largest food truck fest of any North American city (downtownnewwest.ca/Columbia-StrEAT-Food-Truck-Fest); also in July, the New West Grand Prix, a premier cycling event (newwestgrandprix.com); and, in September, the RiverFest (fraserriverdiscovery.org/RiverFest), which takes place along New West’s Fraser River Quay Boardwalk.

New Westminster is less than an hour’s drive from the border crossing at Blaine, Washington. Go to tourismnewwestminster.com to plan your New West getaway.