New Westminster Named Capital
The "Royal City" remains B.C.'s capital for only eight years
Starting in 1858, thousands of miners ventured north from the United States in hopes of finding gold. From Vancouver Island, Governor James Douglas eyed them warily. The discovery of gold made the region profitable and thus a potential target for American expansion. To protect British interests, he declared the mainland a Crown colony and was later named its first governor. The following year, the new colony had a new capital: New Westminster, named by Queen Victoria for her favourite district in London.
Dubbed the “Royal City,” New Westminster at first thrived. Built on the traditional territory of the Qayqayt and Kwantlen First Nations, it became a commercial centre and transportation hub — a crossroads for prospectors, merchants, and shippers. Soon, it had a thriving saloon, hotel and pub district, and a booming Chinatown.
But prosperity didn’t last. Within a decade, the Fraser River gold fever, and its accompanying economic bump, had cooled. Fewer miners made the trip up. In 1866, the cash-strapped colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia voted to amalgamate. Now, only one capital city was necessary. Despite the industry that had emerged in New Westminster — the salmon canning, the timber, and a freshwater port — it couldn’t compete with Victoria’s easy access to the ocean, a formidable economic and political boon.
Even after losing its standing as a colonial capital, New Westminster would remain an important city for British Columbia. In addition to its commercial status, it housed important institutions such as the County Court, the B.C. Penitentiary, and the Royal Columbian Hospital.
- Belshaw, John Douglas. “The Gold Colony.” Canadian History: Pre-Confederation, BC Campus, 13 Apr. 2015, opentextbc.ca/preconfederation/chapter/13-9-the-gold-colony.
- “History.” Downtown New Westminster Business Association, www.downtownnewwest.ca/About/History. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.
- Roy, Patricia E. “New Westminster.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 29 Nov. 2007, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/new-westminster.