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New Westminster, British Columbia

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New Westminster in British Columbia.

 

New Westminster is an historically important city in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, Canada, and is a member municipality of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. It was founded as the capital of the Colony of British Columbia (1858–1866).

Arts and culture

The city has several live performance venues, ranging from the Massey Theatre adjacent to New Westminster High School, to the Burr Theatre, a converted cinema on Columbia Street, and two theatrical venues in Queens Park (One being the Bernie Legge Theatre, home of the Vagabond Players, which were formed in 1937.) The Royal City Musical Theatre, a long-established New Westminster tradition, uses the Massey, while comedy and mystery theatricals use the stages in Queens Park. Also in Queens Park is the Queens Park Arena, longtime home to the legendary New Westminster Salmonbellies professional lacrosse team, as well as an open-air stadium used for baseball and field sports. The Burr Theatre (originally the Columbia Theatre), named for New Westminster native Raymond Burr, was operated by the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society between October 2000 and January 2006. During that time it was home to professional-quality mysteries and comedies but was forced to close due to financial difficulties. At the time of writing the City of New Westminster is offering the 1927 building for sale. Douglas College also offers post-secondary training in theatre, stagecraft and music, as well as non-credit courses in music for all ages and ability levels, through the Douglas College Community Music School. Theatre productions and music concerts at Douglas College take place in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre and the smaller, more intimate Studio Theatre from September to April.

Heritage

The main feature of the New Westminster Museum and Archives (NWMA) is the 1865 Irving House, which is the oldest intact house in the BC Lower Mainland. In the museum are treasures such as the 1876 coach used by Lord Dufferin, then the Governor General of Canada, to tour the new province of British Columbia including Barkerville via the Cariboo Road. The city's archives hold corporate and personal treasures such as 1859 maps of the city drawn by the Royal Engineers and official city records. Other heritage artifacts in the city include the 1937 Samson V paddlewheeler, the 1890s armouries, 1850s historic cannons, two of the old BC Pen buildings, numerous cemeteries, and dozens of heritage homes, many of which are from the 19th century. The Museum is affiliated with CMA, the CHIN, and Virtual Museum of Canada.

Hyack Festival and the Hyack Anvil Battery

New Westminster's May Day celebration began in 1870 and continues today as an important civic tradition, lending the city the distinction of having the longest-running May Day celebration of its type in the British Commonwealth. (At least three other Lower Mainland communities still celebrate May Day: Port Coquitlam, Ladner in Delta, and Bradner in Abbotsford.)

The May Day festival, held on the Victoria Day weekend and more formally known as the Hyack Festival, is distinguished by the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute, a tradition created by The New Westminster Fire Department during colonial times as a surrogate for a 21-gun salute. With no cannons available in the early colony, the Fire Department—known as the Hyacks, from the Chinook Jargon for "fast" or "quick", here derived from its use as a command for "hurry up!"— improvised by placing gunpowder between two anvils, the top one upturned, and igniting the charge from a safe distance, hurling the upper anvil into the air.

Each year, in preparation for May Day, local schoolchildren are taught to dance around a maypole with colourful ribbons. Elections are held at elementary schools in the city, and, from them one girl is selected to become the year's May Queen, and two students from each school to become members of her "May Queen Suite" and "Royal Knights." On a Wednesday of the festival, elementary school students gather at Queen's Park Stadium to dance, and the May Queen is crowned.

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