Queen’s Park is one of the most popular spots within the city of New Westminster, housing an arena, a stadium, an animal petting park, tennis courts, sports fields, and much more. Earlier this year, the park’s new skate park opened, marking another monumental moment in the constant evolution of the park. Queen’s Park was the very first public park ever created within the colony of British Columbia, thus establishing a precedent for the creation of many more parks in the future.
The Early Years: 1859-1887
Although Queen’s Park was officially established on June 13, 1887, the history of the park goes back even further. The land the park now sits upon was set aside during the establishment of the city in 1859. Colonel Moody wrote that he would grieve the destruction of the most glorious trees within this area, and he advocated for the land to be protected within a reserve area that would be called “Queen’s Ravine.” In 1870, one year before the colony of British Columbia joined confederation, the reserve was divided between a public park and lands set aside for the construction of a penitentiary and asylum.
Early on, citizens of the city of New Westminster advocated for the development of the park lands, but there were insufficient funds to accomplish this mammoth task. However, the city finally found the right time to officially declare this land a public park in 1887, the Jubilee Year of the reign of Queen Victoria. Early in the morning on June 13, city council arranged for a celebration to be held marking this important event, during which the mayor and city council would take possession of the park. It would be named “Queen’s Park” in honour of Queen Victoria’s 50th year as sovereign. The very next day, the park was officially opened and was dedicated with an anvil salute in honour of the occasion, a tradition that still continues to this day.
The Early Evolution of Queen’s Park: 1887-1914
In 1889, two years after the park was founded, the city approved $50,000 in bylaws to spend on improvements to the city’s public parks. Some of the land at Queen’s Park was cleared in order to create a public recreation field for sport. That same year, Lord Stanley planted the first new shade tree within the park (he dedicated Stanley Park the very next year in 1890). In 1890, Queen’s Park appointed its first landscape gardener and Park ranger, Peter Latham, who had designed the grounds of Ontario’s government house and legislative buildings. By 1892, about 30 of the 80 acres of the site had been cleared.
In 1890 civil bylaw monies allowed Queen’s Park to be graced with the province’s finest exhibition building ever created, a tribute to the Queen Anne Revival style. The building was able to house 5,000 people, and was built in order to provide views of the race track and surrounding athletic fields. The building became the home of the Royal Agricultural and Industrial Society’s annual Provincial Exhibition, an event that would continue at the site until 1929.
The financial success of the annual exhibition allowed the park to be continually beautified and improved. In 1905, the society was awarded the Canadian National Exhibition along with $50,000 to fund the completion of entirely new exhibition buildings. This new crop of buildings was completed with the construction of the New Westminster arena in 1914, originally intended to be used for horse competitions, but later converted into an ice hockey rink.
The exhibition buildings were not the only new additions to the park during this period. In 1906, firemen of the newly established No.1 Fire Hall adjacent to the Park on First Street, helped in the creation of the first zoo in the park. The zoo housed bears, coyotes, cougars, and deer.
The history and lore surrounding Queen’s Park is significant. To that end, this blog will be broken up into sections so that we can take a deeper look at the interesting stories surrounding this iconic part of New Westminster. Part 1 will focus on the early years of the Park, Part 2 will continue the timeline and cover the period of 1914 to the present.