June 14, 2019
1914-1929: World War 1 and its Aftermath
After Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on August 4, 1914, New West immediately felt the impact. The provincial exhibition was cancelled for the duration of the war and exhibitions buildings within the park became army barracks for recruits stationed in the city. However, even through the war, the May Day festivities within the park continued.
After the war ended, the provincial exhibition was again held in 1919 and the buildings on the site were expanded in order to prepare for the fair’s 50th anniversary. That same year, news broke out that the Prince of Wales (who would later become King Edward VIII) would honour the city with a visit and open the exhibition. He arrived to the city on September 29th, and was greeted by thousands of people lining the roads. That day, 22,000 people entered the park, and the fair saw 90,000 visitors that week.
The 1920’s hosted many successful exhibitions and public events, marking a decade that could be interpreted as a golden age for the park. In 1929, the city was beginning preparations for the 60th year of the provincial exhibition that was to include a massive celebration and a speech by Winston Churchill himself. However, before this event could be carried out, disaster struck. On July 13th, 1929, the new plant of the Westminster Paper Mills on the waterfront was destroyed in a giant blaze. But this was just the beginning. The very next day at 6am in the morning, fire crews got a new alarm warning that the exhibition buildings in Queen’s Park were on fire. Within just 90 minutes, the wooden exhibition buildings were reduced to a pile of ashes.
For the directors of the Royal Agricultural and Industrial Society, only one thing was certain. The exhibition would continue. Vancouver offered its exhibition halls at Hastings Park for the event to take place at, but New West’s civic pride refused the offer and it was decided that the exhibition would continue as planned in Queen’s Park within tents. The fair opened on Labour Day, September 2, 1929 and saw Winston Churchill in attendance as planned. Churchill’s celebrity status brought in a record number of visitors in one day, over 37000 to be exact.
The Great Depression and a New Vision for the Park: 1929-1945
The Great Depression and the popularity of Vancouver’s exhibition at Hastings Park made it impossible to revive the Great Exhibition to what it once had been. New West realized that it would have to reinvent the idea of the park as a community centre meant to serve its citizens, rather than to serve as an exhibition centre. In 1930, insurance funds allowed for the construction of what was termed the new civic auditorium, now known as the New Westminster Arena. In 1939, Ice was introduced into the arena, coinciding with the construction of the Arenex overtop of the site of the old banquet hall.
It was announced on May 31, 1939 that the King and Queen would visit New Westminster as part of their Canadian tour. When the royal procession entered they were greeted with an estimated crowd of 150,000 people (impressive when compared to the city’s population of just 22,000). When the King and Queen entered the stadium in Queen’s Park, they were met with performances by 2700 school children, which included a display of maypole dancing.
At the outbreak of World War 2, the park was again commandeered for the fight. The northern half was used for combat training and exercises by the local Westminster Regiment and a rifle range was established in the Arenex for the use of local cadets. All plans for the parks improvements were delayed. After the war ended in 1945, the park became the setting for one of the largest homecoming celebrations, meant to welcome home the troops.
The Road to the Present: 1945-NOW
In the post-war years, the park saw many new improvements, including new playfields, expanded picnic grounds and gardens, and a new theatre established by the Vagabond players on the site of the old Fisheries building. A large area was also later cleared for outdoor concerts, and a children’s seasonal petting zoo was also developed. In the modern era, the park continues to be improved and the gardens are continually enhanced. In December 2016, the roof of the Arenex did collapse, but a new Sportplex is planned to replace it and is set to open in spring 2020 next to the new skate park.
The constant evolution of Queen’s Park in many ways mirrors the evolution of the city of New Westminster itself. Through various changes, New Westminster has transformed from a small town along the Fraser river into a vibrant and diverse destination, that not only focuses on holding large scale events meant to attract people by the thousands, but also strives to preserve and create spaces that will make the lives of New West citizens as enjoyable as possible.
Tourism New West is the official Destination Marketing Organization for the city of New Westminster.