Old + New West: Hyack Square

Beginning in 1859, the Royal Engineers surveyed what is now Downtown New Westminster into a grid pattern parallel to the Fraser River. What is now known as Hyack Square was one of the oldest urban squares in the city, first established in 1860 as an extension of Merchant Square. Although New West residents greatly appreciated the many public spaces around town, city officials were fixated on campaigning to bring a branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway to their city. This lead them to sell off land reserved for public spaces, including Merchant Square, in order to raise the funds needed. On April 22, 1886, the branch line was officially opened to the public.

1861: Map of New Westminster, British Columbia. The Map was drawn by Lance Corporal James Conroy and was lithographed at the Royal Engineer Camp. Merchant Square can be seen in the south-west part of the map at the base of Douglas Street. Photo courtesy of the New Westminster Archives

The original CPR Railway station site was situated at the Western end of Columbia Street, adjacent to what had been the former Merchant Square. Unfortunately, the original station, along with all but two buildings in the downtown area, was burned to the ground during the Great Fire of 1898. The building was replaced with the beautifully-designed brick station that remains next to Hyack Square today. The station was later converted into The Keg, but now serves as Kelly O’Bryans Family Restaurant. Many people believe that the building is haunted! You can learn more about the forces lurking within the old station’s walls by embarking on one of Ghostly Vancouver’s New West walking tours!

1908: Photo shows a rear view of the CPR station with a train stopped in front. Photo courtesy of the New Westminster Archives.

In 1909, the BC Electric Railway Company built its interurban station on the opposite side of the road from the CPR station, making the intersection of Columbia and Eighth one of the busiest in the city. The historic building now houses the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Although Hyack Square is currently in between the old CPR and interurban stations, this was not always the case. Originally, Eighth Street, then known as Douglas Road, went past Columbia to connect with the port along with waterfront. You can learn more about this area in a previous Old + New West blog

1932 – Columbia Street and Eighth Street. The fronts of the BC Electric Station and the CPR station are shown. Photo courtesy of the New Westminster Archives.

During both World Wars, the site was the location of many tearful goodbyes, as troops marched towards the station to be transported to the front. In 1940, early during World War 2, The Province photographer Claude P. Dettloff photographed the British Columbia Regiment marching down the Eighth Street hill towards Columbia Street. As the photographer took pictures of the column, a young boy ran from his mother’s grasp to reach his father’s outstretched hand. The photo became known as “Wait for Me Daddy” and is one fo the most iconic Canadian images of World War 2. You can see a sculpture of this image standing tall in the centre of Hyack Square today. The 2014 public art installation remains one of the first things many visitors encounter as they turn the corner from New West Station. 

October 1, 1940 – The British Columbia Regiment marching to overseas embarkation. Photo shows a child reaching for the hand of his father marching down Eighth Street. The child is Warren “Whitey” Bernard reaching for his father Jack Bernard. Photo courtesy of the New Westminster Archives.

Although Eighth Street did originally go between the Old CPR station and the Interurban station, in 1986, this historic location was reclaimed by the city. The road through to Front Street was closed in order to create a formal urban public space to connect the revitalized downtown and the Westminster Quay with a pedestrian overpass. The square was formally named Hyack Square by city council in recognition of the unique civic history and tradition of the location. In 2009, the square was upgraded with new decorative paving, lighting, decorative screens, and a raised landscaped amphitheatre stage with seating walls and public art. The very same area that once served as the transportation centre for New Westminster once again plays a similar role since the opening of the New Westminster SkyTrain station in 1985. In 2014, the area surrounding the square got an additional feature with the opening of the Anvil Centre, named after the tradition of the Anvil Salute, still practiced in Queen’s Park every May. The building houses various attractions such as the New Westminster Museum and Archives, the New Media Gallery, The Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and a Community Art Space. In addition, the building serves as a conference centre, while also hosting a slew of shows in the Anvil Theatre. While you’re in the building, make sure to come visit us at the Tourism New Westminster visitor centre as well! 

The Anvil Centre. Photographed by Ema Peters.