Charming New Westminsterisms

One of the charming things about New Westminster that continually tickles my fancy is this habit of naming alleys. I walk a lot, and I like to explore neighbourhoods with my son as an afternoon outing. We frequently will duck down what appears to be an alley, only to discover amazing little pockets of houses, with perhaps one or maybe two actual front doors on some oddly little named “street” that in any other municipality, would simply be considered a lane way. It’s likely a testatment to the evolution of New Westminster as a city – what with renaming streets, subdivision, and the like – that these weird little side streets are still here, and are generally filled with teeny old houses. (There is a great resource here about the history of New West street names if you are looking for more historical information about streets.)

Take,  for example, one of the little streets in my ‘hood – Shaw Street. Not only does it serve as the back alley entrance to the parkade built facing the parallel Mowat Street, but there they are, a handful (5, to be exact, according to the city’s handy online GIS) of random happy little homes facing into the alley-esque street. 

Anoter example is Uptown, on Bent Court, where not only is it a weird little T- shaped “street”, but inexplicably, it has a single home whose civic address is 4XX Bent Court while all the others are in the 6XX block. And there are only 5 addresses on the whole “street”.



How about Prescott Street? Only one civic address exists on Prescott. Back in the day when I was attending Douglas College (Grad 97, baby! Woo!) I lived in the attic of an old house on Walmsley Street, with a whopping two addresses!  The possibilities are endless. This is one of those things that I try and explain to friends and family who don’t live here and they just scrunch up their faces, raise their eyebrows, and carefully say “Oh, yeah. That’s interesting”, when clearly, they don’t find it as interesting as I do.

What about it, New Westies and ex-pats? Anyone have any great examples of weird named alley-streets?

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12 Replies to “Charming New Westminsterisms”

  1. Here's another house mystery: 214 2nd Street in Queens Park. The house is not on 2nd St at all. It's way back around, down a lane, sitting on a huge lot.

    You can see the house in the middle of this map:

    The house was built in 1936 and is in pristine condition. Unfortunately, the this quaint mystery house, part of our history, is set to be demolished to make way for a subdivision and new houses. The Community Heritage Commission protested, but it's apparently going ahead.

  2. Cool little feature Jen. I’ve always seen those back alleys as a quirky but charming part of New West.
    Pearce Street and Burr Street also have that laneway quality.

  3. Great story, Jen.

    The majority of these quirky little alleys, lanes etc. were created by and are left-overs of the original plan of the city designed by the Royal Engineers and Col. R.C. Moody.

    Join us for a walking tour on September 13 entitled, Colonel Moody’s Plan For The New Capital, to find out about many of them. You'll find details of the walk at….

    There are also two Historical Society programs on the original City plan and today's reminders of it – August 19 and September 16 at the library. Details of the programs are on the Heritage Website at:

  4. @ Micheal – those are two good ones.

    @ David – that is the weirdest little house! I've never even seen it! I also love how its askew on the lot itself – it makes me think it was set in a HUGE lot all by itself where it didn't matter where it was in relation to property lines.

    @ Dale and Archie – I've added this walking tour date to my calendar! Sounds like fun!

  5. @David – that's MY house! I can't believe it's being trashed, that is so disappointing. When I was a kid and we lived in QP, we'd drive by it and we'd talk about how that would be my house one day because it's all on one floor, how cute it was. Man, you just can't stop progress I guess.

    My friend Trish used to live in a basement suite of a house that is actually not even ON Burr Street, but between Milton and 3rd, east of Pearce – it's on the Northeast tip of Burr, with a diagonal path across the lawn to reach the street proper. It's so strange that the house has no street frontage AT ALL, when the house on it's west side has full frontage on both Pearce and Burr streets. When I picked her up I'd have to drive in down the alleyway behind these old decrepit apartment buildings which would land me alongside her house – but blocked from the property by a fence and gate! If you wanted to get lost, this would be a great place to be. I don't even know how that house got mail delivery – and she could never order Pizza Delivery without telling them she'd meet them at the end of Burr Street.

    Makes me wonder if the engineers who mapped out where Pearce and Burr streets originally set out to build one street starting at either end but got a little muddled up and never were able to meet up in the middle.

  6. What is a shame about our street names is the fact that so many of our streets are boring numbers, i.e., Sixth Street, which, according to the library heritage site, was Mary Street. And my street (Third) was St. Patrick's Street– which is a way cool better name but has been given to a short east-west street around the corner.

    I think a lot of history has been lost in our street names & I'd like to see the original names in brackets under the numbered streets.

    And how many times have I had to deal with confused newcomers to the Royal City driving around aimlessly– who can't remember if they're looking for 4th Street or 4th Avenue (many have remarked how unoriginal we are to have an intersection that's marked 4th & 4th). To think we had all these historic names of our streets that are now forgotten (what lamebrain at city hall made that decision– don't worry, Jaimie, I know it was way before your time on council!)

  7. Bent Court was one of the last privately owned open areas in the neighbourhood. By the way, two of the houses on Bent Court are mirror images of each other, kitty corner, having been built from the same plans.

    The historic maps in the library from various years can show you your neighbourhood, what was there, for example, in 1897.

    Another oddity – all the streets south of Royal Avenue are streets. There are no avenues below Royal Avenue. They are all streets, intersecting with other streets. No avenues. It’s Columbia Street – not Columbia Avenue, as it would be anywhere else.

    Arbutus Street, in Queens Park, comes down off 4th Avenue (an avenue, cause it is not south of the decisive avenue of Royal Avenue), goes straight, suddenly turns both right and left, running crossways to itself, and forms a horseshoe of itself.

    Regarding street names, the library’s historical website has a listing of the street name origins,

  8. Just for the record, the Street Naming and Numbering By-Law was enacted March 3, 1890. Went like this:

    That Pelham Street be called 3rd. Ave., and streets north of Pelham St. and running parallel thereto be called avenues and numbered consecutively 4th Ave., 5th Ave., etc.; that Park Lane be called 1st Street, and all streets running parallel to that street westward be numbered consecutively 2nd Street, 3rd Street, etc., except short streets, which shall have distinctive names; that Front Street, Columbia Street, and Royal Avenue retain their present names; that Columbia Street extend from Dock Square to the Brunette Bridge on the Port Moody road; that the name Carnarvon Street be applied to the whole street from Elliott to Turner Street, including the streets at present known as Provost St., Dallas St. and Gossett St.

    Most of the push behind the change was from the Americans and eastern Canadians who wanted to minimize the British influence since virtually all the names reflected Brits – either royalty, REs, the admiralty, or family members of the above.

    Also, out of interest, November of that same year, 1890, the first street signs were put up – cost the City 30¢ each for a company by the name of Fookam & Warren to paint and put them up.

  9. Out behind our apartment building is an “alley” named Napanee. A la the song by The Vapors, we always sing “I’m turning Napanee, I’m turning Napanee, I really think so” when we pull onto the street. Ridiculous but true.

  10. Hi all! Great blog! Jen, I emailed you earlier this year (etroduction via Sue of Raspb. kids) and in other, non-related events my husband randomly found this website the other day. We have been in New West for 1.5 years and I am glad to finally find some other people who (forgive me) "nerd out" on the quirks of New West!

    I am excited to say that our house backs onto the Famous Bent Court and we love to tell people to "Get Bent" when they are on their way over 🙂 Bent Court is a cool place to be – bustling during the days due to odd zoning of a few families and many businesses using it's abundance, and then absolutely quiet and perfectly awaiting games of street hockey or soccer on weekends.

    Now, if only our neighbor on either side would sell his two properties to someone who would actually appreciate them. Anyone in the market? He's got a sign up: "Lot's for sale" – yes, that is the punctuation 🙂 I can assure you that if you buy, you'll have great neighbors!

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