Remembering New Westminster’s ‘Pay-a-Toll-o’ Bridge

This is a guest post from Ken Wilkinson of the Friends of New Westminster Museum & Archives Society. Ken is a fifth generation New Westminster resident, whose family arrived in 1859 and have enjoyed the city ever since. He helps People with Disabilities enjoy their lives with direct support and as a writer and designer of education and employment programs. He also enjoys helping others throughout the community. He is a founding member of the newly established Friends of the New Westminster Museum and Archives Society (FNWMA), which is responsible for helping more people learn about the unique and vibrant history of our community and our province. He wants to find out what people know, want to learn and want to help, so wants peoples’ input. Until the FNWMA Society has a website, you can contact him at kenw10 (at)

Cars on the narrow deck of the New Westminster bridge while the Patullo Bridge was built. Photo: New Westminster Museum & Archives.
cars on the narrow deck of the New Westminster bridge while the Patullo Bridge was built (IHP7826-004)

Translink recently announced a new bridge will be built in the next 5 years between New Westminster and Surrey, the third bridge across in the past 106 years.

The first “New Westminster Bridge” was opened by Premier Richard McBride on July 23, 1904. It was the first bridge across the Lower Fraser River, mainly for rail traffic but had a second, wood-planked deck above (mainly for horses and carts at the time) that shook horribly when trains passed underneath. It allowed for trains to link from the U.S. to Vancouver, and in 1911 created a great opportunity for B.C. Electric’s Interurban tram line to move people and freight from Chilliwack to Vancouver. This led to great economic growth for many years.

But the New Westminster Bridge was very inefficient for families who, by the 1930s, wanted to travel to the U.S. and up the Fraser Valley on their own schedule in cars. Premier T.D. “Duff” Patullo pushed hard for the bridge to be built by the province in New Westminster to create jobs during the depression and to stimulate growth.

The Patullo Bridge was built tall so that large ships could pass under to go to mills up the river. The New Westminster bridge swung open for ships to pass. Photo: New Westminster Museum & Archives.
The Patullo Bridge was built tall so that large ships could pass under to go to mills up the river. The New Westminster bridge swung open for ships to pass. (IHP7152)

The very modern and expensive ($4 million) bridge was opened on November 15, 1937 and named after the man who proudly spearheaded the project. Tolls were required for 15 years to pay for it, so it was often called the “Pay-a-Toll-o” bridge by unhappy New Westminster residents. It allowed for construction of the Pacific Highway to Blaine and helped encourage growth in Surrey and New Westminster.

73 years later the bridge is aging and has narrow lanes for trucks and cars, so soon it will be replaced by the 3rd road bridge, just upstream of the bridges that have survived well for the past 106 years.

9 Replies to “Remembering New Westminster’s ‘Pay-a-Toll-o’ Bridge”

  1. Always great to see someone put up interesting facts from the past. How many people knew that the railroad bridge actually used to have a second deck? My father works for the railroad and on the way to the depot to pick him up after work I used to wonder why it looked like there had been a road above Front Street and below Columbia. Now I know!

  2. Entertaining story—must have been a wild ride across that shaky bridge on a horse-and-buggy! No need for thrill rides at the PNE when that's available.

    Still, it's disheartening to witness the continued expansion of roadways, when public transit is struggling to keep it's current level of service. What sense does it make to build bridges that support single occupancy vehicle travel, when we know that driving gas powered vehicles is a major contributor to our planet's environmental degradation? It's like we're investing in our own demise.

    Can anyone still deny that we need to reshape our transportation environment? And yet, our government plows our tax dollars into solutions that enable and promote personal vehicle travel, while ignoring the needs of public transit. It's not as though this is an issue that only affects certain people.

    Global warming has the potential, and is on the path, to inflict immeasurable suffering, on a scale that we have never experienced. It just seems so bizarre. Our habitat is on the verge of becoming unlivable to vast numbers of us, and dramatically changed to the rest, but we continue to do the things that cause it.

    I guess I'm being self righteous, or even self-defeating, but really I don't understand how this is happening. Why are we building bridges for cars? Why do we still drive gas powered cars, alone, back and forth to work, to the grocery store, etc.? What will it take for us to do what we already know we need to do? I'm at a loss. Write my politician? Protest? What do my fellow citizens think?

    1. What a nice blast from the past short story about the transportation in the good ole days !
      It was nice to learn that New Westminster has had Unhappy residents since way back in the 30's and 40's too ! But I can't help but agree with Travis regarding our future. Its funny, how we as organic animals continually alter out environment to synthetic materials, like asphalt roads and cement buildings. It's no wonder that life expectancy has peeked, and is now in decline. Similarly medicines today are also synthesized because of our lack of healthy diets based of fertilized fields to enhance crop yields.

      Do we really need to congest our streets more then they already are ? Where are we going to park these cars that need to use this bridge ? Translink needs to give there head a shake and develop a strategy that will truly benefit the future generations rather then these stop-gap-measures to deal with our love of burning fossil fuels to get us to Hortons.


  3. I agree,so that's why I mentioned the part about the Inter Urban on the first bridge. We don't use horses and carts any more, but maybe if people who don't want to use cars today can learn the neat ways that people used to get around here 100 years ago. The tracks that the Inter Urbban used are still avaiable and owned by the province. Maybe history will give us an idea-bring back the Interurban so we won't have to build bigger bridges across the river. Cheers!

  4. How many of you knew about that second deck on the old bridge? Get ready for more interesting surprises about New Westminster History and let me know what you're interested in and what you are curious about our city

    1. I've always been curious about Annacis Island, I was told that it was part of New West, but they sold it off to Delta. Now it's a cash cow for Delta. What a loss and lack of vision.


        1. A snippet from the Delta Police history…

          The March 1956 police budget, approved just prior to MacKay's resignation, included the
          addition of another member. The budget for $34,000.00 also included funding to provide police
          service to Annacis Island. The property, within the municipality of Delta, and accessible only from
          the New Westminster side of the Fraser river had been purchased by the titled Grosvenor family
          from the U.K. and was being developed as an industrial park. The island patrol required the
          additional hiring of three more constables and the purchase of an additional police car.
          Given the relative size of the island and its development at that time and the "substantial" policing
          assets assigned to its protection, it is clear that Council was committed to protect its tax base.

          …Sounds like they where protecting it from being pilfered by New Westminster residents !!!
          I also learned that it was owned by the Duke of Westminster and only accessible from NW via BC Electric's railway and bridges connecting it to Queensborough. Until the Alex fraser bridge was completed there was no link to Delta other then through NW

          Perhaps it never was part of NW, I don't know for certain, just interesting with all the NW connections.


          1. Interesting history on Annacis Is…… but still not clear on ownership? Grovenor purchased it from who? I would like to know if New West collected taxes from Grovenor or billed Delta for services
            I do know at one point many individual business addresses were New Westminster and were gradually changed to Delta. I do not think ownership is the issue but more in which city the property sat and who collected taxes.
            The City sure does not own my propertyt. That said, if they keep increasing taxes to cover high salaries, they soon may.

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