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) telus.net.
People in New Westminster love Markets. You can see it today in the popularity of The Royal City Farmer’s Market and the anticipation about the long-awaited reopening of River Market. But the same has been true for many years. People bartered and sold their goods on the streets right from New Westminster’s beginning.
Back in 1892, as trails (and train tracks) grew between Vancouver and New Westminster, and paddlewheelers started bringing farmers down the Fraser, the city decided to build its first market.
The City Market was on the waterfront between 4th and 6th Streets at Lytton Square (Westminster Pier Park will have a monument named for it). Fruit and vegetables, fish, crafts, meat and dairy filled the market. But in 1898, the market was at the centre of a huge fire that destroyed the downtown.
The market was rebuilt (it used the original plans so looked similar) soon after for people to socialize and help rebuild their spirits and the city. With the New Westminster Bridge and the Interurban streetcar network between Vancouver and Chilliwack, fishermen came to the docks and farmers could bring berries in the spring, sweet corn in the summer, Okanagan fruit in the fall, knitted winter clothes and Christmas crafts. The market was expanded several times.
Another fire destroyed the market in August of 1925. The city had grown, streetcars and automobiles mostly used Columbia Street and people came from Vancouver, so instead of rebuilding the market on the waterfront docks, a modern building was constructed nearby on Columbia Street. The Columbian Newspaper called it “The finest market yet established in the province” when in was opened in April of 1926.
Columbia Street kept on growing with help from the Market. People often called it the “Golden Mile” (and later the “Miracle Mile”) because of the market and many stores between 8th Street and the Patullo Bridge. After the Second World War, the city sold the building to Spencer Company for a great profit. The market and other buildings were combined into an Eaton’s department store for growing young families. Army and Navy eventually moved into the building and are still there after 40 years. On Front Street the building still resembles the original market. How many of you knew that building was once the city market?
A new city market was built for $110,000 in 1947 with hopes to rejuvenate the former Chinatown district of New Westminster near the foot of 10th Street (where Columbia Square is now). It was still a good place for local foods and crafts, kittens and puppies for families and bingo for 40 years. Unfortunately, suburban growth and changing needs of people did not help the market. In 1987, because of competition from the new, private Westminster Quay Market and other plans for downtown, the city closed the market and it moved to Port Moody.