On This Day in History: Sapperton

A View from the Pattullo


This isn’t a true “On This Day in History” because we don’t know the exact date this photo was shot 36 years ago. This is a view of Sapperton, from the Patullo Bridge.¬†But we like to think it could have been taken in spring. ūüôā We’re posting it today, as today marks the 125th anniversary of Knox Presbytarian, visible in both photos, being¬†constituted as a congregation.

 About the original: Our sincere thanks to Barry at the New Westminster Museum and Archives for granting Tenth to the Fraser permission to use the original shot. IHP # 10001-1084. Photo taken in 1980 by Peter Battistoni, for The Columbian newspaper.

About the modern day photo: Mario Bartel is a one heck of a dedicated guy, and we are thankful. He went back to the Patullo Bridge five times to try and duplicate the original angle. It was trickier than we thought it would be – and the clouds didn’t cooperate on the day he finally managed to line it up properly.

Why we chose this shot: There is something about the rusted and peeling railing of the bridge in the modern photo that seems very sad and representative of the neglect and decay of the crumbling Pattullo, and the houses and boat houses no longer along the river bank show us how far removed from the Fraser we now are.

The neglected stairs, a historical structure worth preserving, aren’t quite completely visible in the modern photo.¬†Now, wedding photographers love to take pictures of the happy couple on the sweeping steps¬†of the Penitentiary. The long, lovely views of our working river are just the right mix of rustic chic. But we think about the prisoners walking up the long march from the river to the Pen to serve their time, or perhaps finally feeling the sun on their face as they left that place. These stairs have more meaning than their current condition would demonstrate.

It is ever hopeful that you can see the spire of Knox Presbyterian Church still poking out above the buildings around it, a welcome neighbourhood beacon for 125 years, whether or not you are a member of their congregation.

And the towering mountains, cloud-hidden or not, are strong reminder of the beautiful place we call home.

Our tiny community really is nestled in the right place.

Some fascinating Sapperton history related to this photo, courtesy of the wonderful Dale Miller, from A Sense of History Research Services:

Four major landmarks stand out in both the old and new photos:

Wharf Warehouse

The prominent currently red building in Sapperton Landing Park was the BC Penitentiary‚Äôs coal house¬†and dock facility. Built in 1930-31, this designated heritage building was kept as part of Sapperton¬†Landing Park. It was initially intended to be an amenity structure for displays, shelter or programming¬†and has been reserved for future adaptive re-use. It looks very different in these two photos because the¬†river used to be closer to the rail lines but was ‚Äúpushed back‚ÄĚ some distance with the park‚Äôs creation in¬†2001.

BC Penitentiary Gate House

Built in 1931, the BC Penitentiary Gatehouse Administration building looks like a castle. It housed the¬†prison’s administration offices and intake facilities. Some of the prisoners arrived at the maximum-security prison on a boat that docked at the wharf in what is now Sapperton Landing Park. They were then¬†escorted in chains up to the gatehouse for processing before being assigned to a cell block. The building is¬†on the City‚Äôs Heritage Register and has housed a variety of businesses, including a beauty salon, a¬†Montessori pre-school, restaurant, and sports bar.

Royal Columbian Hospital

RCH began in 1862 on Agnes St. at 4th in downtown New Westminster, then moved to Sapperton in 1890.¬†The New Westminster Truth newspaper of February 13, 1890 described the move. ‚ÄúYesterday morning¬†Wintemute Bros. put the last of the furniture in the new Royal Columbian Hospital at Sapperton. During¬†the afternoon the patients from the old hospital were conveyed in carriages to their new quarters. There¬†were 17 of them, 10 being confirmed invalids and unable to walk, and 3 were blind.‚ÄĚ

Then, to add a little excitement to the already stressful time of settling in and adjusting to new quarters,¬†less than two weeks later, on February 26, the new building very nearly burned down. The Colonist paper¬†reported that the fire ‚Äúwas caused by soot gathering in the eaves trough, which was ignited by a spark¬†from the chimney. The fire was not discovered until it had burned through the roof, and then only by a¬†wakeful patient, who heard the crackling of the flames. The alarm was given, and the patients were¬†immediately removed to a house across the street.‚ÄĚ Hard to imagine from today‚Äôs perspective.

The hospital has undergone massive growth and change. Serving over 1.7 million people from Burnaby to Boston Bar, RCH is the only hospital in the province with cardiac, trauma, neurosciences, high-risk maternity and a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) all on one site. It is also a teaching hospital and a UBC Clinical Academic Campus. While the buildings have looked very different over the years, RCH has, for over 127 years, been the dominant presence in the centre of Sapperton and will be even more so once the current 3-phase redevelopment project is complete.

Knox Presbyterian Church

Constituted as the Congregation of Knox Sapperton on March 25, 1891, this church has been at the heart¬†of Sapperton from the very beginning. The building at the corner of Sherbrooke and E. Columbia was¬†designed by well-known architect G W Grant and held its inaugural service on December 20, 1891. There¬†have of course, been some changes to the building such as the replacement of the ‚Äúburning bush‚ÄĚ at the¬†top of the steeple with a stainless steel replica in 1968, the extension of the narthex in 1990, and major¬†repair and restoration of the building due to an arson attack in 1991. But through good and bad times,¬†Knox has been at the centre of activity in Sapperton. It provides a home to community groups like Scouts,¬†before and after school care, a Montessori pre-school and even other religious denominations. They hold¬†strawberry teas, bazaars and rummage sales; they provide sandwiches for the Elizabeth Fry Drop-In¬†Centre on Tuesday mornings; they participate in Sapperton Day; and they almost always put a smile on¬†your face with the puns and witty slogans on their reader board.


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