Time to let go of ‘The Royal City’ name

“The Royal City” has long been used to describe New Westminster. While I love the dusty romance and nod to history of “The Royal City” as a nickname, the name-dropping title smacks too much of insecurity. New Westminster’s ‘royal’ connection is a tenuous one, not something I think should be the cornerstone of our identity as a city. TheRead More

Queen Victoria named our city, but is that point of trivia really the one thing we want to be known for?
Queen Victoria named our city, but is that point of trivia really the one thing we want to be known for?

“The Royal City” has long been used to describe New Westminster. While I love the dusty romance and nod to history of “The Royal City” as a nickname, the name-dropping title smacks too much of insecurity. New Westminster’s ‘royal’ connection is a tenuous one, not something I think should be the cornerstone of our identity as a city.

The Royal City moniker doesn’t refer to any kind of special affection for our town by the Royal Family. More than 150 years ago, Queen Victoria was asked to rename Queensborough (as our little colony on the river was called then) and, having never been here, she imaginatively chose to name us after a part of London: Westminster.

Ever since, we have claimed the right to call ourselves The Royal City, after a Queen’s whim.

To me, ‘The Royal City’ suggests:

  • Britishness, despite our increasingly diverse population
  • Snobbery, in a town that prides itself on friendliness and acceptance
  • Support for the monarchy, which despite the excitement over Princess Kate’s adorable babies, is dwindling across the country – New Westminster included

We are all aware, I’m sure, that the Royal Family doesn’t care a whit for New Westminster. Meanwhile, despite waning support for the monarchy in Canada, we continue to celebrate our city’s minor royal connection in the names of dozens of businesses and organizations and the ever-present crowns that festoon logos and banners throughout the city.

I’m not saying the Royal City Record, Royal City Farmers Market, Royal City Jewellers and many other ‘Royal City’ organizations around town need to start changing their names. But I am saying that when we are looking to add new life to our city through signage, branding, lighting and street decor, we should look beyond the crown and present a fresh vision of what New Westminster is now and will become.

Our neighbouring cities’ taglines, which, while not perfect, at least present a vision of the kind of city they aim to be. For example, Surrey claims ‘The Future Lives Here,’ and over in Port Moody, they congratulate themselves on being the ‘City of the Arts.’ When both of these taglines were first announced I dismissed them as wishful thinking, but over time Surrey has begun to transform from a low-rent mess into a suburban powerhouse, and Port Moody has invested in its arts and culture initiatives and now supports far more events than you might expect for its size. They are slowly working to transform themselves into the kinds of cities they hoped to be.

‘New’ Westminster’s name was chosen with little apparent thought or care by a woman who happened to be born Queen. This borrowed lustre is no longer relevant or meaningful. New West has its own identity, and while we still retain a hearty contingent of monarchists, it is time to present our city in a way that looks forward to the future, not some musty memory.

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

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6 comments

  1. Couldn't agree more Briana – and I say that as a historian, Anglophile, and former employee of a British royal palace! My understanding is that Victoria was actually given a choice of three names (Augusta, Regina, or New Westminster), which makes it just that little bit more impersonal. Let's promote New West for all the great things done by people who have actually been here!

  2. TTTF, wow! been a while.
    Now the city is being run by 7 self appointed and self interest troops who charged down on the city, swords drawn, and flashing their NDP cards during last election, scooped up all the treasures and claimed ownership, we are in a good position to create a new identity!
    let’s try: the city with no business sense, the city of lost fortunes, city of pedestrians, cyclists and buses, new West the city of socialists. Maybe we can appoint a queen of Day care! A king of cycle trails! Or, a master of taxpayer waste which can be claimed by two of our leaders who have set out to destroy the parts of the Royal city built by those not part of their Party.
    I know someone will comment if I don’t like it, leave the city. Well, hate to bring this news but many with ancestors who have fought communism over centuries are lining up just to do exactly that!
    Keep the name! Royal city means a lot more than “City of Paupers” stuck behind a moat.

  3. There you have it. Better keep “Royal City” because: Communists.

    Whatever your views on our *duly elected* officials and the policies they pursue on behalf of governing, I think the question here is a different one. Are we happy with “Royal City” or not? Should we change it.

    From a marketing POV, it provides easy fodder for logos and links to queens but does nothing to attract people or businesses.

    Culturally it is problematic as colonialism is a point of division, not unity. We are not an English stronghold in our multi-cultie town.

    Pathos: the emotive impact of the moniker is the opposite of who we are: current, down to earth, locally minded, modest, inclusive. (some would say progressive, probably not John). “Royal” is exclusive, hauty and old.

    I think “New Westminster, a small town in the big city” sounds good and is a better window into who we are.

  4. The Royal City never really bothered me as a slogan, but I also never paid much attention to it. It does go along nicely with the Queen's Park neighbourhood, but New West is much more than that.

    I always felt that #NewWest (hashtag optional) offered a much more contemporary replacement, and little else was needed. Need we say anything more?

  5. too much written here about a topic that is not important….no one rreeaallyy cares about the "taglines" or "branding" of their communities. Lighten up y'all

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