“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.