A suburb to the southeast of Vancouver, New Westminster is the oldest city in western Canada. Founded in 1859, New Westminster, set directly on the Fraser River, served as the first capital of the then-colony of British Columbia. After 1898, when a fire destroyed a large portion of its original downtown district, a section of Columbia Street was redesigned as "The Golden Mile."
One of the few homes to survive the fire, the Irving House, built in 1865, still stands on Royal Avenue; New Westminster visitors can tour the 14 furnished rooms here with a costumed guide. Adjacent to Irving House, New Westminster visitors will also enjoy touring the New Westminster Museum, where they can view local historical artifacts and documents.
Another New Westminster attraction of historical interest is the Samson V. Maritime Museum, dedicated to the last surviving steam-powered sternwheeler. This public works boat, first launched in 1937, would clear debris and assist with government survey and navigation needs; in 1980, the Samson V. was retired and preserved as a museum. It remains the only completely intact and floating wooden sternwheeler in North America.
A lively theatre and arts community attracts visitors to New Westminster. Downtown, the Douglas College Theatre offers a strong performing arts program, and theatre students produce four productions each year. This theatre also showcases literary readings, art exhibits and concerts from September through April of each year. The Massey Theatre, also downtown, has been around since 1949, and features youth productions and concerts produced by the New Westminster Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances of classic musicals and stage plays. The Columbia, set along the Golden Mile, is a historic New Westminster attraction used for a variety of live music and comedy shows.
Moody Park, in the heart of downtown New Westminster, is a local favourite. The park has sports fields - tennis, soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse—as well as an outdoor pool and playground. The park also houses the Youth Centre, Century House and New Westminster Lawn Bowling Club. Five minutes east along Queen Avenue, the Friendship Gardens and Tipperary Park invite visitors to stroll amongst a series of monuments and tributes, as well as small waterfalls, ponds and bridges.
Columbia Avenue, the Golden Mile that long ago reinvigorated downtown New Westminster, is now home to many local businesses. Columbia Square Plaza is a one-stop errands shop, providing a pharmacy, liquor store, various chain eateries, groceries and more. For visitors wishing to grab a bite at a local restaurant, Aldo's Pasta Bar and Italian Ristorante is an excellent choice for its homey vibe and cosy ambience. Le Saigonnaise is a kid-friendly Vietnamese restaurant with unusual appetizers like Saigon chicken wings and savoury rice pancakes.
A swankier choice in the downtown district along Columbia Avenue is Stefanos. While many of the appetisers and platters are Mediterranean- and Greek-inspired, the entrees are a fusion of Italian, Pacific Northwest and steakhouse fare. They also have an impressive international wine list and a regal atmosphere.