[close window]

Fonds/Collection Description

Title City of New Westminster fonds
Description Level Fonds
Creator City of New Westminster
Date Range 1860-2005
Title Source Title based on content of fonds.
History/Biographical Early History

The history of the City of New Westminster begins on February 14, 1859 when James Douglas, Governor of the Colony of British Columbia (founded in 1858) proclaimed that Queensborough would be the capital of the colony. The site of Queensborough was chosen by the commander of the Columbia Detachment of the Royal Engineers, Colonel Richard Clement Moody. The name of Queensborough was soon replaced with a new name, New Westminster on July 20, 1859. This new name for the capital was chosen by Queen Victoria herself. Thus New Westminster became known as the Royal City. The New Westminster Municipal Council Act of 1860 provided a measure of self-government and the first election was held in the same year. There were three extension acts which added more land to the city. On November 19, 1866 the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island were united. The first session of the new Legislative Council was held in Sapperton, just outside of New Westminster. However, on April 2, 1868 the colonial Legislative Council voted to move the capital of British Columbia to Victoria. On August 15, 1872, New Westminster received its letters patent, and New Westminster became the Corporation of the City of New Westminster and subject to the Muncipal Act of 1872.


The municipal government of New Westminster brought into being with the proclamation of 1860 which permitted the creation a municipal council and defined the scope of its powers and reponsibilities. This was the governing document until 1872 when the Municipal Act was passed which was intended to govern all municipalities in British Columbia. During the period before 1872, the number of councillors in New Westminster varied from seven to twelve members. The ward system was used during this period with councillors representing different areas of the city. (However, There were four wards up to 1863. In 1864 seven wards were created and a total of twelve councillors elected. However, although the councillors were required to be elected, there were no provisions in the 1860 proclamation as to how a Mayor should be elected or chosen. In New Westminster, the practice was for the elected council to nominate one of its own members to be the Mayor (or President as the office was titled until 1872.) Since the inaugurual council meeting was held in August the annual election of the council took place at this time each year.

The Municipal Act of 1872 contained several specific provisions that were not included or overlooked in the 1860 proclamation. The number of councillors must be a minimum of seven and a maximum of ten. The Mayor would not be an elected councillor, but would elected by the voters. The Act also required cities to use the ward system. For the administration of the city's business, the Act allowed the council to elect a Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor, and Collector. In New Westminster the last three positions were sometimes combined. New Westminster used the at-large system for electing the Council up to 1895. In that year, the New Westminster Incorporation Amendment Act allowed the city to adopt the at-large system.

The Act of 1872 was superceded in 1896 by the Municipal Incorporation Act. This was, in turn, superceded by the Municipal Act in 1957. From 1998 to 2000, provincial bills were introduced and the Local Government Act was the result. The City of New Westminster is currently subject to this Act as well as the Community Charter (2003) both of which can be found online.


In the 1860 proclamation and the 1872 Act, the City Council was allowed to raise revenue by passing by-laws in a list of areas of responsibility which are listed in the Act. Some of these areas are still in effect (e.g. roads, fire prevention, police, licensing, cemeteries) but others are not (e.g. regulation of slaughter-houses, public morals, relief of the poor) The municipal government pays for its responsibilities by collecting taxes, establishing fees for permits, licenses, selling of city land, etc. In 1892 the earliest surviving annual report the following revenue sources are listed: taxes, trade licenses, waterfront rents, electric lighting, water rates, fines, and ferry collections among others. The Council can also borrow money by issuing debentures and incurring debt.

Committee System

The committee system of goverment was allowed for in the 1860 proclamation. The first two committees to be established in New Westminster were the Finance Committee and the Board of Works. This is the earliest division of duties of the municipal goverment. Committees would be created from now on to deal with specific functions that the municipal council was responsible for. These committees consisted of members of the council who would determine what needed to be done, obtain council's approval for it and carry it out. There were known as standing committees. After each election, the existing committees would be re-appointed. As the city grew, these committees would eventually be responsible for more than one function. These functions of the committees would be combined and recombined many times over the years. On the other hand, the council would create special committees in order to deal with a specific non-occurring issue which would dissolve upon resolution of the issue.


New Westminster has had a number of boards or commissions over its history. Some of these, they share in common with other cities, e.g. Parks Board, Library Board, and Police Board.

Organizational Structure

The first non-adminstrative position that the Council filled was that of a Chief Engineer (Fire Chief) for a Fire Department. New Westminster's fire department would for a long time be a volunteer force (the Hyack Brigade), but the City supplied fire halls, engines, and other resources. The second position needed was that of a engineer or surveyor to manage the public works being carried out in the city. This position would become that of the City Engineer who would be reponsible for a number of municipal services. The City Engineer relied on external contractors to complete the public works (clearing lots, building sidewalks, roads, etc.). Eventually, the Board of Works would hire its own employees.

By the early 1890s, the following functions were in place: Waterworks, Library, Police, Parks, Fire, Health, Schools, and Public Works. (Finance was considered an administration expense.) There were several others, specific to New Westminster: Electric Light, Market, Ferry, and Lulu Island. New Westminster did and still does generate its own electircity, operated a City Market, owned a ferry for crossing the Fraser River, and was responsible for part of Lulu Island ( In particular, the bridge connecting Queensborough to the mainland.)

Other areas that would develop later include: garbage disposal, animal pound, social services, ambulance service, plumbing and building inspections, town planning, recreation, and civil defence.

There were very few people on the city payroll besides the heads of the departments who had the technical skills to manage their respective areas. In 1907, the City Engineer reported that 42 men had worked in his department during the year. However, these are likely to be mostly temporary jobs. The 1910 list of "officials" reads as follows: City Clerk, City Treasurer, City Engineer, Electrician, Water Works Superintendent, Assessment Commissioner, Building Inspector, Medical Health Officer, Sanitary Inspector, Plumbing Inspector, Publicity Commissioner, Chief of Police, Fire.

There are no early surviving organizational charts but the heads of the departments would communicate and report to the respective council committees. Some of the functions of the departments were originally in different places from today. For instance, plumbing inspections and garbage disposal were part of the Health Department's responsibilities.

In 1968, a City Administrator was hired. The traditional departmental council committees which had existed since the early years of New Westminster's history were phased out. . . . . As of 2012, the following departments are responsible to the City Administrator's Office: Development Services, Engineering, Human Resources, Legislative Services and Communications, Finance and Information Technology, Parks, Culture, and Recreation, and Fire and Rescue Services.

The heads of the Police Department and the Library report to their respective boards. The head of Electrical Utility reports to the Electrical Utility Commission.

Custodial History The records included in this fonds included bulk transfers of historical records from the Office of the City Clerk and also transfers from individual departments and offices.
Scope & Content Fonds contains the records of the City of New Westminster which have been transferred to the archives from various city departments and offices. The earliest records are the City Council minutes which begin in 1860. Unfortunately, the Great Fire of 1898 destroyed the bulk of the records in existence at that time. Several notes should be noted as to the scope of the fonds. First, the fonds does not contain any colonial records as these were moved to Victoria when New Westminster ceased to be the capital in 1868. Second, the records of two city services are also not included in this fonds: the New Westminster Police Department and the New Westminster Public Library.

Arrangement Please see series level descriptions for notes on arrangement. Descriptions of municipal records in the archives may be found in the public database by using the "names search." All descriptions will be listed under "City of New Westminster" followed by the name of a department and/or office.
Access Restriction Access to some records restricted.
Name Access City of New Westminster
Subject Access Municipal Government
Municipal Services