Hidden from view, the BC Penitentiary convicts’ cemetery abuts the eastern boundary of the now vacant Woodlands Institution. It is otherwise bordered by the ravine, the back yards of neighbouring town homes, and a dense blackberry bramble which -- had City officials not intervened in the summer of 2003 -- might soon have overtaken the entire property. The cemetery doesn't appear on maps, and the City of New Westminster doesn't advertise its existence. It's one of those places a handful of people have heard of, but no one knows how to find. The cemetery contains forty-eight headstones, each bearing the three or four digit prisoner number of an inmate who died at the penitentiary between 1914 and 1968.
The cemetery is accessible on foot, but because it's impossible to reach without trespassing across the grounds of Queen's Park Care Centre and/or the former Woodlands site, I can't provide precise instructions for how to reach it. Knowing that the cemetery lies to the south of Queen's Park Care Centre, abuts the eastern boundary of the Woodlands site, and extends to the western edge of Glenbrook Ravine, you should be able -- with a little ingenuity -- to make your way there. Please note that the cemetery cannot be reached by climbing up the very steep slope of the Glenbrook Ravine.
The cenotaph, located in Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall, commemorates members of the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy who gave their lives in the service of Canada. The cenotaph was unveiled in 1922 near the corner of McBride Boulevard and Columbia St. Later it was moved close to the entrance to the Pattullo Bridge, and then to its current location.
In front of the cenotaph are two 24 pounder field howitzers. These two guns arrived in New Westminster in 1866 on board the HMS Sparrowhawk. They were used for training and local defence until 1873 by the Seymour Artillery Company, a predecessor of the Royal Westminster Regiment. Restoration of these guns was completed in 2004.
The BC Penitentiary opened in 1878 and had a very colourful history which included riots, hostage-taking and murders. It lasted for 102 years until it closed in 1980. The story of the British Columbia Penitentiary, the first federal penitentiary west of Manitoba, begins with its Sapperton site. Located on the north bank overlooking the Fraser River, it was an ideal spot for the campsite of the Royal Engineers who resided there from 1859 to 1863. Under Colonel Richard Clement Moody, these men laid out New Westminster as the capital of the mainland colony of British Columbia.
The old BC Penitentiary castle was renovated in 1985 and changed to commercial use. You can now find the Pen Coffee House, a Hair Academy and a few other businesses within its walls. It is located at 319 Grovenor’s Court.
The Gaol Block Building also known as the Main Hall of the British Columbia Penitentiary opened in 1878 with little fanfare and just 23 occupants. Today this original 1878 building houses physiotherapy and medical offices. It is located at 65 Richmond St.
The most famous local celebrity that this cemetary contains is Gassy Jack. Who was Gassy Jack? Vancouver's history as a city has its roots in what was a tiny settlement nicknamed Gastown. The name Gastown came into use because a Fraser River pilot turned saloonkeeper with the name Capt. John 'Gassy Jack' Deighton was in 1867 the first settler on the site from which Vancouver was to evolve.
Gassy Jack had gone to what is now Vancouver from New Westminster in a dugout canoe with his Indian wife, her mother, and Big William, her cousin who was along to do the paddling. It was while in New Westminster that he earned his reputation for being "gassy" (talking lots) entertaining customers with stories at his Globe Saloon.
When Gassy Jack died in 1875 at the age of 44 he was put to rest in Fraserview Cemetary. This cemetary has many other interesting people. They include a number of mayors, a prominent MLA, a Victoria Cross winner (Cy Peck), prominent sports figures, church figures, a noted medical researcher, a well known photographer, as well as Raymond Burr's (Perry Mason) grave.
The cemetary is located at 100 Richmond Street. Tours are available. Call the telephone contact for more info.
Located within the Friendship Gardens is the Cosmic Maypole. Georganna Malloff was the artist who originally carved it for the Habitat Forum in Vancouver in 1976. It was erected in its current location in 1980. Its location in New Westminster is a natural, as the Maypole is an integral part of the May Day celebration.
Wander through Friendship Gardens, which commemorates the historic sister city relationship formed in 1962 between Moriguchi, Japan and New Westminster, the first Canadian city to have a Japanese sister city. The gardens are located in behind City Hall.
The Pen Coffee House is a cafe located in a beautiful building that resembles a castle. Once upon a time the buliding served as a prison. Now it houses a Hair Academy and a few other businesses. The cafe also serves lunch. I higly recommend their milkshakes. I also recommend going during the spring on summer when you can make use of their great patio. The only downside is that it is open only from 9am-5pm.