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New Westminster Courthouse

632 Carnarvon Street, New Westminster, British Columbia, V3M, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1989/09/11

Exterior view of the New Westminster Courthouse, c. 1868; ¿Vancouver of Today Architecturally,¿ 1900
Oblique view
Exterior view of the New Westminster Courthouse, 2004; City of New Westminster, 2004
Oblique view
No Image

Other Name(s)

New Westminster Courthouse
Begbie Court
Old Courthouse

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1890/01/01 to 1891/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/08/31

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The New Westminster Courthouse is a large three-storey red brick and stone Romanesque Revival building. It occupies a commanding hillside site and is a visually dominating presence on Carnarvon Street.

Heritage Value

The New Westminster Courthouse is symbolic of the administration of justice during the province's early years. As the first capital of British Columbia and a prominent commercial centre, New Westminster was vital in the establishment of order in the colony, and remained an important administrative centre. In 1860, the first court house was erected, a one-storey building with a canvas ceiling. This was replaced by a new structure in Market Square in 1873. In 1890-91, this imposing new brick and stone court house was built, located uphill from the city's commercial centre. In 1891, it was opened at the Spring Assizes with due ceremony by Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, B.C.'s first judge and first Chief Justice. The interior of the courthouse was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1898 but the building was reconstructed in 1899 to the same general plan.

The New Westminster Courthouse is valued as one of the most significant institutional projects designed by George William Grant (1852-1925), a prolific architect who designed many of the buildings in downtown New Westminster, both before and after the Great Fire in 1898. Grant designed the 1891 Courthouse, and then supervised its reconstruction in 1899.

Additionally, the New Westminster Court House is significant for its contribution to the consistent and distinctive built form of downtown New Westminster, which dates from 1898 to 1913, when the city was the major centre of commercial and industrial output for the booming Fraser Valley area. The Courthouse is an outstanding example of the Romanesque Revival style, the preferred idiom for public and commercial buildings in the late nineteenth century and Grant's signature style at the time. The eclectic nature and picturesque appearance of the design demonstrate the sensibilities of the Late Victorian era. The robust facades, designed to be viewed from different vantage points, were carefully modulated to convey an image of strength and security through contrasting textures and a unity of materials.

Source: Heritage Planning Files, City of New Westminster

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the New Westminster Courthouse include its:
- location, as a prominent part of a grouping of late Victorian and Edwardian era commercial buildings in historic downtown New Westminster and adjacent to the Land Registry Office
- form, scale and massing, as expressed by its complex picturesque roofline, symmetrical central block with articulated wings, polygonal tower at rear and long rear gabled extension
- highly articulated roof, with individual steeply pitched hip roofs over separate blocks, joined by lower roofs, and embellished with gable projections;
- original central main entry facing Clarkson Street with rounded arch with keystone
- masonry construction, including: rubble-stone granite foundations; red face brick with flush-struck mortar joints; and mortar parged stringcourses, window surrounds and sculptural panels
- elements of the Romanesque Revival style, including massive masonry construction, picturesque massing and round-arched structural openings
- complex fenestration, with a variety of round-arched and flat window openings, contrasting wide and narrow openings and varied window sizes
- other exterior features such as the highly detailed copper cornice with modillions on the polygonal tower
- site features, including a rubble-stone retaining wall

Recognition

Jurisdiction

British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.967

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date

1989/09/11

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1899/01/01 to 1899/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Security and Law

Function - Category and Type

Current

Historic

Government
Courthouse and/or Registry Office

Architect / Designer

George William Grant

Builder

n/a

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Planning Files, City of New Westminster

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier

DhRr-45

Status

Published

Related Places

n/a

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